A MacGyver of Slow-Cooked Meats at Franklin Barbecue

That’s the first question the man with the knife behind the counter will ask when you reach the front of the line at Franklin Barbecue. He won’t stab you if you don’t have an answer ready, but I might.

By that point, you or another person who is either being paid by you or who just likes you very much will have been waiting outside for two hours or more — sometimes a lot more. The line starts earlier and grows faster on weekends and during South by Southwest, the festival of music, film and technology that metastasizes here each March and runs, this year, through Sunday.

Nobody reaches the front of the line accidentally. If you haven’t managed to work out how much brisket to buy when you get there, you are beyond my help.

I won’t blame you, though, if you double your order after the man with the knife cuts off a little block of meat and hands it to you. Look at it, the way it shades from nut-brown at the inside to cherry-jam around the border to black at the crust, stained by carbon and stubbled with coarse pepper. Smell it while the steam is still carrying the smell of burning post oak. Taste it, the way it combines the fat-bathed richness of fresh beef with the tight focus of meat cured by salt and smoke. Still want just half a pound?

Other considerations come into play, like the elasticity of your stomach and your taste for pork, smoked sausage and turkey. But brisket is the foundation on which Franklin Barbecue was built, brisket as it is seasoned and barbecued by Aaron Franklin, the chief pitmaster and an owner.

Mr. Franklin is a gearhead and a MacGyver with obsessive tendencies. Men like him were building hot rods in the 1960s and six-chambered bongs in the ’70s. In the 2000s, Mr. Franklin was designing and welding offset smokers and firing them up for loosely organized backyard cookouts. He writes in his book, “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto,” that his first brisket was “flavorless — tough and dry.”