The much-anticipated Franklin Barbecue pop-up went down at Smokestack this weekend, with cult brisket heroes Aaron and Stacy Franklin and SF-based cookbook author Jordan Mackay joining forces to promote their new Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. We were on the scene for Saturday's event to sample the Franklins' amazing 'cue and check out the (surprisingly calm) crowd. Here are 9 things we learned:
1. The barbecue was unquestionably the star of the evening, but
Franklin also offered some impressive opening snacks, including the best beef jerky we've ever tasted. [Update: The jerky was actually Smokestack's; it turns out they make really, really good jerky. We regret the error.]
2. Many attendees were craning their necks in search of Franklin's smoker, but it turns out the meat being served was actually chilled, vacuum-packed, and shipped out from Austin, then reheated at Smokestack. "It's easier to get it right that way," said a staffer, and we still thought it was unquestionably the best we'd ever had. (An Austin native in attendance, who had never previously visited Franklin Barbecue out of a distaste for lines, concurred.)
3. While Franklin's mindbending brisket, fork-tender and unbelievably smoky, gets all the press, and his ribs were also exceptional, we were particularly impressed by the attention he lavished on the typically underloved hot link. The secret ingredient: beef hearts.
4. Thanks to those unending daily lines, not to mention a baby and a PBS show, Franklin is a very busy man. Frequently, the only time Mackay was able to interview him for the book was by riding along in his truck on errands, tape recorder in hand. While he says the meat is undoubtedly impressive, Mackay attributes the Franklins' success to their warmhearted customer service. "They genuinely care about each and every customer," he said in a toast.
5. With their 17-month-old daughter in tow, the Franklins didn't get to hit the town in SF as much as they would have liked, but they did enjoy a meal with Mackay at Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant.
6. The event was held in Smokestack's loading-dock/brewery area, and the restaurant's weekend crowd was in full swing (a staffer kept an eye on the passage between the two areas). But despite the deafening buzz and the sold-out-in-a-second tickets, no one tried to sneak in. "People want to poke their heads in to see it," said the evening's appointed barbecue guard. "But no one's tried to wheedle their way in."
7. Inside the barbecue holding area, the crowd remained relatively sedate—and extremely well-fed. After Aaron served the first round, Stacy Franklin's father took over the carving, happily dishing up seconds and even thirds of their delicious meats as Aaron turned his attention to signing cookbooks. He even filled to-go boxes for happy patrons to take home to friends who'd missed out on tickets.
8. To complement the heaping helpings of barbecue, Smokestack served up 20-ounce pours of several of their house brews, as well as chocolate-chip cookies for dessert. Founder and Magnolia beer guru Dave McLean worked the room, chatting with patrons.
9. Though Aaron Franklin charmingly downplayed his recent James Beard Award win for Best Chef: Southwest ("I keep waiting for them to say they made a mistake,") the awards did give the Franklins time to hit the town in Chicago, sans toddler. Though they were able to get some dining done, Stacy Franklin confessed that the trip made them realize they were "seriously uncool...we were pooped by 10 p.m."
If you missed out on the pop-up but still want to meet the Franklins yourself and get a copy of their cookbook, you have one more opportunity: Aaron Franklin is doing a book signing tonight at 6:30 pm at Omnivore Books.