Why Aaron Franklin Prefers To Use Rye Instead Of Bourbon In His Barbecue Sauce - Exclusive

Barbecue is an art form, and few pit masters are more aware of this than Aaron Franklin, the James Beard Award-winning chef behind Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. During an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, he shared his wisdom on the art of cooking an excellent steak on the grill, a mouthwatering brisket in the smoker, and a nice rack of ribs in a pellet cooker. Franklin's artistry is on full display at his eponymous restaurant, Franklin Barbecue, which recently claimed the number-one spot in Tasting Table's roundup of the best barbecue in Texas.

Most barbecuers know that how you cook your meat is only part of the equation. Deciding how to treat your meat — with a rub, salt, or marinade before cooking, or by applying a sauce or topping later in the cooking process — can fundamentally alter the flavor of your dish. When we asked Franklin about choosing between rubs and sauces, he shed light on the implications of that choice that go well beyond taste profile. "I typically cook at a pretty high heat, and usually, rubs burn. Rubs are for slower cooks — if you're smoking ribs or brisket or something like that."

Within the pages of "Franklin Smoke" — Franklin's newest cookbook with collaborator Jordan MacKay — there are pages of excellent recipes for preparing your own homemade rubs and sauces — including one featuring rye, which Franklin claims works better in a barbecue sauce due to its flavor profile.

The case for using rye instead of bourbon in barbecue sauce

In "Franklin Smoke", Aaron Franklin and Jordan MacKay walk barbecue enthusiasts through "how to utilize an entire fire, from beginning through initial combustion, through hot coals, through all the stages in the lifespan of a fire." Franklin asserts that "the technique is [the same] across the board for anything you're cooking. [It] doesn't change between meat or vegetables." After you've decided on your cooking strategy and understand how to manage your cooking temperature, you'll likely find yourself searching for a recipe for a sauce or a rub to enhance whatever you're preparing. 

Of course, the rye barbecue sauce stands out among the recipes in "Franklin Smoke." The majority of barbecue sauces that incorporate alcohol use bourbon instead of rye — so what's the thinking behind Franklin's unique pairing?

"I love rye. Rye's a lot more peppery; it's a lot less sweet because of its mash bill. Rye goes with the smoky grilled flavors a lot better. It has these pepper notes and vanilla notes depending on what kind you get," he told us. "In the book, we used High West Double Rye, which is my standard around the house for normal drinking and cocktails and stuff. It's got a fair bit of sweetness on it, but it complements the smoke and the pepper. Cherries are a natural fit for that."

Franklin Smoke is now available for purchase here. Keep up with all things Aaron Franklin and Franklin Barbecue on Instagram.