Photo recap: Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck festival sets itself apart in second year

The Hot Luck festival co-founded by Aaron Franklin proved again in its second year that there is no food festival like it in the country. The a la carte festival spanned four days and included four evening and one daytime food events, and several chefs popped up with bites at the slew of music concerts that spread over the four days.

Franklin again swung open the doors of his Franklin Barbecue for “Hi, How Are You? “the official kick-off party for the festival he co-founded last year with Mike Thelin of Feast Portland and Mohawk owner James Moody.

Chef and Munchies star Matty Matheson has personality to spare. The Canadian has been having a blast in Austin, and his Instagram stories are must-view material this week. (Credit: Alison Narro)

Opening night focused on smoked meats, as Franklin’s staff served award-winning Franklin Barbecue inside and one popular gentleman patrolled the grounds outside passing out gigantic beef ribs. With several food stalls set up outside featuring food from Sam Jones of North Carolina and Daniel Vaughn from Texas Monthly (with an assist from Miguel Vidal of Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ) and plenty of cold beer and whiskey flowing, the first night had the feel of a tailgate party at the most famous barbecue restaurant in the country.

Chinese-Thai pork from chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok at Night Court during Hot Luck. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Friday’s Night Court event at Fair Market celebrated chefy plays on nostalgic food inspired by mall food courts of the 80s and welcomed a stunning roster of regional and national talent, such as Andy Ricker of Portland’s Pok Pok, who inspired memories of the free samples at Chinese restaurants in the mall with his khao moo daeng Chinese-Thai barbecue pork on jasmine rice. (See our full photo gallery here.) The nightcap event at Cisco’s Restaurant & Bakery captured the creative but deeply rooted spirit of the festival, as chefs prepared world class tacos for attendees in one of Austin’s most beloved culinary institutions.

If Thursday mimicked a tailgate and Friday mirrored a house party, the centerpiece Al Fuego event felt like party at your best friend’s ranch. (See our full photo gallery here.) The bucolic Wild Onion Ranch south of town welcomed chefs who cooked over open fire and did not hold back on the flavor or fun. If people were brave enough to visit all of the stations, they’re still thinking about the homemade Spam burger from Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn; the beef hot dog with ikura and grilled spring onion from Renee Erickson of The Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle; the smoked tri-tip on black sesame rice cracker from Loro; the beef tongue from Contigo; and what I like to call “The Finisher,” a doughnut drizzled with foie gras caramel from Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar in Houston, which sent attendees dizzily into the night.

Chef Philip Speer digs in at Al Fuego during Hot Luck. (Credit: Alison Narro)

By Sunday afternoon, you might expect the festival to have taken its food off the gas after three nights of fun, but the Austin Speed Shop hosted an open-air brunch called Coupe de Grille that went full throttle. (See our full photo gallery here.Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye thrilled with the bite of the day, a migas taco served on white Sonoran flour tortilla and Houston’s Chris Shepherd of UB Preserv showed his deft touch mashing up cultures with boudin shumai. They were among about a dozen chefs who fed guests that wandered around a collection of gorgeous vintage cars and hot rods on display. Among the automobiles was a 1951 Ford F1, a classic that Franklin is having the team at Austin Speed Shop restore. Maybe it’ll be nice and shiny for the third annual festival next year, which seems like a fait accompli, as the organizers have dialed in the details that make their festival one of the most interactive, engaging, tasty, filling and unique food events you’ll find in America.

PHOTOS: Night Court | Al Fuego | Coupe de Grille

Select photos from the long weekend below:

