Some of the nicest people in the world are in the BBQ business! How do I know this. I’m glad you asked. The encounters with the following 3 BBQ people are true.
A True Story about Mike Mills:
About 5 years ago I was thinking of getting into BBQ catering and had become interested in Ole Hickory Pits. While on vacation in Ensenada Mexico, I get this crazy idea that I’ll just ring up Mike Mills and ask him a few questions about this highly regarded brand. So I call Mike’s 17th Street Grill in Murphysboro Illinois and when they answer I say, “Can I speak to Mike, please?” As if Mike Mills takes calls from BBQ yahoo’s like me. The 17th Street employee says, “Mike’s busy right now. Give me your number and I’ll have him call you back?” “Sure.” I give her my info and hang up. “Give me your number and I’ll have him call you back?” has got to be the biggest brush of line in the world. Oh, well. I gave it a shot.
About five hours later, I’m driving around Ensenada when my cell phone rings. I answer.
“Hello Frank?” “Yes???” “It’s Mike Mills how you doing? I got a message you called and this is the first chance I’ve had to get back to you. Sorry it took me so long. What can I do for you?”
I almost drove of the road. I composed myself and pulled over. This was going to be no ordinary chat. I was talking to the Sir Lawrence Olivier of smoke. The Edmund Hillary of sauce. The Babe Ruth of rub. And the Michelangelo of meats. I’m talking to a 3 -Time Memphis In May Grand Champion! I was so nervous. My hand was shaking so badly, I’m surprised I didn’t chip a tooth.
I’m firing off questions and Mike is politely answering every single one of them – as if he didn’t have anything better to do except talk to me. Here’s the one key thing I remember he said… “Frank, you’ve got to remember there are 4 parts to great Barbecue. The smoker or smoke is only one. The others are the meat. The sauce. And the rub. If one overpowers the other, you’re going to end up with an inferior product. Practice hard and find a good balance of those four things. You do that and you’ll be turning out some tasty Barbecue. That’s Mike Mills.
A True Story About Johnny Trigg: The first BBQ competition I ever attended was just a mile from my house. It took place in the parking lot of a local supermarket. There were guys cooking on huge off-set smokers, pellet-cookers, Weber Kettles and old rusted out backyard barbecue grills. But this fun little event got me hooked on “Q”. A few months later my wife and I took in the Colorado BBQ Challenge. A KCBS sanctioned event in Frisco, Colorado. Elevation 9500 feet. We get there about 10am and start walking around. Since we’d had breakfast a few hours earlier we weren’t into eating any BBQ just then. So we strolled around checking out the various competition teams.
At about 10:30am I see this cooker that looks like it’s half smoker and half Corvette. The metallic blue paint was spit polished. It looked brand new. Like it had just rolled right out of the factory. A Christmas present in mid-June!
As I get closer and start to check it out, I notice a tall white-haired gentleman working away behind a table filled with “stuff”. He looks very busy. And very serious. I have no idea he’s preparing his turn-in boxes for the competition. Slowly he looks up. In his hand a huge knife. At first I thought he was going to say “Don’t touch that!” He had a Texas style stare that said, “I’m working here, sonny. What the heck do you want?” As he eyed me, I sheepishly blurt out “This is one sweet looking rig.” With that Johnny Trigg puts down the huge knife and strolls over.
He looks like a cross between former President Lyndon Johnson, Gregory Peck and Zeus. His eyes are “All Business.” He sticks out his hand and in a Texas drawl as thick as BBQ Sauce says, “Hi, I’m Johnny Trigg. Come on around here. You can’t see anything from over there.” And that began a 10 minute site tour and conversation with one of BBQ’s most recognized and successful competitors. He was all Texas class. A true Texas gentleman. I ask what kind of pit he’s cooking on. “Oh this is just something a friend made up for me.” Turns out that friend is Jamie Geer, creator of the now wildly popular Jambo Pits. Johnny tells me that he competes in about 40-42 events each year. Later I think, this man in his 70’s (with the energy and spark of a 25 yr old) is on the road with his wife, 9 months a year! That’s BBQ love.
So, there I was talking to Johnny Trigg on a Saturday morning of a BBQ Competition and he’s 90 minutes away from Chicken turn-in. And he’s acting as if has had nothing better to do than to talk to me. That’s Johnny Trigg. I’ll never forget it.
