Last year, Aaron Franklin made history by being the first pitmaster to win in the Best Chef category at the James Beard Awards. He’s back at the awards ceremony in Chicago this year with the dish that got him the 2015 prize. Franklin packed up twenty briskets to serve to the country’s best chefs tonight.
Franklin’s plate presentation won’t be fancy. “It’s a big hunk of meat on a piece of bread,” he told me. The brisket will come with their signature espresso barbecue sauce and will be served with Mrs. Baird’s white bread. For such a well-heeled crowd, “we’re cutting the crust off the white bread,” Franklin told me. Think of it like tea sandwiches with brisket.
There isn’t a smoker available at the the Lyric Opera, so he brought smoked briskets that have been chilled and packed in cryovac. They’ll be reheated in a combi oven in the facility’s kitchen. Getting the briskets to Chicago wasn’t easy. Franklin had them all packed and ready to go for Fed-Ex, but when he got their quote he had to rethink the shipping method. They wanted $1400 to ship about $2800 worth of brisket. He was flying Southwest, and they offered to carry the four big boxes on board for just $300.
On the flight is where Texas Monthly’s own Pat Sharpe, herself on the way to the James Beard Awards, caught up with Franklin and brisket cohort Davis Turner. They waited in baggage claim together, when Sharpe asked what would happen if they lost the briskets. “We might have to go to Smoque and place a big to-go order,” Franklin answered. Not to worry. The briskets arrived safely.
The post-ceremony banquet happens every year, but Franklin doesn’t remember much after winning his metal last year. He left almost immediately to celebrate. Winners from this year’s awards would be smart to stick around. Look for Franklin, who will be slicing briskets fresh for the crowd. The chefs who find him will get some of the best brisket they’ll ever eat.