“I haven’t actually told anyone about this,” Aaron Franklin said on the KCRW Good Food podcast, “but I really want to start making little backyard pits.” He was speaking to Evan Kleiman and the late Jonathan Gold in March 2015, and it was the first announcement of what would become Franklin Barbecue Pits. Franklin again teased the release of the pits when Hot Luck festival kicked off in 2017, promising them the following summer. Now, five years after that first announcement, Aaron and Stacy Franklin are assuring those who got on the waiting list early that the time is almost here. The first batch of Franklin’s backyard smokers will be delivered in time for a Memorial Day barbecue.
To be fair, that interview in 2015 came with the qualifier that the project was on the “back-burner to a back-burner to a back-burner.” Since then, the Franklins have recovered from a fire that closed Franklin Barbecue for three months, opened Loro in Austin and have two more locations of that concept in the works, and thwarted rumors of a permanent closure. That Good Food announcement came before Franklin started construction on a new welding facility in Austin. He was still working out of a small shop in Bastrop that wasn’t big enough to meet the fabrication needs of the business. It took years to navigate the permitting and construction process, but his new shop in South Austin is complete and will be fully operational in no time.
Stacy Franklin said those who signed up for the Franklin Barbecue Pits waiting list will be contacted soon via email to see if they’d still like to purchase a smoker. They’ll be given the options to purchase a smoker, give up their place in line, or delay their purchase by a few months. Stacy said all potential purchasers on the waiting list will know where they sit in line within a couple months. They’re also still accepting new names, but estimate it’ll take about eighteen months to work through the existing list.
The base purchase price will be $2,950, which is about $1,000 less than they’d originally announced. “I don’t want to price anyone out,” Aaron said. “I’d rather have a cooker that’s more moderately priced, and we can keep making these things for twenty years. The goal has always been to help the backyard guy,” referring also to the YouTube videos and the instructional BBQ With Franklin show on PBS.
The final price puts it in a competitive position against the competition. A slightly larger smoker, the U2436 from Pitts & Spitts in Houston, goes for $2,500. Sunny Moberg of Moberg Smokers, known for his thousand-gallon commercial smokers, plans to produce a line of backyard smokers as well from his new shop in Dripping Springs. That model will start at $3,950. It’ll cost $4,150 to get the new backyard model from the Johnson brothers. They left Franklin’s welding shop a couple years back to start Mill Scale Metalworks in Lockhart.
Making more smokers and producing them efficiently will be up to Matt Gase. He’s the newly hired CEO of Franklin Barbecue Pits, and recently worked for Lantana Foods and the Stubb’s barbecue sauce brand. He’ll lead a team of about ten people, including the welders who will fabricate the smokers. “The first one and every one has to be perfect,” he told me while driving to Tyler. He and Franklin were meeting with a powder coating shop to test the heat resistance of a few different color options—charcoal, army green, and sienna—they’ll be offering. The powder coating will be an upcharge (the photos are of the base model), as will a cover and delivery of the backyard smoker. Gase estimates that about $600 would get one to North Carolina, but delivery outside the U.S. won’t be available to start. Of course, you can always swing by the shop in Austin and pick yours up for no additional charge.
Each Franklin Barbecue Pit will come with a manual explaining how to cook on it, clean it, and properly maintain it. There’ll also be a water pan, grease drip bucket, and a thermometer inside each. You’ll have to supply your own wood and meat. The size of the cooking grate inside will be 19 by 36 inches, a size that Franklin says “will fit two briskets really comfortably, and you could cook three if you really wanted to.” The pits are made with American steel, and everything but the casters is fabricated in the new Franklin welding shop.
Some of the specifications for the new smokers:
Retail price: $2,950
Weight: More than 550 pounds
Cooking grate size: 19 by 36 inches
Height without stack: 47 inches
Height with stack: 81 inches
Width: 20.75 inches at aster
Length: 79 inches
And some of the design features:
5/16-inch-thick cook chamber, big enough to fit three briskets
The Franklin “original” smokestack collector mounted on a pressed ellipsoidal head for maximum airflow and convection
Expanded metal cooking grate
Water pan shelf
Custom hinges on firebox and cooking chamber door
Brushed stainless steel handle
Legs mounted to 5-inch casters
Firebox door calibrated for proper airflow
More information can be found on the newly designed Franklin Barbecue Pits website.