Austin pitmaster Aaron Franklin knows his meats very well. His expertise shines over at his award-winning barbecue joint Franklin Barbecue, and he shared this knowledge with the masses through his PBS show BBQ With Franklin and smoked meats book Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto.
“Everyone loves steak,” Franklin explained to Eater. He himself eats steak more often than brisket at this point. “It’s a faster version of brisket.”
Franklin recounted how he and Mackay would often cook and eat steaks at his Austin home while working on the first book. This tradition continued every time Mackay came into town. The writer had always wanted to work a steak book, the two always talked about it, and then they finally decided to just go for it.
Franklin grew up eating steaks, progressing from “cheap T-bones” cooked by his father to making his own steaks when he was broke living in Austin, using the “cheapest charcoal, the cheapest meat, and iodized salt packets from the taco stand for seasoning,” as he described in the preface of the book. “It was absolutely the least expensive, foulest way to eat steak, but we still felt like kings.”
Franklin had plentiful experiences with lengthy cooks, obviously, and he felt like that knowledge helped him perfect skills when it came to making comparatively faster steaks. “I think it’s pretty cool that you can cook dinner on fire and not have to wait 15 hours for it,” he said.
Franklin Steak intentionally reads more like a textbook than a cookbook. The pitmaster wanted the book to inspire people to think outside of their steak comfort zones and explore the myriad possibilities. Don’t feel intimidated, both master chefs and novices can make great steaks, with some guidance.
The book is divided into three sections: sourcing the meat, prepping the meat, and then cooking the meat. Part one delves into beef history and industry, cattle breeding and upbringing, steak cuts, and what scientifically makes cooked steak taste so good. The second chunk dips into dry-aging, the mechanics and machinery involved in grills (plus a section on how to build your own grill, as Franklin is inclined to do), fuel and wood. The last past is about actually cooking the steaks and how to achieve different end results, plus how to make fun additional items like sides (fries, garlic mushrooms), sauces (salsa verde, jalapeno-anchovy compound butter), and alcoholic pairing suggestions.
Sprinkled throughout the book are international steakhouse recommendations and, since it’s Franklin, plenty of dad jokes. Austin butcher shop and restaurant Salt & Time is featured in the book as well, covering its steak commandments.
“What we wanted to do with this book was also document our learning process,” Franklin said. “We tried this and this is what we learned.” What he discovered: he likes to salt his steaks over a day in advance (30 hours to be precise) and letting the cuts air-dry in a fridge; he prefers New York strips to rib-eyes, and he “truly does love” filet mignons.
The duo made sure to cover “ethical consumerism and natural beef and just not like this big corporate stuff” — the same ethos displayed at Franklin Barbecue. “We don’t serve any of that kind of stuff,” he said, “and I don’t want to eat any of that stuff necessarily.”
Franklin did acknowledge that access to good meat isn’t the same everywhere: “If you live in a weird small town in a weird part of the country, and that’s all you got, that’s all you got,” he said, though he did bring up other options: “If you’re willing to spend the money, you can get some far better, happier animals that are going to taste a lot better and be better for you.”
Buying expensive cuts doesn’t necessarily matter because it’s really just dependent on how the meats are actually cooked. One of Franklin’s favorite is actually the bavette (which is showcased at Franklin’s other restaurant, the Asian smokehouse Loro): “you can make a fabulous steak out of that for a fraction of the cost.”
Franklin and Mackay had to make time to work on the book, while other things were going on in his life (Franklin Barbecue caught on fire, he opened Loro with Austin chef Tyson Cole, he runs a food and music festival Hot Luck). He estimated they made over 100 steaks for the book, which they gave away to neighbors.
Preview Franklin Steak with the spreads below, exploring steak sourcing to the differences between grills to cooking steak over coals.
Reprinted with permission from Franklin Steak by Aaron Franklin & Jordan Mackay, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.