Aaron Franklin talks perfectionism, Thin Lizzy, Hot Luck and more

On April 28, 2017, Aaron Franklin greeted customers at Franklin’s Barbecue, which he co-owns with his wife Stacy Franklin. The couple opened their restaurant in March 2011. Since then, it has grown to it’s maximum capacity. “We can’t physically cook anymore food than we already cook,” said Aaron Franklin. Still, Franklin said that he is not considering requests from investors offering to expand the restaurant into a chain. “This is our little bit of old school Austin,” Franklin said about his restaurant. “We’re not changing.” (Reshma Kirpalani AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Aaron Franklin has made it to the top of the barbecue game thanks to his tireless pursuit of excellence, a staff that follows the lead of its obsessive and affable boss, a culture of service and good times, and a dedication to tinkering. We spent an afternoon with the Hot Luck co-founder to talk to him about his philosophy on cooking and running one of the best barbecue restaurants in the country. You can read our story about his interest in welding and creating 15 unique pieces of cookery for Hot Luck here. Below are some outtakes from our conversation.

On the title of chef, the James Beard award winner usually winces …

“I don’t necessarily feel like anyone should call me a chef or even think of me as a chef.”

On his obsessive pursuit of getting things right…

“I think it’s gotten worse in recent years … It’s not necessarily a good thing. It really annoys a lot of people who I rely heavily on … It could be almost anyone in the restaurant, really. So I just walk in the restaurant and go, ‘OK, guys, it’s me, not you.’”

On restaurants taking on the personality of their owners and chefs …

“It’s definitely happened that way at Franklin Barbecue.”

Aaron Franklin opened Franklin’s Barbecue in East Austin with his wife in March 2011. Since then, their restaurant has gained national acclaim, with customers lining up as early as 4am on weekends, waiting for doors to open at 11am. (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

On barbecue first, business second ….

“There is an angle on the counter in the original trailer that is measured from the tip of my foot to 36″ work table height, so I could get more room out of the walkway. It wasn’t built for business, it was built for me and Stacy. It was built for a passion and then we had to fill in the other gaps.”

On getting into cooking barbecue professionally ….

“That’s a pretty intimidating genre. Yea, it’s painfully simple — just meat and fire — but it’s really complex at the same time, once you really dig into the details and try and replicate it day in and day out.”

On finding the right kind of employees …

“If someone comes in and thinks they  have it all figured out, I don’t want that person. I want someone who comes and is honest and has a good heart and just a really good work ethic who really, really cares.”

On his employee litmus test …

“I used to ask people what their opinions were on Thin Lizzy, and that would determine whether they were hired or not.”

On April 27, 2017, Aaron Franklin, James Beard Award winner and owner of Franklin’s Barbecue, worked in his welding shop in Bastrop, Texas with Matt Johnson. Franklin opened the restaurant in March 2011 with his wife Stacy Franklin. After they signed the lease on the East Austin building, the couple spent three and a half months fixing it up. “No contractors,” said Franklin about the restaurant. “We built everything ourselves.” (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

On the Franklin Barbecue way …

“Our way is really, really specific. It’s our way. And it was designed that way intentionally and accidentally.”  

On whether barbecue gets the respect it deserves as a culinary art form?

“Absolutely. Most food probably has its time sometime, and it’s been barbecue’s time.”

On the greatness of barbecue’s simplicity …

“I think that’s kind of the thing that’s so cool about barbecue is that you don’t have to have crazy fancy equipment.You can dig a hole in the ground, find some rocks, and build a cooker. It’s like the most primitive way to cook but you can take it as far as you want it, or you can dumb it down as much as you want. I think that’s super cool. And that had a lot to do with me getting into barbecue, because we didn’t really have any money.”

 

Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin (left) and Mohawk co-owner James Moody are teaming up to bring Hot Luck to Austin.

On Hot Luck …

“It’s a festival for cooks. It’s not a big schmoozy, pinkies-out kind of thing. This is flip flops, shorts, Lone Star tall boys and hanging out grilling steaks with your buddies. You hang out, you make friends, it’s more like hanging out at grandma’s house. It’s way more about hanging out with friends than doing the most intellectual thing possible.”

On the chef friends he invited to participate in Hot Luck …

“I wanted to avoid cheffy people who are like on TV but don’t really have a craft that can back them up. I want people that are kind of a little under the normal radar of big time TV and magazine stuff. Some of the names are surprisingly pretty big,obviously. I’m not gonna not invite somebody just because they have a big name, but I’m not gonna invite somebody just because they have a big name.”

