It’s not hyperbole to say that Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX is the biggest name in the business. The man behind the brand, Aaron Franklin, became a celebrity in his own right after doing the unthinkable: giving away his recipe for the perfect brisket in his first book. Franklin Barbecue: A Manifesto for Smoking Meat ($29.99, Ten Speed Press, 2015). In doing so, he fundamentally changed the scope of barbecue in this country.
Texas monthlyIt is BBQ Editor Daniel Vaughn says, “When the most famous brisket cook the world has ever seen tells you exactly how to breed his cash cow, enterprising pitmasters are going to do just that,” he said. wrote in 2021. “Much of our current glut of quintessential smoked beef brisket comes from barbecue joints that have opened up in the post-Franklin barbecue world…a lot of Texas beef brisket tastes like eating a cover song. Granted, it’s a cover of the greatest barbecue track ever written.
His second book, Franklin Steak: Dry aged. Real shot. pure beef, details the glory of the steak. And in May, his third book came out: Franklin Smoke: Drink. Fire. Food, and no doubt it too will become a best-seller. But where Aaron Franklin has the know-how, it’s trilogy co-author Jordan Mackay, a wine writer-turned-barbecue fan, who brings Franklin’s wisdom and technique to the page. We sat down with Mackay to talk about the book, the difference between barbecue and grilling, the importance of smoke and a favorite recipe.
Out: Tell us about this new book, the third in the Franklin trilogy.
Jordan Mackay: This one is more of a cookbook. The first concerns what Aaron does at Franklin Barbecue. It is very classically based on central Texas barbecue staples. The second book is a super deep dive into steak – breeding, beef quality, dry aging, cutting, preparation, grilling. I don’t think it’s been done before and I’m really proud of it. This third is an intersection of grilling and smoking. The goal is to get the most out of the fire from start to finish and get some of the smoky qualities and things we love about barbecue with the fast action of the grill.
Out: Many people use the terms “barbecue” and “grilling” interchangeably, but they are not the same. Can you help define each?
Jordan Mackay: Barbecuing is very different from putting pork chops on a deck grill. Grilling is fast cooking and requires certain ingredients and pieces of meat that cook quickly. Much flavor arises, in the case of a gas grill, from vaporizing juices that hit a hot surface and rise to coat the food. The barbecue is slow and what we really like is cooking with wood and (the flavor of) wood smoke. When you cook on charcoal, it’s different from gas or charcoal in that you get the most out of the grill and you get the most out of the smoke action.
Out: There is good smoke and bad smoke, right?
Jordan Mackay: It is so crucial to have a good smoke against a bad smoke. (For the record, the best and tastiest smoke is slightly blue and the result of your fire being 650°F to 700°F.) Some chefs really get into “I can smoke this and that”, and they’ll put coals in a hotel pot and cover it. Often it’s not a good smoke, it’s pungent. Even though Aaron and I represent the existence of smoke, we also caution against it. We don’t want to do everything with smoke. We treat it like a seasoning.
Out: This book is first and foremost about fire – building it, caring for it, extracting every bit of its warmth and magic. According to Aaron, there are six stages of fire – ignition, white smoke, flame, embers, embers and ashes – and each can and should be used for cooking.
Jordan Mackay: If you are going to create a fire, it takes a lot of effort and resources. It’s a lifestyle choice for that day or night and you don’t want to waste it. Cooking on fire makes everything better. It’s like when you go camping, my mother used to say that when you go backpacking – even when you add water to the freeze-dried meals you have at REI – eating and cooking outside is better.
Out: Of the many recipes in the book, the one that gave me a double take was Jordan’s Perfect Green Salad. There are only five ingredients (one of which is the “restraint”) but it is two pages long, three with the photo. Tell me about that.
Jordan Mackay: First, (the salad) really is the perfect antidote to barbecue and grilling. But although this is a cookbook, we’re not into the recipes, we’re into the technique. We are tech geeks. I can pretty much take any recipe, including a salad, and split it into 2-3 pages. When you learn the basics of why something works, then you can add your own twist. Even though there are more recipes (in this book), they are meant to be inspirations and models for cooking on your own.
Out: OK, recipe or not, name one of your favorites in the book.
Jordan Mackay: Pork shoulder steaks. It’s a commitment but it’s worth it.