Chef Chad Dolezal of Hightower with his Mapo(zole) Tofu at Night Court. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Chef Laura Sawicki of Launderette rocked a buttered popcorn ice cream sundae at Night Court. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Chefs Billy Durney and Ivan Orkin of New York City. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Chef Jason Stude of La Corsha Hospitality and his chicken fried steak sandwiches at Night Court. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The new Austin-based Rambler, a Texas limestone-filtered sparkling water from Hot Luck co-founder James Moody and partners, made quite a splash at this year’s festival. (Credit: Alison Narro)
Festival attendee Jacqueline Howard of Chicago samples the flavors of Al Fuego. (Credit: Chad Wadsworth)
Fermín Nuñez of Suerte during Al Fuego. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Beer-can chickens fill a smoker at Al Fuego. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Beef tongue from Contigo at Al Fuego. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Chef Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice in Chicago goes to town on his dish at Al Fuego. (Credit: Jackie Lee Young)
Seattle Dog with ikura and charred spring onion at Al Fuego from Renne Erickson of The Walrus and the Carpenter. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Smoked tri-tip with Thai chili chimicurri on black sesame cracker from Loro at Al Fuego. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
I call this bite “The Finisher,” a doughnut glazed with foie gras caramel served by Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar in Houston. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The Austin Speed Shop hosted Coupe de Grille Sunday. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Chef Yoshi Okai of Otoko serves beef with kale at Coupe de Grille at Austin Speed Shop. (Credit: Chad Wadsworth)
Pork pate melts from Cured in San Antonio. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The UB Preserv team serving boudin shumai. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Sunday barbacoa taco from Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Korean short rib chilaquilles from Rico Torres of Mixtli in San Antonio. (Scott Moore FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Hot rods and hot food at Coupe de Grille during Hot Luck. (Credit: Chad Wadsworth)
Best bite a Coupe de Grille — migas taco on white Sonoran wheat tortilla from Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Cold burrata from Il Brutto was a welcome treat at Sunday’s Coupe de Grille. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Aaron Franklin with his 1951 Ford F1 that the team at Austin Speed Shop is helping him rebuild. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Photos: Scenes from the opening night of Hot Luck at Franklin Barbecue

Franklin Barbecue after-hours. It’s not a scene you see often. But Franklin swings open the doors for Hi, How Are You? the official kick-off party for Hot Luck, the festival Franklin co-founded last year with Mike Thelin of Feast Portland and Mohawk owner James Moody. Here’s what went down.

Opening night is all about smoked meat. Franklin brought in Billy Durney from Brooklyn, who did a riff on his lamb banh mi from his Hometown Bar-B-Que; Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor (and amateur chef) at Texas Monthly; and Sam Jones (pictured), who served pulled pork sliders balanced with tangy cole slaw. (Credit: Teresa Robertson)


Chef Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie and his wife, filmmaker Anna Margaret Hollyman, didn’t hold back. (Credit: Teresa Robertson)


Chef and Munchies star Matty Matheson has personality to spare. The Canadian has been having a blast in Austin, and his Instagram stories are must-view material this week. (Credit: Alison Narro)


A Franklin Barbecue employee walked around handing out massive beef ribs and making a lot of people very happy. (Credit: Teresa Robertson)


Yeti mugs not only made for great swag but also for fantastic impromptu tables for plates of barbecue, as exhibited by festgoer Gina Jerram. (Credit: Teresa Robertson)


Elias Cairo of Olympia Provisions in Portland perfectly summed up the vibe of Hot Luck. He made rattlesnake and python chili for the Hot Snakes show at Mohawk. When asked if he had ever made the dish before, he responded, “No. Are you kidding me?” (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)


Aaron Franklin is always good for some cheeky humor. The lover of dad jokes sporting a Kitty Stardust t-shirt at his festival. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)


Daniel Vaughn can’t just writer about smoked meat, he can also execute some tasty dishes. He and Miguel Vidal of Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, smoked pork shoulder, sauced it and served it in a bun with jalapeno-dill relish. Another winner. What a showoff. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)


How good is Franklin Barbecue? KGSR and Texas Monthly’s Andy Langer slipped and busted his ass on the pavement at Franklin but was able to keep his plate aloft and unscathed. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)


Hot Luck co-founder James Moody (left, pictured with Lauren Stupak, chef Alex Stupak of Empellon in New York City and Matheson) on the first night of Hot Luck: “Everybody’s gonna go home smelling like smoke and whiskey, which is exactly what I wanted.”



Hot Luck’s Kebabathon runs from Thursday-Sunday this week in Austin

How much do you love lamb? Hot Luck is prepared to find out. The food and music festival is hosting a Kebabathon over the next four days. The promotion is a celebration of shaved roasted meat and its global influences co-sponsored by the American Lamb Board..