On expecting the unexpected at the inaugural fest …

“Something’s gonna go wrong and I don’t know what and I don’t know when and I don’t know what I’m gonna have to do to fix it, but something is gonna go wrong, somewhere.”

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Hot Luck kicks off tonight with Thurston S’Moores and Thurston Moore at the Mohawk

Thurston Moore at Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores on Saturday, November 9, 2013. (Tina Phan AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Hot Luck is a food and music festival. What does that mean, exactly? Well, there are food events and there are live music events. But there is also some crossover, as folks will learn tonight at the Mohawk tonight when former Sonic Youth singer-guitarist Thurston Moore takes the stage. The food component to compliment the act? S’mores. And they’ll be cooked on the open flame of a cooker designed by Aaron Franklin. The open-flame cooker’s name? Thurston S’Moore. What s’more would you expect from Franklin, admitted devotee of the dad joke?

Individual tickets will be sold at the door for $22, and Hot Luck’s Whole Enchilada pass holders also get access to the gig.

 

Aaron Franklin to create and sell Franklin Barbecue Pits for at-home cooks

Did you know that in addition to being a James Beard award-winning chef,  Aaron Franklin is a pretty handy welder? He and his team are even welding more than a dozen pieces of cookery for his Hot Luck festival, which begins Thursday. The self-taught welder built his first smoker about eight years ago for his little barbecue trailer, and hasn’t slowed down. Now, he’s bringing his welded creations to the public.

Aaron Franklin (right) and Caleb Johnson discuss the smokers they’re creating for the upcoming Hot Luck food and live music festival. (Reshma Kirpalani AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Aaron Franklin shows off a piece of one of his Franklin Barbecue Pits prototypes. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

If you’ve always wanted to cook like the Franklin Barbecue master, you may get your chance staring next summer. Franklin is designing Franklin Barbecue Pits (franklinbbqpits.com) for the many at-home cooks and barbecue obsessives. The pits will be about six-feet long and fit three briskets. Franklin describes the pits, which will have rolled heads, a fully insulated smoke box and be CNC laser cut, as “super-duper basic.” They will resemble a high-quality version of the kind of pit Franklin got started on years ago.

Franklin will design the pits and oversee their production by welding brothers Caleb and Matt Johnson, who have worked with Franklin for several years. The thick and durable pits, which Franklin expects to last a lifetime, will be made in the Austin area.  The pits are designed explicitly for the home cook, and Aaron and wife and partner Stacy Franklin have said they have no interest in getting involved with production for commercial use.

Matt Johnson works on a smoker for Hot Luck food and live music festival. (Reshma Kirpalani)

The Franklins have not settled on a final price, but want it to be competitively priced and expect it might cost around the price of two XL Big Green Eggs. You can not currently purchase a Franklin Barbecue Pit, but you can sign up for the newsletter at FranklinBBQPits.com in order to get updates on the pits. Franklin hopes to start shipping out the first pits next summer. There will be one version that is fully welded and another version that will require minor assembly.

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What will Aaron Franklin be cooking at his Hot Luck festival?

Aaron Franklin will step away from brisket smoking to cook pot roast at his Hot Luck festival. (Reshma Kirpalani AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Aaron Franklin is going to be a busy man next week at the inaugural Hot Luck festival that he’s producing with partners James Moody (Fun Fun Fun Fest, the Mohawk) and Mike Thelin (Feast food festival in Portland, Oregon). In addition to overseeing festival construction and production and making sure that his famous restaurant continues to run without a hitch, the James Beard award-winner will also cook at the festival.

He imagined the Friday night Hi Lo event in which he’ll participate as a chance for chefs to tap into the dishes and flavors that originally made them fall in love with food and eventually want to become cooks.

“Don’t try and make something super fancy, make something you’re really excited about,” Franklin said was the general directive. 

So, what inspirational dish will the Hot Luck co-founder create next week? He’s going to pay tribute to his mother’s pot roast. Franklin will cook 250 pounds of pot roast and serve it with mashed potatoes. Not an easy feat for a man whose restaurant doesn’t even have an oven.

How will he create it?  He intends to break down whole shoulder clods, sear them on a 36-inch plancha and deglaze them.

“I’ve got bones and oxtails and all this stuff showing up for the stock,” Franklin said. “It’s gonna take about three days to make the stock for the gravy in a restaurant that has no burners, really.”

