Micah Barcalow teaches fourth-graders in Fort Wayne, Ind. He has never eaten at Franklin Barbecue, 1,200 miles away in Austin, Tex. But he did read Aaron Franklin’s book, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto.
Barcalow says the book and its lessons — for barbecue and life — changed him, making him more willing to try new things and learn from doing. An excellent lesson for fourth-graders, too.
That’s why Barcalow has inspirational quotes from the book — “Words of Wisdom from Aaron Franklin,” he calls them — along with a photo of Franklin, posted in his classroom.
“It’s when you start doing something multiple times a day, everyday, that you really start getting good at it,” is one of Franklin’s sayings.
When a fire closed Franklin for about three months last year, Barcalow had his students write letters to the place.
“Dear Franklin BBQ,” one letter begins, “I’m sorry your restaurant burt (cq) into a crisp.”
“Dear Franklin BBQ,” another says, “hope you can fix your restaurant. My teacher always talkes (cq) about how much you changed his life. He really would like to meet you.”
The letters are posted on a wall at Franklin’s, which re-opened in November. A couple of them include drawings of a building on fire. Another has two people standing near a flaming barbecue grill.
“I did not give them any direction on what to write,” Barcalow said in a telephone interview. “I just told them to share their thoughts.”
He said he told his students to think how they would feel if their house had a fire, or if a restaurant they liked had a fire.
For the exercise, he said, he was trying to tie their writing to something his students cared about, making it personal.
“You get better inspiration if they care about it,” Barcalow explained.
The folks at Franklin loved the kids’ letters.
“Thank you so much for the thoughtful letters and drawings,” Franklin responded. “We laughed, cried and were overall delighted by them. We are honored to be used as an example in your class.”
That response is posted in the classroom along with the inspirational quotes from the book.
Barcalow, 38, says he worked in college administration seven years before switching to elementary teaching. He volunteered in his kids’ schools — he and his wife have three elementary age kids — and was a substitute teacher for three years. This is his first year of full-time teaching.
Five years ago, he said, barbecue for him meant hot dogs, hamburgers and an occasional steak on the grill. He had never smoked anything.
For Christmas in 2015, however, a family member gave him a copy of Franklin’s book. That changed his approach to cooking. He started with what he called a “cheap” smoker and then built his own from a 6-foot-tall, stainless steel commercial food warmer.
“I could cook a side of beef in there if I wanted to,” he said. He uses charcoal to get the fire going and adds pieces of wood, hickory and oak.
While he has yet to eat at Franklin, Barcalow hopes to change that in a couple years when his 15th wedding anniversary arrives. He and his wife plan a trip to Austin.
“The only thing that is a must-do on our list is going to Franklin,” he said. “Everything else revolves around that.”