Restaurants

Franklin Barbecue Emerges as Ultimate Coronavirus Contact-Less BBQ Pilgrimage — No Standing in Line is Something of a Summer Dream

While Keeping Its Dining Room Closed, Franklin Perfects Online Takeout Ordering

BY // 06.15.20

AUSTIN — While many Texas restaurants have long since reopened their dining rooms — steadily increasing their occupancy levels in steps — the best barbecue in the state (and therefore America) — is still steadfastly takeout only. Enjoying Franklin Barbecue now requires placing an order and booking a time online.

And I’d argue it’s as satisfying a barbecue pilgrimage as ever.

Yes, there are those — including Aaron Franklin himself — who say that waiting in Franklin’s endless lines is an integral part of the experience. I’d counter that it’s also an often miserable part of the experience in Texas’ relentless months of unforgiving summer heat. Sure, it can be great fun in October. Or April.

In June, July and August? Not so much.

Which makes Franklin’s current system not just the rare coronavirus fighter in a Texas that now often seems divorced from the reality of the pandemic. (Is it really that hard to put on a mask?) Franklin’s online ordering, takeout only system is also a summer dream.

Going to get Franklin Barbecue no longer requires a half day commitment. Instead, you chose your pickup time from the slots that are available on the barbecue haven’s website, drive up and get ushered through the best no-contact takeout system I’ve seen at any restaurant in these coronavirus times. Franklin Barbecue’s carryout pickup is more efficient than many military operations.

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For one thing, you’re not carrying anything out. Or even stepping out of your car. Instead, you text on arrival and get assigned a parking spot, one that often has an open spot next to it for even more distancing. You’ll be asked — by text again — to open your own trunk. Then, you’ll wait a little while as your brisket, ribs and whatever other meats you ordered are sliced and wrapped in heavy brown paper. But, remember, that “wait” is inside an air-conditioned car with your radio, podcast or audio book playing.

When your order is ready, you’ll get another text and a friendly Franklin Barbecue employee, masked and gloved on my family’s visit, will place your barbecue in the open trunk and walk away with a wave.

You can be in and out in 20 minutes to half an hour, having never stepped inside anywhere or come close to within six feet of anyone. Yes, there are some reports of cars being stretched around Franklin Barbecue’s lot and down the street at certain times, but on my later afternoon (1:30 pm) weekday visit, there was no real line. No sight of a barbecue traffic jam (as delightful as that sort of sounds).

It may not be the same experience as standing in line outside, but Aaron Franklin’s team has made this the best takeout system it could be.

And how’s the barbecue hold up?

It’s every bit as outstanding as Franklin Barbecue’s dine-in offerings from the past. Trying it for the first time, my 14-year-old son was just as blown away by it as I was on my first visit after a long, long wait standing in line.

Aaron Franklin barbecue
Aaron Franklin’s helped make Austin the barbecue capital of the world.

You’ll likely order more barbecue if you go to the trouble of planning out an order (and an Austin visit in some cases) in advance so there’s the added advantage of having Franklin Barbecue to eat for two days rather than just one dine-in trip as well.

Now, there is one caveat. Like almost all good Texas barbecue, Franklin’s is expensive ($35 per pound of brisket, $26.20 per pound of ribs or pulled pork). If you feel like you need to get the full experience of eating at Franklin Barbecue to justify spending $100 or more (easily) on barbecue that’s completely understandable. For those of us who just want the great barbecue though, this contact-less takeout online ordering system is something of a summer revelation.

Aaron Franklin has already told Austin360 that he cannot really see reopening the Franklin Barbecue dining room until maybe September when (if?) kids are back in school.

That makes the choice pretty simple. A barbecue nut can either take advantage of the hidden joys of this online takeout Franklin Barbecue system — or they can go without. I know which camp my family firmly occupies.

Other world class Austin barbecue joints are offering takeout as well. La Barbecue — which we thought very favorably stood up to Franklin Barbecue and, in some cuts of meat, maybe exceeded it — has both online takeout ordering and walk-up, wait-in-line options available. It is more than possible to take an Austin barbecue road trip and try a bunch of different topnotch places while completely maintaining social distancing (if you care about such things).

And it’s definitely still worth visiting the king of Austin barbecue — even if you never actually see him.

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