How does it work? You head to one of the four participating restaurants, purchase a kebab, grab a passport card and get in a stamp in it and then try and collect all four through Sunday. If you compete your passport by visiting all four stops, you get (in addition to a belly full of tasty lamb) a pair of lamb-branded socks or water bottle. Not baaaaa’d. (Sorry.)

The four participating restaurants and their menus below:

  • Frank, 407 Colorado St. Merguez sausage in pita with harissa labneh and red pepper sauce.
  • Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd. Lamb Frikadelle with Duckefett
  • Kebabalicious, 1311 E. 7th St. Ground spiced lamb with farm-to-table charbroiled zucchini, caramelized red onions, arugula/shredded lettuce mix, heirloom tomatoes, shredded smoked gouda, topped with tzatziki & red sauce. Wrapped up in a za’atar spiced pita.
  • Clay Pit, 1601 Guadalupe St. Seekh Kebab: Prepared with minced lamb, ginger and spices, grilled on skewers in Tandoor.

“Honestly, we consider kebabs, shawarmas and gyros to all be interchangeable – showcasing and educating that Doners from Europe, Kababs from India, Shawarmas from the middle east, gyros from Turkey, souvlakis from Greece are all kebabs,” Hot Luck’s Adi Anand said.



Star chefs, upscale mall food and ZZ Tapas: Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck festival returns in May

The second annual Hot Luck festival returns to Austin on May 24-27 with a dazzling array of regional and national culinary talent, quirky and engaging food programming and eclectic live music acts ranging from swamp funk to post-hardcore. 

Credit: Hot Luck

Any diner worth their Maldon salt will immediately recognize some of the biggest names attending the festival co-founded by barbecue wizard and James Beard winner and festival co-founder Aaron Franklin. Momofuku empire builder David Chang; Ashley Christensen of Poole’s in North Carolina; and James Beard winner and Seattle mainstay Renee Erickson are a few of the new out-of-town faces attending this year’s event that takes place at multiple bars, restaurants, event spaces and nontraditional venues around town. Returning talent from outside Texas includes ramen specialist Ivan Orkin, featured in Netflix’s “Chef’s Table”; Alex Stupak of Empellón in New York; Andy Ricker of Portland’s Pok Pok; and Peter Cho of Portland Korean restaurant Han Oak.

Joining the out-of-town guests are some of the best talents Texas has to offer, including James Beard award winners Chris Shepherd (Underbelly) and Justin Yu (Theodore Rex) of Houston; Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Mixtli, San Antonio); John Tesar (Knife, Dallas); pastry star Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar (Houston); and Steve McHugh (Cured, San Antonio).

Hot Luck’s hometown will also be represented by a slew of award winners and standouts, with chefs from more than half of the Statesman’s Top 25 restaurants of 2017 appearing at the festival. That group includes Bryce Gilmore (Odd Duck, Barley Swine); Laura Sawicki (Launderette); Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca d’Oro); Jesse Griffiths (Dai Due); Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye); Takuya Matsumoto and Tatsu Aikawa (Kemuri Tatsu-Ya);  Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie); Todd Duplechan (Lenoir); Tyson Cole (Uchi/Loro); Philip Speer (Bonhomie); and Yoshi Okai (Otoko).

Stradling the line of in-town and out-of-town chefs will be Kristen Kish, the recently announced executive chef at Arlo Grey at the forthcoming Line ATX Hotel. The fest will afford many attendees the first opportunity to taste Kish’s food and will also serve as a preview for forthcoming Austin projects from chefs Zach Hunter (Brewer’s Table), Erind Halilaj (Il Brutto) and Fermin Núñez (Suerte).

Hot Luck takes a different approach to its tasting events and parties than many other food and wine festivals. The centerpiece Saturday night event at the idyllic Wild Onion Ranch in South Austin plays like an oversize backyard cookout, with world-class chefs cooking over open flame, and the other events all have themes ranging from the irreverent to the inspired. There’s the Friday night Night Court at Fair Market, which will feature the chefs delivering takes on some of their nostalgic favorites from mall food courts of their youth. Ever wanted to try Franklin’s take on an Arby’s beef and cheddar? You might just be in luck. What happens when award-winning chefs get into a taco throwdown at a Tex-Mex institution? You’ll find out at Cisco’s Bakery and Restaurant one late night. And what happens when you mix hot rods and hot plates? ZZ Tapas.

