Louie Mueller Barbecue A taste of Texas
1. Their brisket. 2. Their beef ribs. 3. Wayne Mueller.
72 YEARS OF BBQ TRADITION AND COUNTING
It was in the year 1949 that founder Louie Mueller first lit the fire of the now so well-known and awarded BBQ restaurant in Taylor Texas. The legacy started on a different location, but they moved in 1959 and the BBQ magic has not changed much ever since. In 1974 ownership of Louie Mueller Barbecue was passed on to his son Bobby who kept the fire going for over three decades before handing it over in 2007 to Wayne Mueller, currently at the helm of the BBQ legacy.
Shortly after settling in Wayne Mueller received the Americans Classics award, an honor given by the James Beard Foundation to the nation’s best and most loved regional restaurants. This award and the continuous top rankings in Texas Monthly best BBQ lists underlined once more the position the BBQ restaurant had obtained over the many years and the legacy it had built. Wayne had a name to defend and a history to nourish. But despite the fact that most BBQ legends uphold the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ kind of attitude when it comes to the running of their restaurant and menu offerings, Wayne has made some small changes to the restaurant.
This to ensure the BBQ restaurant keeps up with modern times and demands from today’s customers. Some true Texan BBQ aficionado’s might smirk at his decision to incorporate items such as pulled pork and pork ribs to his fixed menu items simply for the fact that these are foreign to the true Texan BBQ history focusing primarily on beef. For those I have one advice: try them and let the succulent salt and pepper only spiced meat morsels hold your silence. Although cooking still takes place exactly as founder Louie Mueller did, technology has found its way into the restaurant allowing locals to skip the tourist loaded line by pre-ordering their BBQ fixings by app for a quick counter pick up. These days you can follow the fiery endeavors of Louis Mueller Barbecue via various social media channels so make sure to look those up! (see restaurant details below).
FIRE IN THE HOLE
The unique and traditional brick pit takes the center stage at Louie Mueller Barbecue. The original version was crafted together in 1959 in line with most brick pits found throughout Texas BBQ restaurants. A large semi open fire box is where the fire burns and the heat is sucked into the brick pit by natural air flow created by a tall chimney at the other end. Between the chimney and the fire box is where the BBQ magic happens. Here you often find one single layer of large metal grills under a lid that opens upwards holding all the meat. The single layer ensures a good air flow around the meat and into the chimney. Below the grill section you’ll find a grease trap, where fat and mop residue is collected and fed away from the fire. A smoking system that works perfectly most of the time but still has no guarantee for the ever-present risk of a grease fire. This is when the collected fat that has built up inside a smoker gets so hot it catches on fire and rages on rapidly spreading through the whole BBQ pit and in the worst case the restaurant.
It was in 2013 that Louie Mueller Restaurant faced its first severe grease fire. The heat was so intense that the fire box and cooking section were completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt. Only the original brick chimney remained intact. More recently in January of ’21 another grease fire broke out lighting the pit on fire in places it should not have been. Due to staff quickly responding the damage was limited and the restaurant able to reopen in a matter of days. As the restaurant recently has been listed in Esquire’s ‘100 restaurants America can’t afford to lose’ let’s hope that grease fires are a thing of the past for Wayne Mueller.
9 TO 1
No, it does not refer to a specific time best to munch on your plate of BBQ food. 9 to 1 is the not-so-secret recipe for the signature rub used on all proteins by Louie Mueller Barbecue. It stands for 9 parts pepper to 1 part salt. Even though a salt and pepper blend is used throughout all Texas as the fixed seasoning go to not many restaurants feature their ratio as a marketing slogan. But there is a small trick to the ratio, this I learned during my first visit to their restaurant when me and my BBQ partner in crime Kasper Stuart were undertaking an elaborate road trip in 2016 as part of research for my first BBQ book. I had drafted up an ambitious schedule to cram all BBQ states and about 50 BBQ restaurants in the ten available days.
We hauled ass to drive 6.000 miles whilst trying to digest all the food we tasted along the way. Having spent to much time lunching in various BBQ joints in Austin we arrived too late in Taylor only to find that Louie Mueller Barbecue had just sold out and the restaurant was closed. Sticking my head through the metal gate with a face of that of a child that had just dropped his ice cream before even having one lick I peered in the empty place trying to at least get a feel for the interior. One employee spotted my disappointed head peaking in and quickly rushed to us opening the gate. Telling him we were in town for a BBQ tour he offered to show us around and at least give us an idea of what it looks like from the inside so I could take some photos for the book. He showed us the famous porcelain lined brick pit and talked enthusiastically about the daily operations. We gazed at the soot-stained dark walls, the many business cards stapled on them all being discolored by age and smoke and the photos depicting earlier lunches at the restaurant. We took in as much as we could and were pleasantly surprised by the complimentary 9-to-1 t-shirts and banana pudding we got to sooth the pain of not being able to taste the BBQ itself.
‘The golden ratio is not by weight, it’s by volume!’
A few months after our visit we started working on our own BBQ menu for the first Black Smoke BBQ restaurant and for our brisket we wanted to stick to the Texas classic of salt, pepper, meat and fire and thus I instructed my chefs to blend 9 parts coarse ground black pepper to 1 part coarse sea salt. To our surprise the brisket was way to salty and we had to leave the golden ratio behind and blended our own mixture to result in a better tasting slab of meaty goodness. It was not until two years later the mystery was resolved. While revisiting Texas with some of my chefs we managed to get into Louis Mueller Barbecue before lunch and scored a plate of impressive quality BBQ. Not only were we able to finally taste the food but Wayne Mueller himself was running the pit and as a bunch of groupies we got to chat to him for a good amount of time. In our conversation I admitted our failed attempt at recreating the simple seasoning mixture and asked him what we did wrong despite weighing things out properly. Wayne started laughing loudly when he heard we used a weight scale for measuring. “The ratio is not by weight, it’s by volume!” he chuckled.
Chatting up with Wayne gave us a boat load of insights about how he achieved and maintained such consistent quality. We were invited into the back and as he showed us his pits he explained his methods and kitchen hacks. One of them being the importance of sourcing the right beef ribs cut from a particular section of the cow of a specific breed. This so you have even sized ribs with the perfect fat marbling of a fine structure each and every time. Another great trick was that he had multiple timers on a white board set at certain time intervals. Each time an alarm went off the Pitmaster on duty knew it was either time to throw on another log of the post oak wood or to sprits the meat inside the pit to keep things moist and juicy.
All this talking about BBQ raged our appetite so when we made it to the counter we ordered more then we could have devoured in days. We thoroughly enjoyed the brisket which had the perfect crunch from the coarse black pepper and salt rub mixed with the rendered fat and smoke, we downed the beef rib that was juicy and heavy but free from fat accumulations we found in so many other beef ribs on our trip and nibbled at the home made sausages and pork spare ribs.
For Europeans making it to BBQ places like this I will advise you this. Just the fact that you can order items by the pound does not mean you have to! Order half a pound or just a slice of this and that and make sure you get yourself a mixture of the menu. This so you can taste everything and admire the Texas style BBQ flavors. Texas BBQ is delicious but also quite saturating so best to keep that in mind before ordering instead of finding you skip dinner each and everytime you enjoyed a BBQ lunch.