Aaron Franklin has shared his barbecue knowledge in great detail via his web series, a television show, and a best-selling book. He thinks there’s still more he can teach aspiring barbecue cooks in his newly released MasterClass. The MasterClass website produces multi-part tutorials from experts in various fields—including Steve Martin, Jane Goodall, Ken Burns, and Serena Williams—available for purchase individually for $90 or on a $180 yearly subscription basis. Franklin’s class is a sixteen-part deep dive into smoking ribs, pork butts, and (of course) brisket.
Five of those sixteen videos are dedicated to smoking brisket, from the trimming of the meat to the slicing of the finished product. You’ll learn the importance of structural integrity in a brisket, why Franklin wraps his with butcher paper (while using aluminum foil for pork), and why he suggests home cooks slather briskets with yellow mustard before seasoning even though he doesn’t use it at his restaurant. You’ll even learn that he refers to his left hand as his “rib hand.” Most helpful was witnessing the proper color on the brisket before it gets wrapped and seeing that jiggle in the finished product. I sat watching with anticipation as he paused several times before finally slicing into it.
“I’m going to teach you exactly like I would train someone at Franklin Barbecue,” Franklin tells the audience in the introduction, and it sure feels like he holds nothing back. There’s a full 24 minutes just on trimming briskets the Franklin way. It’s both refreshing to know he’s not glossing over any aspect of the cook and also a window into what a (self-admitted) control freak he is when it comes to barbecue. That’s a necessity when Franklin Barbecue goes through 40,000 pounds of brisket per month. His team must trim briskets aggressively to ensure the consistency Franklin’s customers demand, but his MasterClass instructions on that front go a little too in-depth for a home cook who isn’t smoking 100 briskets at a time.
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Following a typical barbecue recipe, especially for large cuts like brisket and pork butt, can feel like repeating a bunch of steps without knowing why you’re going through the specific motions. In the MasterClass, Franklin may delve into tedious detail at times, but you’re never left asking “why?” He explains the goal behind every step, like putting the dull side of the foil on the outside when wrapping ribs and pork butts for the smoker. “I’ve never really gotten to do this at this level of detail,” Franklin says in one of the videos, and something about it seems cathartic for him. He has said he rarely cooks barbecue in his restaurant anymore, and here he got to control every step of the pork butt, spare ribs, brisket, and steak cook (yes, there’s steak and broccolini video too).
There’s more than just smoking meats as well. Franklin makes a batch of barbecue sauce using beef tallow, with a note on why he prefers mustard powder to prepared mustard in his sauces. He also covers wood selection beyond a discussion about species. Franklin explains the difference between dense and light pieces of wood based on moisture content. “This is gonna taste really good,” he says of a heavier log because he thinks it will produce good smoke. During a literal fireside chat, he discusses fire management and the importance of being proactive, instead of reactive, to the needs of your firebox.
A small smoker plays a starring role. It’s a version of the backyard variety that Franklin has been teasing for years that he would begin selling. I asked him if there was any news on that front, and he said there’s a new welding shop for the purpose under construction in South Austin that should be ready in a couple months. (His old shop in Bastrop is the setting for the MasterClass videos.) “We’re pretty much lined up to start producing as soon as we finish the building,” he promised. He also has a food truck in the works that will serve tacos and coffee in the Franklin Barbecue parking lot. That should open after his Hot Luck food festival in Austin next week.
I’ve read the book and have seen all of Franklin’s previous videos, so I was curious what his motivation was for adding this new dimension of instruction. “To be able to see it actually happen is pretty cool,” he said, and I can agree. A written description about what a brisket should look like three hours into a twelve-hour cook is only so helpful, but seeing it from multiple angles, and being able to watch how it reacts to poking and prodding is valuable. In that way, the MasterClass acts as a great companion to his 2015 Franklin Barbecue book, and Franklin said that was one of his goals. “The way people interpret words in recipes is completely different,” he said. Seeing it happen provides another level of guidance. After watching all four hours, thirty-six minutes, and 14 seconds of the new videos, I can confirm that the class should give barbecue newcomers and seasoned amateurs alike a new level of confidence that they can mimic the master.
Franklin was unsure about participating when first approached by the MasterClass folks. He saw the website littered with household names and chef instructors like Thomas Keller and Alice Waters. “I’m not on that level,” he said of his initial impression, but they convinced him otherwise. Thankfully so, because I’ve never seen a video instruction course on Texas barbecue this thorough. It’s not going to make you a pitmaster overnight, but knowing the target, and having a plan to get there, is half the battle. I asked Franklin what it felt like to know his video will be up there beside Spike Lee’s and Reba McEntire’s; that he might just become known as the Serena Williams of barbecue. “That’s good because I’m not very good at tennis,” he said with a laugh.