Welcome to Tough Doors, in which Eater talks to the chefs, GMs, and restaurateurs behind some of the world's most in-demand restaurants and gets the lowdown on how best to get in.
[Photo: Franklin Barbecue]
Nearly one year ago, Bon Appétit's Andrew Knowlton declared the barbecue at Franklin, in Austin, Texas, as the best in the United States. Pretty much ever since, the walk-in only restaurant from pitmaster Aaron Franklin and his wife Stacy has experienced relentless demand, with people lining up for hours to try the place's celebrated brisket and other smoked meats (read more on Franklin's method here). In the following interview, Aaron talks about the best days and hours to visit, how you can bypass the line by securing a large order in advance, and how waiting outside is a crucial aspect of the experience.
For those that may not be familiar, how does the line work and what are the hours?
Pretty much we cook a ton of food, people start showing up a couple of hours before we open, which is at 11 AM. We open Tuesday through Sunday.
The line comes to the counter, where people get their meat, their sides, and pay. People can either take off right after they get their stuff or sit down and eat. We serve until we sell out.
Are the waits consistent every day or do they fluctuate?
It definitely fluctuates. Tuesday and Wednesday are definitely our slowest days, when waits run about an hour or ninety minutes. Saturdays it's just ridiculous! There are usually three-hundred people outside before we even open, and it stays at about a three hour wait.
The weather really does affect all of this, though, since you're standing outside.
When do you tend to sell out of food? When would someone be cutting it too short?
We normally work through the line that's there before we open, which gets done at about 1 PM. After that, there's sort of a second wave that comes in to pick up what's left. We usually run out at about 2 PM, give or take thirty minutes. We do have a person in line that regulates the queue and keeps tabs of what people are going to order compared to how much food we have on hand.
There is a way to order food in advance, right?
With at least two days advance notice, if you order at least five pounds of meat — no sandwiches or anything like that — you can pick your food up without waiting line, like if you work in an office or something. You can get like a whole brisket or one pound of each meat and so forth.
How much does that tend to be?
Oh, maybe like 75 bucks or something like that.
So you can bypass the line?
Yeah, you can, but there's only so much extra we can cook. We tend to sell out of the advance orders very quickly.
Do you take orders by phone or e-mail?
Does anyone get to cut the line?
Totally not. It's pretty sucky to stand in line for a couple of hours and see some yahoo walk right in and grab some food. We can't have that. You have to be pretty fair, and honestly, that person is missing out on the full experience. Hanging out in line really is cool and fun. Maybe not for five hours, but being able to meet people and experience that is great.
Does anyone ever try to cut?
Oh, yeah, but the line sort of regulates itself. We don't have to do anything. The people who are lined up tend to take care of it.
Can you describe what's so great about the experience waiting to get the food?
People will make mimosas sometimes, bring a whole bunch of beer, and they treat it as if they are tailgating for a football game. There are kids out in the lot playing frisbee or football, there are lawn chairs all over the place, and there's plenty of breakfast food. Some bring blankets, some make friends. I'll go check on tables all the time who tell me, "We just met that person over there!" They'll buy each other beers, and it's really nice. It's kind of a cool thing.
What's the best advice for getting in?
Get there at 9 AM, maybe 10 AM on a slow day, and bring some snacks, coffee and just hang out.