At his legendary Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Aaron Franklin has mastered the “slow, agonizing cook” of brisket. (So far the only person to skip the hours-long line is President Obama.) Franklin’s the biggest name in the pitmaster business, appearing in everything from credit card ads to the film Chef, and his snazzy new cookbook Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto just came out. But when the ambassador of low and slow is at home, he’s grilling in the backyard like the rest of us. “What’s more fun than standing around a grill with beers?” he says. He creates hot and cool zones on his ’50s-style PK grill for tomahawk steaks, shishitos, and more.
Do you make a distinction between grilling and barbecue?
I split it into “long cook” and “fast cook.” If it’s a fast cook, it’s steak and it’s grilling. If it’s barbecue, then it’s a slow, agonizing, sleep-depriving cook.
And you’ve chosen to dedicate your life to that agonizing, slow cook.
I don’t know if I chose it or it chose me. It started out with playing a rock show and staying up all night smoking meat. I was younger then. Now it’s go to bed early, get up at midnight and have a full work day.
So barbecue is a young person’s game? There are a lot of grizzled old pitmasters in Texas.
Why do you think they’re so cranky? They’re sleep deprived.
Do you like to grill, or are you sick of fire at the end of the day?
I cook tons of stuff on the grill. It’s our main way of cooking in the summertime. I don’t have time to think about barbecue, so if I cook at home it has to be fast. I feel way more comfortable using fire than I do the stove. Cooking on a stove has got to be the easiest thing in the world, but you don’t get flavor or characteristics from it. It’s just heat. But a grill, that’s fun. The way the whole barbecue thing started was that we really liked hanging out outside. What’s more fun that standing around a grill with beers?
What’s your barbecue beer of choice?
These days it’s a clean, crisp beer. The Live Oak Big Bark is a staple. I’ve been drinking a lot of Pearl Snaps lately too.
What’s your go-to grill at home?
My favorite grill is a PK Kitchen out of Little Rock. They’re old-school fifties-looking grills. Rectangular. They’re expensive, about three hundred dollars, but it will never rust out because it’s aluminum. You can take the whole thing apart and you can put it in the dishwasher.
It’s also great for creating cooking zones because it’s rectangular. You can work it like a grill station at a restaurant. You get your coals over here, you get your cool spot on the other side. You’ve got all these cooks going on at once and just shuffle.
Say you’re hosting a big party. What do you serve?
I would start out and ask if anyone’s vegetarian. After that, it depends what the weather is like. If it’s hot, I’ll grill bavettes [flank] or hanger steaks, make some salsa, some guacamole, and grill some tortillas. If it’s just [my wife] Stacy and I, I might throw some tomahawk steaks down in the coals and grill some vegetables on top.
Any favorite summer produce?
Shishito peppers. They’re the ones I get really giddy about. Normally I toss them in oil, grill ‘em, throw some sea salt, and maybe grate a little lime or lemon. Maybe microplane some manchego on top.
What’s your essential music for a cookout?
I definitely lean towards the 50′s exotica. Arthur Lyman, Les Baxter, all that kooky Polynesian stuff. I like tiki torches and pink flamingos and green AstroTurf and whole hog cooking in the backyard. I love 50’s Americana. In the shop, we used to only play pre-1964 country. But the problem is, they’re not making any more pre-1964 country. So now we’re up to the early 70’s.
What’s your number one tip for people who want to start smoking meat at home?
A friend of mine who’s a barbecue guy and a Marine has a saying: “Plan your work and work your plan.” If you’re thinking you’re going to cook a brisket, come up with a game plan. Write down some notes. I have a spreadsheet written on butcher paper for everything we’ve got to execute. Otherwise halfway through the cook, you’re getting tired, your fire’s dying, you’ve had too many beers maybe, and you lose track.
What’s one recipe from your book a beginner should try first?
Pork butt is a super training wheels kind of meat. The bone-in pork butt is the clumsiest thing you can cook. If the bone starts to pull out, it’s tender, it’s done. Your window of error is pretty wide. The shorter the cook, the smaller the window of perfection.
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from Bon Appétit http://www.bonappetit.com/columns/back-of-the-napkin-columns/article/aaron-franklin