Festival founders Franklin, Guerrilla Suit and Mohawk co-founder James Moody and Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast food festival in Portland, created the festival to celebrate the worlds of food and music in a casual setting, complete with a DIY aesthetic and a choose-your-own adventure sense of programming. 

“We are thrilled to be bringing this back to Austin. Hot Luck isn’t a festival; it’s a party. These chefs and bands just want to do their thing with friends … where everyone is welcome to hang out and have a good time. That’s what Hot Luck has become, and we love it,” Moody said.

Supplementing the programing of food events stretched over four days is a slate of live music featuring a diverse cast of acts, ranging from Galactic to former Joy Division bassist Peter Hook & the Light and indie rock titans Okkervil River to the DJ stylings of Peanut Butter Wolf.

Tickets can be purchased to all the food events, with prices ranging from $70 for the taco party at Cisco’s to $195 for access to Saturday night’s Al Fuego main event. Hot Luck also sells a Whole Enchilada package for $550, which allows attendees to hit all five of the food events, every music show, special parties and more. Tickets for the music shows will also be sold individually, with prices ranging from $15 to $35.

A portion of the proceeds from Hot Luck will benefit SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, both long-standing and respected human service agencies in Austin serving the survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.

For more programming information and to purchase tickets, visit


Chefs participating in Hot Luck 2018

AFAR: Abraham Conlon & Adrienne Lo, Fat Rice (Chicago); Alex Stupak, Empellón (New York); Andy Ricker, Pok Pok (Portland); Ashley Christensen, Poole’s (Raleigh); Bill Durney, Hometown Barbecue (New York); David Chang, Momofuku (New York); David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, Joe Beef (Montreal); Elias Cairo, Olympia Provisions (Portland); Ivan Orkin, Ivan Ramen (New York); Joshua McFadden, Ava Gene’s (Portland); Peter Cho, Han Oak (Portland); Renee Erickson, Sea Creatures (Seattle); Riad Nasr, Frenchette (New York); Sam Jones, Sam Jones BBQ Restaurant (North Carolina).

TEXAS: Chris Shepherd, Underbelly (Houston); Diego Galicia & Rico Torres, Mixtli (San Antonio); John Tesar, Knife (Dallas); Justin Yu, Theodore Rex (Houston); Rebecca Masson, Fluff Bake Bar (Houston); Steve McHugh, Cured (San Antonio).

AUSTIN: Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue; Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo/Chicon; Bryce Gilmore, Odd Duck; Callie Speer, Holy Roller; Casey Wilcox, Central Standard; Chad Dolezal, Hightower; Damien Brockway, P6 at the Line ATX Hotel; David Norman, Easy Tiger Erind Halilaj, Il Brutto; Fermin Núñez, Suerte; Fiore Tedesco, L’Oca d’Oro; Jason Stude, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill; Jesse Griffiths, Dai Due; Kevin Fink, Emmer & Rye; Kristen Kish, Arlo Grey at the Line ATX Hotel; Laura Sawicki, Launderette; Michael Fojtasek, Olamaie; Miguel Vidal, Valentina’s Tex Mex; Philip Speer, Bonhomie; Sarah McIntosh, Epicerie; Takuya Matsumoto & Tatsu Aikawa, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya; Todd Duplechan, Lenoir; Tyson Cole, Hai Hospitality/Loro; Yoshi Okai, Otoko;  Zach Hunter, The Brewer’s Table.

Hot Luck festival announces 2018 dates; Whole Enchilada passes now on sale

Hot Luck co-founder James Moody said at the end of this year’s inaugural festival that he and his partners felt like they had something special on their hands and hoped to run it back next year. Now, it’s official. The food and music festival started by Moody, barbecue wizard Aaron Franklin and Mike Thelin will return to Austin May 24-27 next year.

Whole Enchilada passes for the festival, which grant access to all of the events and concerts, along with some special parties, are now on sale for $550 at A la carte tickets will go on sale at a later date.