How’s he gonna do that?

“I might have to get a turkey fryer and  leave it on the back porch,” Franklin said with a laugh. 

The Hi Lo takes place May 19. Tickets cost $145 and can be purchased online. Other chefs participating include Adam Sappington (The Country Cat, Portland), Callie Speer (Holy Roller, Austin), Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca d’Oro, Austin), Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie, Austin), Rene Ortiz (Launderette, Austin), Tyson Cole (Uchi) and more.

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Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck adds Ivan Ramen’s Ivan Orkin, Mixtli chefs and more

The Hot Luck food and music festival today announced that newly minted James Beard award winners Greg and Gabi Denton of Portland’s Ox will participate in the fest, along with Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen, Diego Galicia and Rico Torres of Mixtli and more. Galicia and Torres were recently named Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine and will be joined at the festival by other honorees Peter Cho of Han Oak (Portland) and Sara Kramer of Kismet (Los Angeles), who will cook at the kickoff event “Hi, How Are You?”

Food & Wine Best New Chefs Rico Torres (left) and Diego Galicia (right) of Mixtli in San Antonio are two of the new names added to Hot Luck.

The festival has already announced a slew of events, including a night of chefs cooking the foods that inspired them, a tiki party pig roast and more

Tickets and more information and the food and music events of the festival the takes place May 18-21 can be found at hotluckufest.com

Hot Luck Festival announces brunch series, tiki party, kickoff event with Aaron Franklin & Roy Choi, more

Aaron Franklin at the Texas Book Festival in 2015. (Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Aaron Franklin and friend’s Hot Luck has been billed as a food and music festival. What does that mean? Well, there will be live music (with acts like Thurston Moore and Black Lips performing across town, as the Statesman’s Deborah Sengupta Stith reports this morning) and there will be food programming. But there will also be hybrid food-and-music programming. To wit: newly minted Food & Wine Best New Chef in America, Yoshi Okai of Otoko (also a wicked rock frontman) will serve Japanese cuisine at Barracuda while Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife rocks out. That is just one of the new food-programming announcements this morning from the festival that takes place in Austin May 18-21.

The Japanese event is just one piece of the new programming announced today by Hot Luck. The festival also announced a Brunch Series (May 21) and released a new roster of participating chefs, which include Elias Cairo (Olympia Provisions, Portland), Ben Runkle (Salt and Time), Kristine Kittrell (Weather Up) for “Hawaii, Texas,” Laura Loomis (Two Bros BBQ Market, San Antonio) and others.

The Brunch Series will take places around Austin, as Contigo chef Andrew Wiseheart hosts guest chef Adam Sappington from The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar (Portland); L’Oca d’Oro’s Fiore Tedesco will share his kitchen with chef Joshua McFadden from Ava Gene’s and Tusk (Portland); and Chad Dolezal of The Hightower will team with chef Steve McHugh from Cured (San Antonio).

Tickets for the brunch, the Shonen Knife-Okai combo and other individual programming like The Hi Lo and Al Fuego are for sale on the festival’s site and are also included in the Whole Enchilada package, of which there are only a limited number remaining.

Two events exclusively offered to Whole Enchilada tickets holders are the May 18 kick-off event, “Hi, How Are You?,” where Arron Franklin welcomes Korean barbecue wiz Roy Choi of Kogi, and “Hawaii, Texas,” a tiki-themed cocktail and pig roast party  on May 20 at WeatherUp. The list of culinary names added to the fest today

Chefs already announced to participate in Hot Luck include Alex Stupak, Empellón (New York); Andy Ricker, Pok Pok (Portland); Nong Poonsukwattana, Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Portland); Chris Shepherd, Underbelly (Houston); Bryce Gilmore, Odd Duck; Callie Speer, Bombshell; and Jesse Griffiths, Dai Due.

For tickets and more information, visit hotluckfest.com.  A portion of the proceeds from Hot Luck will benefit the SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace.

 

Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck Festival releases chef lineup; tickets on sale

The inaugural Hot Luck Festival co-founded by Aaron Franklin announced a large roster of impressive talent from Texas and across the country today, as tickets went on sale at hotluckfest.com for the celebration of food and live music that will take place in venues across Austin May 18-21.

Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin (left), Mohawk co-owner James Moody (right) and Feast’s Mike Thelin (not pictured) are teaming up to bring the Hot Luck Festival to Austin. (Credit: Matthew Odam)

James Beard award-winner Franklin and partners will welcome famous chefs who cover a wide swath of culinary and physical ground, from Thai (Andy Ricker of Portland’s Pok Pok) to Korean (Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ in Los Angeles), Mexican (Alex Stupak of Empellón in New York City), barbecue (Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May’s BBQ in NYC) and more.

Roy Choi, seen here at the 2014 SXSW world premiere of “Chef,” is one of the out-of-town talents coming to Austin for the Hot Luck Festival. (Thao Nguyen FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

In addition to out-of-towners, a large group of local talent, headlined by Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine), Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie), Tatsu Aikawa (Ramen Tatsu-ya and Kemuri Tatsu-ya), Todd Duplechan (Lenoir) and Tyson Cole (Uchi), will also participate in the festival, along with other Texas talent like fellow Beard-winner Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in Houston, John Tesar of Knife in Dallas and Steve McHugh of Cured in San Antonio.

The festival kicks off in earnest on Friday night when more than 10 chefs, including Franklin, David Bull (Second Bar + Kitchen), Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca d’Oro) and others, come together for an evening event called The Hi Lo, which will showcase the chefs’ preparing the dishes that originally inspired their cooking, from slow-cooked ribs to cast-iron chicken.

Saturday night’s main attraction, Al Fuego, will give the chefs a chance to show off their live-fire cooking skills with a range of cuisines from a group that will include Ricker, Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo), Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye), Matthew Rudofker (Momofuku in NYC), Nong Poonsukwattana (Nong’s Khao Man Gai in Portland), Sara McIntosh (Epicerie) and about two dozen other chefs.

Uchi executive chef and founder Tyson Cole is one of three James Beard Award winners from Texas (Shepherd, Franklin) participating in the Hot Luck Festival.

While the two featured night events take place at Fair Market (Friday) and Wild Onion Ranch (Saturday), an assortment of other venues will also host food programming and live music, with Franklin Barbecue, Fair Market, Barracuda, Mohawk, White Horse and Alamo Drafthouse among the names that will appear on the schedule. The live music portion of the programming will be announced in April.

Tickets are being sold individually for the Friday ($145) and Saturday evening events ($155), and there is a “Whole Enchilada” ticket package for $550 includes early access to the featured events, admission to all food and music programming, special parties and more. As the additional a la carte food events and concerts are announced, those tickets will also go on sale individually, starting at $20. A portion of the proceeds from Hot Luck will benefit the SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace.

“We are super excited to have the opportunity to launch a new festival with our Austin family and our extended family,” said James Beard Award-winner and Hot Luck partner Aaron Franklin. “Hot Luck will celebrate the food we love, the music we love, and the city we love.”

The chef lineup, featuring an eclectic collection of local, regional, and national world-class culinary talent, is as follows:

Afar:

Adam Perry Lang, APL Restaurant (New York); Adam Sappington, The Country Cat (Portland); Alex Stupak, Empellón (New York); Andy Ricker, Pok Pok (Portland); Roy Choi, Kogi BBQ Truck (Los Angeles); Joshua McFadden, Ava Gene’s (Portland); Joshua Pinsky, Momofuku (New York); Matthew Rudofker, Momofuku (New York); and Nong Poonsukwattana, Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Portland)

Texas:

Chris Shepherd, Underbelly (Houston); Jason Dady, Jason Dady Restaurants (San Antonio); John Tesar, Knife at The Highland Dallas (Dallas); Rebecca Masson, Fluff Bake Bar (Houston); and Steve McHugh, Cured (San Antonio)

Austin:

Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue; Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo; Bryce Gilmore, Odd Duck; Callie Speer, Bombshell; Chad Dolezal, The Hightower; David Bull, Second Bar + Kitchen; David Norman, Easy Tiger; Fiore Tedesco, L’Oca d’Oro; Jason Stude, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill; Jesse Griffiths, Dai Due; Kevin Fink, Emmer & Rye; Laura Sawicki, Launderette; Michael Fojtasek, Olamaie; Michael Paley, Central Standard; Miguel Vidal, Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ; Philip Speer, Bonhomie; Rene Ortiz, Launderette; Sarah McIntosh, Épicerie Café & Grocery; Tatsu Aikawa, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya; Todd Duplechan, Lenoir; Tyson Cole, Hai Hospitality; and Yoshi Okai, Otoko.