Jim Shahin of the Washington Post sits comfortably at the top of the group of national journalists who’ve come to town in recent months to explore the world of Austin, Texas barbecue.
He knows the best way to go about his business is to shut up and let the pit boss do the talking. Say too much and your ignorance of barbecue might make you a sort of Austin-wide laughing stock [ see: Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/2011/6/16/Round-Up-The-Posse-Theres-A-Varmint-Named-Andrew-Knowlton-That-Wrote-A-Piece-On-Texas-Barbecue ].
There’s talk of having him fitted with a giant red clown’s nose on his next visit to Texas.
We like Shahin’s approach. It’s novel, as many interviewers seem to like the sound of their own voice more than that of their subjects.
He opens his piece with the basic mechanics of when Aaron Franklin builds his fire, puts the meat on, type of wood he’s burning etc then he just feeds him some questions and we take a peek inside the mind of the man of the moment in the Austin barbecue world.
We like that Franklin self describes himself as a “hard core purist” when it comes to wood fires vs gas ovens. Let’s hope he maintains this perspective over the years as it will serve him well.
Too many barbecue houses out there these days aren’t smoking with American hard woods. They’re roasting with natural gas or propane. In their pursuit of consistency they’ve sacrificed their soul.
On the subject of success Franklin has maintained his humility. While lots of guys in his position would be working their way through mountains of blow and trying to dynamite their marriage in favor of a phalanx of Venezuelan super models. Franklin has taken a more modest approach. We like this [humble] statement.
” I visualized [the restaurant] might get to the point that it had a line on Saturday.”
Goal accomplished. Times six.
Shahin then presses for what Aaron feels may be the factors behind the success of Franklin.
“I don’t know if we got in at the right time for the buzz. It’s certainly good barbecue. It’s not cooked in an oven or anything. I think it’s partly that and partly the service. I don’t know.”
Shahin then tries to fire up a little controversy so the Post can move some units. He asks “Do you think you’re the best barbecue in Texas or America?”
We were secretly hoping at this point that Franklin would cut a Ric Flair like promo about how not only is he the best but that to be the man you got to beat the man. Then he hollers WHOOOOOOOOO and takes off running down the street looking for another pit boss to launch a flying dropkick towards.
But Franklin is modest and instead offers his perspective on the variables affecting any joint’s barbecue success.
“No. I think nobody can be the best. It fluctuates so much. There’s nothing but variables in barbecue. The outside temperature. The wood. The size of the meats. The way the fire is burning that day. You can make something good. I don’t think you can say it’s the best. It’s the expectations then — you can’t have unreal expectations. Everybody has an off-day. And there are so many opinions on barbecue.”
As their conversation winds down Shahin gets Franklin to speak on authenticity. To us, this is excruciatingly important and is a guiding light as we seek our barbecue on a weekly basis.
Aaron gets to the heart of the matter speaking of how smoked meat is a culture, not just another type of food. Barbecue is a large part of the fabric of the community and plays an important role in our lives and the lives of our families.
He finishes with this proclamation: “Barbecue means more than just a sandwich or just being the best. It’s not a competition.”
It seems that the young pit boss has accrued some good wisdom in his short time in the Austin barbecue world.
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