There’s now a second way to get brisket from Franklin Barbecue. Sort of.
The world-famous barbecue restaurant owned by Aaron and Stacy Franklin in East Austin earlier this year quietly started serving their own sausage, made in-house mostly with trimmings from award-winning Franklin brisket.
Finally, the naggers can quit with the inquisition.
“Do you make your own sausage?” It’s a question barbecue lovers often ask of the places to which they make pilgrimages.
For years the answer at Franklin Barbecue was, “No. But we’re going to.”
Texas Sausage Company made links — using a recipe created by Franklin Barbecue — that the restaurant sold for almost a decade, but its famed pitmaster had long wanted to make his own. It was a question of fine-tuning the recipe and process and building out the production space.
Just when Franklin and his team had finally reached the moment they were going to take their sausage production fully in-house, tragedy struck. A fire burned the restaurant’s smokehouse last August, just as they had ramped up production. The sausage would have to wait, as the restaurant closed for about three months for repairs.
But once it got back up and running, Franklin tapped recent Franklin Barbecue hire Megan Nesland, a veteran of Whole Foods Market, to lead the in-house sausage operation. After slowly introducing their own sausage into partial service last year, Franklin Barbecue quietly changed to full in-house production about six months ago.
“We’re definitely not self-promoters or horn tooters,” Franklin said of the silent rollout.
Listen to Aaron Franklin talk about why and how his restaurant switched to in-house sausage production:
The restaurant serves between 90 to 150 pounds of sausage a day. The recipe relies heavily on trim from the brisket flats, with about 4% of the filling coming from pork rib trimming and pork butts. The Czech-style recipe is heavy on raw garlic, along with mustard seed, mustard powder, salt and pepper and a touch of brown sugar. The result is a snap casing with a deep garlic flavor that lingers with you into the afternoon.
Nesland, whom Franklin has dubbed “the Sausage Queen,” was relatively new to sausage-making when she raised her hand to volunteer about a year ago. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I fell in love with it. It became my passion. And it’s pretty much the only thing I want to do,” Nesland said.
She’s currently working on a Hatch green chile sausage that will hit the menu in September, the first of a rotating roster of seasonal sausages the restaurant plans to feature. Nesland also is crafting a breakfast patty sausage for the breakfast taco trailer at Franklin Barbecue that should open (spoiler alert) sometime next month.
We sat down recently with Franklin and Nesland at Franklin Barbecue to talk about how the sausage finally got made. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
American-Statesman: You make the best brisket in the state, and the pork ribs are as good as they’ve ever been. But did you have any sense that there are a few purists out there who won’t rest until you’re doing everything yourselves? Was there anything you wanted to prove to anybody, or was making sausage just a thing you wanted to get done for yourself?
Aaron Franklin: I don’t ever feel pressure to really prove anything. I’m super not competitive, and competition really stresses me out, like not cool with me. But from a waste perspective, heck yeah we should be making sausage. We have so much brisket trim daily. And for years, it’s just been going in the trash, or people take it home and make dinners and give to friends or whatever. But the pride of making in-house sausage, for sure. That’s kind of the standard for German-Czech barbecue joints. And that’s always been kind of our weakest link. (Laughs) Oh man, I didn’t even try and do that. Sorry.
When you raised your hand to get on the sausage train, Megan, was that really just your way to get your hands back in food prep?
Megan Nesland: Exactly.
But now that you’ve been working on it, this is one of the most exciting culinary things you’ve messed with in your career.
Nesland: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s actually my calling. I want to go further in sausage-making and salumeri. I didn’t realize that working in a refrigerator that’s 38 degrees every single day would actually be something that’s satisfying.
Listen to Franklin and Nesland talk about the sausage recipe:
Working for Aaron, who’s a well-known, if not perfectionist, then tinkerer, what have you learned from him about tinkering?
Franklin: Man, I’ve been so hands-off on this one.
Nesland: He really has. Which I find pretty amazing that he’s trusted (kitchen manager Andy Risner) and I to figure out this process.
Franklin: That’s amazing, too. Because that never happens.
Nesland: I just don’t think he likes the refrigerator.
Aaron, you’ve always been scientific in your understanding of humidity and wind and airflow. How tricky is the sausage to cook, and what is the process in actually making it?
Franklin: That was a really tricky thing, and that was kind of partially what took so long for us to get sausage on the menu, was how to properly cook it. It’s really tricky to get the casings snappy and just right. Essentially, we cold-smoke them and then chill them really, really quickly and then just (heat them) during service.
Are you getting feedback from customers?
Franklin: People seem pretty stoked on it. Just like you’ve been bugging me for years, we’ve got customers going, “Hey, it is on the menu yet? Hey, is it on the menu yet?” Those who are out there know who they are. (Laughs)
Listen to Franklin and Nesland talk about feedback from regular customers:
I come once or twice a year. Do you have regulars who come once a month or more?
Nesland: We have customers who come sometimes once a week. They’re the ones who show up right before we’re closed and see what we have left for the day.
Franklin: Or they’re the first on Fridays and Saturdays. One fella in particular has been coming here for years with his family. His kids are off in college, and when they come back they’re always first in line. So he’s been bugging me for years about the sausage. But those were the same people who, when we were working with the recipe, I’d be like, “Hey, check this out. What do you think?” And they’d say, “Aw, it’s a little fatty, it’s a little this. Aw, it’s maybe too salty." So those are the guys who are like, “Hey, heck yeah, I’ll take 6 pounds" and are getting pretty excited about it.
Is there anything coming to the menu or anything you guys have planned?
Franklin: We’re hopefully a couple of weeks from opening up the coffee and taco trailer. Again, just like the sausage, we’re probably not going to tell anyone. I shouldn’t have said anything just now.
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