Jon Favreau, Roy Choi, James Moody, Mike Thelin and Aaron Franklin at Hot Luck’s “Hi, How Are You?” (Credit: Alison Narro)

Last year’s festival welcomed culinary world stars Roy Choi, Andy Ricker, Chris Shepherd, Tyson Cole and more, and saw live music performances by Thurston Moore, The Black Lips, Black Joe Lewis, Robert Ellis and others.

For the second year, a portion of proceeds from Hot Luck tickets sales will be donated to The SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, both long-standing and respected human service agencies in Austin serving the survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.


Photos: Jon Favreau, Daniel Johnston, Roy Choi, Aaron Franklin & more at Hot Luck’s ‘Hi, How Are You?’

Jon Favreau, Roy Choi, James Moody, Mike Thelin and Aaron Franklin at Hi, How Are You? (Credit: Alison Narro)

Hot Luck founders Aaron Franklin, James Moody and Mike Thelin had described their vision for their first festival as something akin to a laid-back tailgate with serious food. They wanted it to be a cool hang with friends, where having fun was the only thing taken seriously. If the VIP event “Hi, How Are You?” that kicked off the fest was any indication, they’re well on their way to achieving their goal.

Los Angeles chefs Roy Choi (Kogi) and Sara Kramer of Kismet Los Angeles and Ivan Orkin of Ivan’s Ramen in New York City were a few of the visiting luminaries. Choi smoked tantalizing kalbi beef ribs and finished them on the grill and served it with fluffy rice and piquant quick-pickled kimchi, proving why he has achieved hislofty status as a Korean barbecue master. Choi and Franklin’s buddy, and “Chef” filmmaker Jon Favreau, was also in attendance, and Choi’s Instagram shows the food-loving director even had a hand in prep work.

The best bite of the night might have come from a man who makes his money writing, not cooking. Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn (whose 50 best barbecue joints in Texas list comes out next week) served a smoked NY strip finished on the grill and served with a brilliant Texas chimichurri that included pickles and onions caramelized in beef fat. He also had the added advantage of homemade tortillas from Miguel Vidal of Valencia’s Tex-Mex BBQ, a spot often praised by host Franklin.

Franklin barbecue was served inside and out, but on a night like this, there was no line, thanks to the manageable crowd size of the VIP event open to Whole Enchilada ticket holders and the fact that there was plenty of tasty competition, like the incomparable charcuterie from Olympia Provisions of Portland, Oregon. Among chef Elias Cairo’s excellent creations, a salami aged simply with salt to a funky perfection and a Spanish chorizo that tasted like hugging your Greek grandfather.

Hot Luck is a food and music festival and Saturday night performer Robert Ellis was spotted enjoying grub with friends and even the event’s namesake, the legendary Daniel Johnston turned heads with an appearance. The night continued later over at Baracuda, where the Black Lips rocked a joyous crowd. Hot Luck continues Friday with the Hi Lo, a ticketed event (purchase here) with a roster of chefs cooking the dishes that inspired them. (Read about what Aaron Franklin and Uchi chef-partner Tyson Cole will be cooking.)

Check out photos from “Hi, How Are You?” below.

The evening’s namesake, Daniel Johnston. (Credit: Jackie Young)
Daniel Vaughn’s steak tacos  (back left) were one of the night’s biggest hits. (Credit: Alison Narro)
The event’s namesake, Daniel Johnston (seated) enjoys a soda with festival founders James Moody, Aaron Franklin and Mike Thelin at Franklin Barbecue. (Credit; Pooneh Ghana)
Olympia Provisions’s Elias Cairo and Alex Yoder. (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)
An array of meats from Olympia Provisions. (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)
An array of meats from Olympia Provisions. (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)
Smoked and grilled New York strips from Daniel Vaughan of Texas Monthly. (Credit: Jackie Young)
Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monnthly knows his way around a grill. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Smoked sweet potato with roe from Kismet chef Sara Kramer. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Cold Lone Star was passed around in Yeti coolers at the first night of Hot Luck,. (Credit: Alison Narro)
A familiar sign at Hot Luck. (Credit: Jackie Young)
The Black Lips play Baracuda at part of Hot Luck. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)


What does Uchi’s Tyson Cole have planned for Hot Luck’s Hi Lo Friday night?

Akami te from chef Tyson Cole of Uchi.

