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Aaron Franklin: “We Will Rebuild”

After the storied Franklin Barbecue caught on fire, pitmaster Aaron Franklin seems determined to get back up and running.

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Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

“We will rebuild,” Aaron Franklin said early Saturday afternoon. He sounded surprisingly upbeat given the damage he had just surveyed inside the pit room at Franklin Barbecue, which caught fire Saturday morning. “We’ll probably have to completely replace the walls and the roof,” Franklin said, adding that he hoped the floor of the pit room could be salvaged. He expects to be closed for at least a month, but is looking for options to fire up the smokers elsewhere in Austin as repairs are made. Despite the intense fire, all of the steel smokers are undamaged. “The gauges are blown out,” Franklin said, joking that they didn’t really use the thermometers anyway.

Only one employee was at the restaurant when the fire started. Franklin didn’t want to name the person, but insisted his employee was not at fault. “Anybody who cooks with fire the way we do is kidding themselves if they don’t think this is a possibility,” he said. As for the employee, he was predictably shaken up. Franklin sent him home with a bottle of whiskey and advised him to get some rest.

The fire was caused by an errant ember that became lodged against the wall behind Bethesda, the large Franklin-built rotisserie smoker on the east side of the pit room. Franklin got the call at 5:37 a.m. and said he rushed to the restaurant. He didn’t expect there to be much damage, thinking the fire might even be out before he got there. “Then I got up on I-35 and saw the smoke. That’s when I got worried,” he recalled. Fire trucks surrounded the building and all the streets were blocked. He immediately knew it was more serious.

Once the fire was out, Franklin offered briskets to the firefighters. There were 110 finished ones sitting in the warmers unharmed, but without any utilities in the building, Franklin couldn’t exactly serve them. The firefighters said they weren’t allowed to accept them, but I wouldn’t blame any of Austin’s finest if they were having brisket for dinner.

In a recent interview with Eater, Franklin mentioned that the original Franklin Barbecue trailer is in storage. “It’s not really road-worthy,” he said in the interview, but added that, “hopefully I’ll get to use to for something someday.” When I reminded Franklin about his comment, he allowed that it might have been foreshadowing. “I don’t think we could get a food service permit for it,” he said. If the old trailer makes it out of storage, we’ll be the first to let you know. Either way, expect Franklin briskets to be available somewhere in Austin sooner rather than later.

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  • Walt Longmire

    Sorry to hear of this incident. Franklin BBQ was on my list of places to visit when we swing through Texas next time. I hope by then they are up and running.

  • CplRock

    Fantastic BBQ. Glad the restaurant appears unharmed. Looking forward to getting brisket made in the repaired pit room.

  • Kozmo

    The brisket was fantastic the one time I was able to enjoy it (early 2011, when the line only took an hour to reach the counter); the other offerings were only average. I wish them a speedy recovery but meanwhile, there are plenty of excellent joints out there to explore in Austin or within a short drive and none expect anyone to wait for hours and hours to be served. Franklin’s success may be a double-edged sword.

  • John Segura

    Glad nobody was hurt, Franklin is a trooper.. they are going to be ok!