Four years ago, Franklin Barbecue was our hands-down pick for best barbecue in the state (i.e., the world). A couple of years later, Aaron Franklin published a best-selling cookbook and won a James Beard award for best chef in the region, a first for a pitmaster. He’s the most famous barbecue cook in the country, and he’s recently a co-founder of a new Austin food blowout, the Hot Luck Festival. Given all that, we wouldn’t have been surprised if the barbecue at his restaurant had started to slip. But one taste of the brisket, the one every pitmaster from Texas to Timbuktu wants to emulate, tells you otherwise. (Yes, Franklin has ceded its number-one place on our list to Snow’s, but that’s not a knock on it so much as a reflection that Snow’s is currently smoking hot.) On a lean cut of Franklin brisket, a line of soft, yielding fat gilds the edge, carrying with it the vanilla-tinged flavor of oak smoke and a black-pepper bite. The beef is tender enough to cut with a spoon but holds together until the first luscious mouthful. Needless to say, the quality extends across the menu, yea, even unto the turkey, which is not commercially brined and thus tastes fresh and fantastic. How does Franklin do it? With a little help from his friends: there’s his tireless wife and co-owner, Stacy; Benji Jacob, his best friend since high school, who tends the front of house and the restless line of customers; and meat master Braun Hughes, who ensures that a hundred or more briskets come out perfect every time.
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