For the third year in a row, the Barbecue Hall of Fame has inducted a Texan. C. B. “Stubb” Stubblefield was in last year’s class, and in 2018 Norma Frances “Tootsie” Tomanetz had the honor. Now Aaron Franklin, of Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, has joined their ranks. (Full disclosure: I serve on the hall of fame’s nominating committee, which chooses the nine finalists for hall of fame voters to choose the three inductees from.)
“It feels pretty cool,” Franklin says. He knew he was on the list of nine nominees announced early this month, but wasn’t sure if he’d make it in this year. The hall of fame is based in Kansas City, Missouri, where its parent organization, American Royal, hosts the World Series of Barbecue—not his usual scene, Franklin says. He felt similarly surprised in 2015, when he won a James Beard Foundation Award for best chef. “I don’t really fit into that category either,” he laughs.
The induction is a welcome piece of good news for Franklin. At the moment, he and his wife, Stacy, are struggling just to break even at Franklin Barbecue. Their brisket supplier, Creekstone Farms, just raised the price of brisket to $7.76 per pound, he says. Franklin says he usually pays under $4 per pound, and “$5.98 is the highest I remember before .” Right now, brisket at Franklin Barbecue is a whopping $35 per pound. “I’m still a little old-school in my head, thinking, ‘Brisket shouldn’t cost this much,'” Franklin says of both the price he’s paying and what he’s charging customers. It pained him to raise menu prices, he says: “We fought it, but we can’t charge less than it costs us to make. Prices will be coming back down once our cost comes down.”
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In 2009, Franklin Barbecue started out in a trailer; in 2017, they had to rebuild from a fire that closed the restaurant for months. The coronavirus is by far the biggest challenge he’s faced in his career, Franklin says. “Even after the fire, all we had to do was rebuild the restaurant. It was still on us. This is on humanity,” he says. “We can’t foresee what the future holds, but you know bank notes are still due, and you’ve still got employees, and you’ve still gotta make this thing work.”
Franklin is only in the eleventh year of his barbecue career, which is short for a hall of famer, but in that time he and Stacy have built one of the most popular barbecue joints in the world. He’s written two books, starred in his own barbecue television show, developed a MasterClass on barbecue, and became the first pitmaster to win a James Beard award for best chef. In my opinion, he’s also the most influential pitmaster when it comes to the growth of barbecue, and specifically smoked brisket, around the world today.
Franklin is joined in this year’s class by Joe Davidson of Oklahoma Joe’s fame and Desiree Robinson of the famous Cozy Corner barbecue joint in Memphis, which she founded with her husband, Raymond, in 1977. Robinson represents two firsts in the Barbecue Hall of Fame: she’s both the first black woman and the first living African American to be inducted.
Another first for the hall this year is the newly formed category of legacy inductees, which honors the contributions of pitmasters and barbecue personalities who are no longer with us. James Lemons, longtime pitmaster of Lem’s Bar-B-Q on the South Side of Chicago, and Warner Stamey, founder of Stamey’s Barbecue and the grandfather of Piedmont-style barbecue in North Carolina, are in this year’s class. If you know someone in barbecue who deserves recognition in the Barbecue Hall of Fame (as a living member or in the legacy category), nomination forms for next year’s class are already available.
Franklin and his fellow honorees will be officially inducted at a ceremony scheduled for September 19 in Kansas City.