Aaron Franklin. You likely know the name, even if you don’t own a Big Green Egg or stress out over “the stall” every time you smoke a brisket in the backyard.
Franklin is the guy who created Franklin Barbecue in Austin, the place where customers will wait for hours (sometimes with a book in hand and sometimes with a pony keg in the parking lot) just to sample the smoked meats. Franklin is the guy who became the first pitmaster to win a James Beard Award for best regional chef. He’s the guy who has influenced countless pitmasters with his 2015 cookbook and, now, with his 16-session online master class. He’s the guy who builds his own smokers from old propane tanks.
For several years now, Franklin has been working on a line of smokers for the backyard enthusiast. Franklin Barbecue Pits have yet to hit the market, but Franklin is selling an early prototype on eBay as a fundraiser for the Austin chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier. The 550-pound pit, with 1/4-inch-thick cooking chamber big enough for three whole briskets, will retail for $3,499, according to the eBay listing.
With only hours left in the auction, the highest bid stands at $7,800. I should note the listing says that the “buyer is responsible for additional shipping costs,” too.
The high price, even for a fundraiser, has raised some eyebrows among barbecue devotees.
It’s true that you could buy a good wood-burning backyard smoker (which can top $3,000) or a Big Green Egg (which can also hit the $3,000 mark) for a fraction of the price, if not a competition-level rig, which can run you north of $9,000. But none of these smokers would have the cachet of a Franklin-designed one, particularly a prototype of the backyard pit that will, eventually, hit the market for all the wannabe Franklin-ites out there.
Calling from Austin, Franklin said his prototype is actually larger than the first cooker he used to smoke briskets, a $99 cheapo purchased at the usual hardware outlet. “I think it’s kind of cool,” Franklin said. “There’s not a lot of good options for a smaller-size backyard cooking pits.”
Franklin and his wife and business partner, Stacy, have been working for years to expand the capacity of their Austin facility for commercial smoker production. If all goes according to plan, Franklin Barbecue Pits plans to blast out notices to those on its email list and start accepting orders before Christmas. You could potentially have your new Franklin smoker by the spring.
“Fingers crossed,” Franklin said. “We move pretty slow around here. Plus, we have some other projects going on.”
The first production run will be small, Franklin said, only about 150 to 200 smokers. Franklin’s facility will ultimately gear up for about 1,200 to 1,400 units annually, small by Weber standards. But then again, each smoker will be handmade with American steel, which is not so cheap these days after President Trump’s trade wars apparently spiked demand for domestic steel. As such, Franklin said the final retail price for the smoker could be as high as $4,000.
The eBay auction will lead directly into a Les Dames d’Escoffier event, You Grill Girl, promoted as “Austin’s first female focused grilling event.” Stacy Franklin is a board member and activities chairwoman of Les Dames in Austin.
Franklin’s backyard smoker was getting some attention from professional pitmasters, if mostly for its inflated fundraiser price.
“I do think it’s pretty cool that this is even a thing,” Rob Sonderman, pitmaster and founder of Federalist Pig, wrote in a text message. “Almost like a pair of shoes or limited edition bat for a pro athlete. I’d be hard-pressed to believe that a range designed by Thomas Keller would demand such money. Interesting that bbq has gained such fandom.”
Sonderman said it looked like a “nice backyard smoker.” But would he shell out nearly $8,000 for the prototype?
“Does it come with $6k worth of already cooked bbq inside?” he quipped.
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