Aaron Franklin didn't just serve brisket, ribs, and sausage at Feast Portland this past weekend. He also shipped up an entire kitchen from Austin. The new double-sided smoker on a flatbed trailer was built by Franklin and his crew for his friend and Podnah’s Pit BBQ owner Rodney Muirhead. "10 days, 555 hours of labor," Franklin told Eater. "I'm just going to use it when I’m up here. Rodney [and two other Podnah’s employees] drove down—a 34-hour trip—spent one day in Austin, and drove straight back with it. It got here Saturday. All the wood was in the cook chamber."
Franklin cooked for two events at Feast. First, the Thursday night Sandwich Invitational, and then Friday’s Stumptown Coffee Cookout. For the former, he unveiled a new dish: the Gramma’s Open ‘Face’ Meat Sandwich—spit-roasted cow head and shoulder clod, with gravy, pickled fennel, and mustard seeds, served on miniature King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls. He also confited a bunch of oxtails in lard, strained out the meat, and whipped the lard into butter, which was used to grill the rolls. The three heads and ten shoulder clods weighed about 280 pounds prior to cooking, and resulted in 87.9 pounds of cooked meat. "The cookdown wasn't so good," Franklin says. "But it came out super tender. It was a play on kind of a grandma pot roasty garlic gravy Southern food kind of thing."
The cooking for the sandwiches were done in Austin, with the meat then placed in coolers for the trip to Portland, also via Muirhead’s truck, a journey which became part of the cooking process. "I undersmoked it knowing that they'd continue to get smokey in transit, and they actually did," said Franklin. "The level of smoke on there was totally where I anticipated it would be. I was proud of that."
The Sandwich Invitational was not yet over when Franklin grabbed an Uber to Stumptown to get his brisket ready for Friday’s Coffee Cookout. The meat had to get into the smoker around 10 p.m. 16 hours later, it was dinner. "I’m wearing the same clothes that I was wearing yesterday at 7 a.m.," he said.
Before hungry guests arrived at Franklin’s cutting board, there was Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn’s "line snack" station. He served tri-tip steak, which he began in Franklin’s smoker, then seared on an old grill that was lying around Stumptown. The idea was to provide contrast. "Aaron’s got all the barbecue, and it’s gotta be super-overcooked," Vaughn said. "Tri-tip is something you can serve medium rare. The work that a fire does on a brisket, the knife does on tri-tip. As long as you slice it thin against the grain, you end up with a tender piece of meat." He was admittedly nervous about "opening" for Franklin, and grateful to participate. The pitmaster’s advice to him was not about cooking, but rather, service and food safety. "Be careful that you don’t let your hands touch anybody’s hands," Franklin said.
The event paired Franklin with Andrew Gregory of The Woodsman Tavern (one of several restaurants owned by Stumptown founder Duane Sorensen), who dished out spoon bread with pimento cheese, spicy slaw. Franklin added the requisite white bread, pickles, onions, and sauce. "We’ve got tuna fish sandwiches and spicy tuna rolls," he teased after an onstage introduction.
The coffee roaster’s headquarters took Franklin back to his BBQ roots—he began smoking meat during SXSW at the now-shuttered Owl Tree Roasting, which was also the original I-35 location of his trailer. Before it began, Franklin told Feast co-founder Mike Thelin (with whom Franklin is also teaming up for an Austin food festival next year) he was ready to do it every year. After all, he now has a Portland smoker.
(Full disclosure: The writer is a contributor to Texas Monthly.)