My boss Ric had scheduled a meeting for the 17th and invited me to attend as an SME (Subject Matter Expert, for those not in the know). While work business was discussed, we also were having BBQ. Namely, he was bringing in some from Franklin BBQ and was inviting me as well (my BBQ bribery Thursdays are paying off!).
(Scott's comment: The real definition here is Somehow Maintains Employment.)
But I saw an opportunity here. After checking with Ric to make sure I wasn't stepping on his toes, I saw the chance for a little taste test. After consideration, I chose Valentina's BBQ. Since I knew he was getting brisket and pork ribs I picked up the same.
(Scott's comment: *Ahem* No one brought ME BBQ today while I worked! *Plays Portishead's: Sour Times*.)
The items were put out on two different colored plates (red and blue). Only I knew what was on each plate (not even Ric did).
Tasting today were Ric, Janine, Sherrie, Matt, Cindy, Reggie, Erika, Stephen, and Amanda. However, not everyone tried both items.
Brisket: Pretty much everyone who tried them agreed that both briskets were excellent. There seemed to be a slight preference for the flavor of the blue plate, but for the tenderness/moistness of the red plate. It should be noted that the final deciding factor for everyone seemed to be flavor.
The final score: Blue won 5-3.
Ribs: Again, of those who tried the ribs everyone thought they were all good. However, there was definitely a clear preference here. While both received comments about tender, and both received good comments about flavor, a substantial majority preferred the flavor of the ribs from the red plate.
The final score: Red won 5-1.
Interestingly pretty much everyone thought that the color they picked for brisket was Franklin, which goes to show how much Franklin has imposed itself on the BBQ consciousness. Franklin is supposed to be the best, their choice tasted the best, and therefore that one must be Franklin.
But this appears to confirm some things we've been saying about BBQ since we started this blog:
First, when it comes to the top-tier places (and both of these clearly qualify) it's likely to come down to preferences in taste as opposed to quality. Both places are turning out high quality BBQ, and your individual flavor preference is going to decide which place is best. Arguing about it can be fun, but let's not get too serious about it. Heck, my wife and I do not have the same place as our favorites.
Second, accept that your favorite place may not be the best at everything. I have my "favorite place", but what I mean by that is "If I could only ever go to one BBQ place again, this is the one I'd pick". It doesn't mean I think they are best at everything, and it doesn't mean that I go there every time I want BBQ. Heck, of all the different items you can smoke I'd only pick them for two items as the best. There are other places I'd pick for other items. And if you are willing to move out of your comfort zone and try a few different places, you can run into some nice surprises.
Finally, when trying your BBQ, remember that just as perception can color belief, so can belief color perception. For pretty much everyone it was: this brisket tasted the best, Franklin is supposed to be the best, therefore this brisket must be Franklin. It's why the test had to be blind, because otherwise perception would color the results. I tend to have the opposite problem: anything that has gotten a lot of praise can't live up to the hype. Franklin has shown me that they are actually outstanding BBQ. But then, so has Valentina's.
Let's be clear: Aaron Franklin has earned all the attention he receives. From the trailer beginnings in 2009 to the present, he's become arguably the most recognized name in BBQ (and certainly in Texas BBQ). He's probably brought more attention to Texas BBQ than anyone else, with the possible exception of Texas Monthly's Daniel Vaughn. He's created a business that has become one of the biggest social experiences in Austin (two people got married in the line on 2/8/16). Everyone needs to try his BBQ at least once (and experience the line at least once).
But then, don’t be afraid to expand out and try some other things. What we've discovered when starting this blog is that there's a lot of excellent BBQ in this area, some of it in places you wouldn't expect. Case in point: Valentina's has shown it can hold its own.
PS: What's that? I didn't tell you which plate was which? Well, of course not. How else do I make sure you read to the end? If I was really cruel I could argue that it doesn't really matter because you're probably going to put your own spin on it anyway. After all, one place won brisket by a small margin and lost ribs by a large margin. But brisket is considered the poster child for Texas BBQ. But the brisket vote was close and the rib vote wasn't. But the sample size wasn't large. But not everyone voted on every item.
The point is, this only means what you choose to take from it. Hopefully it's got you thinking a little more about your BBQ experience. If so, then our work here is done. For my two cents, I'm calling it a push.
Oh, and since you've stuck with it this long: The blue plate was Franklin. The red plate was Valentina's.
(Scott's comment: It's the BBQ Matrix: Do you want the Red Plate or the Blue Plate?.)