One More True Story: It’s 6:30am in Austin Texas. And somewhere, someone is dragging themselves out of bed when they don’t have to. They gulp down coffee, grab a lawn chair, jump into their car (rain or shine) and speed across town in morning rush hour traffic. They’re are hoping – perhaps even praying – to get a good place in line.
It’s now 7:30am in Austin, Texas. Our early-morning riser arrives at 900 E 11th St. A smile crosses their face as they settle into their rickety chair. They are “in line.” A mere 35-40 people away from the front door. They are pretty sure that today they will get a taste of what some BBQ experts call — the best Brisket on Planet Earth.
They sit back and sip from a styrofoam cup of diner brewed coffee. It’s 7:30am in Austin, Texas. Only 3 and a half more hours until the doors open at Franklin Barbecue!
I don’t need to go into the detail or lore or legend that surrounds Aaron & Stacy Franklin. They own the most popular BBQ joint in America. Maybe in the world. Aaron is (depending on who you talk to) roundly touted as the best Pitmaster in the biz. His wife Stacy is his partner.
One day I decided I wanted to do a podcast with Aaron about his meteoric rise to BBQ stardom and supremacy. A world-wide notoriety he enjoys even though he’s never (to my knowledge) competed in a BBQ competition. I call the restaurant. Stacy answers. I tell her my name and that I want to interview Aaron about his BBQ and restaurant.(I’ll bet she’s never heard that request before.) Ever so politely she say’s: “He’s really busy right now. Give me your number and I’ll have him call you.” Yeah, right! I hang up and think , Oh well. At least I gave it a shot.
A week or so later my phone rings. It’s 9:30am in Austin, Texas. It’s BBQ time. 90 minutes before opening, there has been a line formed outside Franklin Barbecue for over two hours. As I pick up the phone, I hear – “Hi Frank. It’s Stacy Franklin. Do you still want to talk to Aaron?” “Sure I do. Thank you so much for calling me back.” “Well, he’s at the restaurant. Let me give you his cell phone number. If you call him right now, he’ll have time to chat before it get’s crazy.” I thank Stacy profusely and hang up. I’m thinking, she just gave me the mobile phone number of the busiest man in BBQ, and said he’s got time to chat if I do. I do, indeed.
I dial the number. Within 2 rings Aaron Franklin says, “Hi Frank, Stacy said you might call. What’s up?” And with that we launch into a 20 minute conversation about all things Franklin BBQ.
Franklin’s Pit: Aaron has one he bought that once belonged to John Mueller. And he recently built another one himself, just to keep up with the demand. The pits at Franklin Barbecue run 24/7.
The Wood: “Just good old Texas post oak. First, I build a small fire outside the pit. When the wood has turned to burning embers, I shovel those into my forebox and add a few sticks of post oak. I try to maintain about 250 degrees.
Aaron’s Secret Brisket Rub: “Secret? It’s just salt & pepper.” “Really?” I say. “Really… Equal parts Kosher Salt & Black Pepper.”
Thoughts on expanding or franchising. “Everyday somebody calls and offers me the Moon if want to go national. Not interested! I like the day to day business of running a BBQ joint. I like building and maintaining the fire. I like working the service counter. Meeting and talking to my customers. If I go pro – I’ll lose all that. I’m doing okay financially and Stacy and I are happy with what we’ve got.”
On why he isn’t selling his rub or Espresso BBQ Sauce in supermarkets and grocery stores. “Same reason I’m not franchising. I’d have to spend my time running a company instead of running a BBQ joint.”
On his legendary battles with BBQ rival John Mueller. “A complete fabrication of the media. Mostly!”
On what tips he can give backyard BBQ Chefs like myself. “It’s all about the fire. Build and maintain a good steady fire. If your temps are all over the place, you’re going to struggle to put out a good consistent product.”
I thank Aaron for his time and tell him my wife’s son lives in Austin and I hope to visit soon. I say, “Look for me in line. I’ll be the guy with the starving look on his face.” “Oh, just come knock on the back door, tell them how you are and ask for me.” “Seriously?” I ask. “Seriously!” I can’t wait!
If you’d like to listen to my podcast with Aaron Franklin, scroll down this page. Keep scrolling. It’s there.
If you’d like a copy of the audio file just email me. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, while you’re here check out the video, “Everyone Waits At Franklin Barbecue.” It’s hilarious!
Until next time… Stay Blessed. Stay Busy. Stay Safe.