Hot Luck’s Hi Lo event Friday night is a celebration of the dishes that got chefs excited about food and being a chef.

“Don’t try and make something super fancy, make something you’re really excited about,” fest co-founder Aaron Franklin told the chefs. For Uchi chef-partner Tyson Cole, that meant tuna and texture. When he first started learning to make sushi about 24 years ago, Cole says his first love was raw tuna. He loved a simple roll called a tekka maki, and says he used to eat one a day for years.

“I got addicted to that roll, and in turn to the tuna. Eventually I just started eating raw tuna sashimi,” Cole said. “And later, after many guests requests to make new dishes, started to pair tuna with all kinds of other ingredients.”

One example a Uchi: the tuna and goat cheese sashimi with Fuji apples and pumpkin seed oil, that’s been on the menu since day one.

Cole’s getting back in touch with his first love with a dish of akami te, fresh big eye tuna with raw watermelon served with a touch of nouc man (fish sauce with sugar and garlic), is one of the best bites you can imagine.





Aaron Franklin talks perfectionism, Thin Lizzy, Hot Luck and more

On April 28, 2017, Aaron Franklin greeted customers at Franklin’s Barbecue, which he co-owns with his wife Stacy Franklin. The couple opened their restaurant in March 2011. Since then, it has grown to it’s maximum capacity. “We can’t physically cook anymore food than we already cook,” said Aaron Franklin. Still, Franklin said that he is not considering requests from investors offering to expand the restaurant into a chain. “This is our little bit of old school Austin,” Franklin said about his restaurant. “We’re not changing.” (Reshma Kirpalani AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Aaron Franklin has made it to the top of the barbecue game thanks to his tireless pursuit of excellence, a staff that follows the lead of its obsessive and affable boss, a culture of service and good times, and a dedication to tinkering. We spent an afternoon with the Hot Luck co-founder to talk to him about his philosophy on cooking and running one of the best barbecue restaurants in the country. You can read our story about his interest in welding and creating 15 unique pieces of cookery for Hot Luck here. Below are some outtakes from our conversation.

On the title of chef, the James Beard award winner usually winces …

“I don’t necessarily feel like anyone should call me a chef or even think of me as a chef.”

On his obsessive pursuit of getting things right…

“I think it’s gotten worse in recent years … It’s not necessarily a good thing. It really annoys a lot of people who I rely heavily on … It could be almost anyone in the restaurant, really. So I just walk in the restaurant and go, ‘OK, guys, it’s me, not you.’”

On restaurants taking on the personality of their owners and chefs …

“It’s definitely happened that way at Franklin Barbecue.”

Aaron Franklin opened Franklin’s Barbecue in East Austin with his wife in March 2011. Since then, their restaurant has gained national acclaim, with customers lining up as early as 4am on weekends, waiting for doors to open at 11am. (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

On barbecue first, business second ….

“There is an angle on the counter in the original trailer that is measured from the tip of my foot to 36″ work table height, so I could get more room out of the walkway. It wasn’t built for business, it was built for me and Stacy. It was built for a passion and then we had to fill in the other gaps.”

On getting into cooking barbecue professionally ….

“That’s a pretty intimidating genre. Yea, it’s painfully simple — just meat and fire — but it’s really complex at the same time, once you really dig into the details and try and replicate it day in and day out.”

On finding the right kind of employees …

“If someone comes in and thinks they  have it all figured out, I don’t want that person. I want someone who comes and is honest and has a good heart and just a really good work ethic who really, really cares.”

On his employee litmus test …

“I used to ask people what their opinions were on Thin Lizzy, and that would determine whether they were hired or not.”

On April 27, 2017, Aaron Franklin, James Beard Award winner and owner of Franklin’s Barbecue, worked in his welding shop in Bastrop, Texas with Matt Johnson. Franklin opened the restaurant in March 2011 with his wife Stacy Franklin. After they signed the lease on the East Austin building, the couple spent three and a half months fixing it up. “No contractors,” said Franklin about the restaurant. “We built everything ourselves.” (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

On the Franklin Barbecue way …

“Our way is really, really specific. It’s our way. And it was designed that way intentionally and accidentally.”  

On whether barbecue gets the respect it deserves as a culinary art form?

