Sunday, April 12, 2009

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX

The next day we drove into Taylor, TX, home of the famed Louie Mueller Barbecue. I would say that this place is straight out of a movie, but there have been at least three already filmed there (most recently “The Rookie”), not to mention multiple visits by the Food Network, a Stevie Ray Vaughn album cover and an MGD commercial. The place is both vintage Texas and vintage barbecue.

While the City Market’s atmosphere was impressive, this place was better. Classic beer neons adorn the wall, along with pictures of famous people and other Texas relics. There’s a classic jukebox in the corner. It was timeless Texas and infinitely cool. The kind of place you could spend all afternoon lifting longnecks and listening to Johnny Cash.

Louie Mueller’s has their pits out in the open behind the counter, which added a whole ‘nother level of barbecue goodness to the place. As we made our way up to order, the nice man behind the counter informed us that they were out of everything but brisket and chopped beef sandwiches due to the influx of Ike evacuees. This would not be the last time Ike would interfere with my trip.

The guy behind the counter turned out to be Wayne Mueller, the third generation owner. Wayne and I bonded over the fact that he also used to work in sports marketing, most recently for the Houston Rockets. I told him about my trip and he told me that he had started getting back into the family business a few years ago, working weekends to get a good feel for the business. He said his grandfather Louie started the place in 1949 and his father Bobby took over in 1974. He then told me that his father Bobby had passed away unexpectedly the previous weekend, so it looked like he was going to be running the place sooner than he imagined. I was amazed at how nice and accommodating he was, especially given the circumstances.

Wayne was a great guy, and I imagine he’ll utilize his marketing experience to ensure that nothing skips a beat in terms of customers. He also mentioned that someone had been apprenticing under his father on the pits for ten years, and that “he’s ready”. Can you imagine that? Working ten years as an understudy to learn how to barbecue meat? To an average person, that probably seems absolutely ridiculous. But that’s what makes these places famous.

When I tasted the brisket, I instantly appreciated the ten years of hard work that led to quite possibly the finest piece of beef I’ve ever eaten. Seriously, if you offered me a medium rare bone-in ribeye from Ruth’s Chris or a pound of brisket from Louie Mueller’s, I’d take the brisket hands down. And that’s coming from a guy that salivates over Ruth’s Chris.

The brisket had a dark peppery crust and a deep smoke ring. The meat was tender and juicy with just the right combination of meat, smoke and a little fat. Each bite I took validated why Texans feel so strongly about brisket.

The other great thing about Louie Mueller’s was the hot sauce sitting on the table in giant old-timey Listerine bottles. Only at a famous barbecue joint would you find something as inimitably endearing as hot sauce in a mouthwash bottle.

Louie Mueller would turn out to be my favorite in the brisket category, 2nd favorite in atmosphere and 2nd favorite overall.

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