“Absolutely. Most food probably has its time sometime, and it’s been barbecue’s time.”

On the greatness of barbecue’s simplicity …

“I think that’s kind of the thing that’s so cool about barbecue is that you don’t have to have crazy fancy equipment.You can dig a hole in the ground, find some rocks, and build a cooker. It’s like the most primitive way to cook but you can take it as far as you want it, or you can dumb it down as much as you want. I think that’s super cool. And that had a lot to do with me getting into barbecue, because we didn’t really have any money.”


Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin (left) and Mohawk co-owner James Moody are teaming up to bring Hot Luck to Austin.

On Hot Luck …

“It’s a festival for cooks. It’s not a big schmoozy, pinkies-out kind of thing. This is flip flops, shorts, Lone Star tall boys and hanging out grilling steaks with your buddies. You hang out, you make friends, it’s more like hanging out at grandma’s house. It’s way more about hanging out with friends than doing the most intellectual thing possible.”

On the chef friends he invited to participate in Hot Luck …

“I wanted to avoid cheffy people who are like on TV but don’t really have a craft that can back them up. I want people that are kind of a little under the normal radar of big time TV and magazine stuff. Some of the names are surprisingly pretty big,obviously. I’m not gonna not invite somebody just because they have a big name, but I’m not gonna invite somebody just because they have a big name.”

On expecting the unexpected at the inaugural fest …

“Something’s gonna go wrong and I don’t know what and I don’t know when and I don’t know what I’m gonna have to do to fix it, but something is gonna go wrong, somewhere.”


Hot Luck kicks off tonight with Thurston S’Moores and Thurston Moore at the Mohawk

Thurston Moore at Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores on Saturday, November 9, 2013. (Tina Phan AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Hot Luck is a food and music festival. What does that mean, exactly? Well, there are food events and there are live music events. But there is also some crossover, as folks will learn tonight at the Mohawk tonight when former Sonic Youth singer-guitarist Thurston Moore takes the stage. The food component to compliment the act? S’mores. And they’ll be cooked on the open flame of a cooker designed by Aaron Franklin. The open-flame cooker’s name? Thurston S’Moore. What s’more would you expect from Franklin, admitted devotee of the dad joke?

Individual tickets will be sold at the door for $22, and Hot Luck’s Whole Enchilada pass holders also get access to the gig.


Aaron Franklin to create and sell Franklin Barbecue Pits for at-home cooks

Did you know that in addition to being a James Beard award-winning chef,  Aaron Franklin is a pretty handy welder? He and his team are even welding more than a dozen pieces of cookery for his Hot Luck festival, which begins Thursday. The self-taught welder built his first smoker about eight years ago for his little barbecue trailer, and hasn’t slowed down. Now, he’s bringing his welded creations to the public.

Aaron Franklin (right) and Caleb Johnson discuss the smokers they’re creating for the upcoming Hot Luck food and live music festival. (Reshma Kirpalani AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Aaron Franklin shows off a piece of one of his Franklin Barbecue Pits prototypes. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

If you’ve always wanted to cook like the Franklin Barbecue master, you may get your chance staring next summer. Franklin is designing Franklin Barbecue Pits ( for the many at-home cooks and barbecue obsessives. The pits will be about six-feet long and fit three briskets. Franklin describes the pits, which will have rolled heads, a fully insulated smoke box and be CNC laser cut, as “super-duper basic.” They will resemble a high-quality version of the kind of pit Franklin got started on years ago.

Franklin will design the pits and oversee their production by welding brothers Caleb and Matt Johnson, who have worked with Franklin for several years. The thick and durable pits, which Franklin expects to last a lifetime, will be made in the Austin area.  The pits are designed explicitly for the home cook, and Aaron and wife and partner Stacy Franklin have said they have no interest in getting involved with production for commercial use.

Matt Johnson works on a smoker for Hot Luck food and live music festival. (Reshma Kirpalani)

The Franklins have not settled on a final price, but want it to be competitively priced and expect it might cost around the price of two XL Big Green Eggs. You can not currently purchase a Franklin Barbecue Pit, but you can sign up for the newsletter at in order to get updates on the pits. Franklin hopes to start shipping out the first pits next summer. There will be one version that is fully welded and another version that will require minor assembly.