Submitted | February 2009
SI decided to quit my job in Arizona
and try to open a brewery with a friend of mine in Richmond, VA. On
my way to Richmond from Phoenix, I decided to fulfill my dream of
doing the great American barbecue road trip.
For nearly three weeks, I would travel
from Texas to Memphis to North Carolina, sampling some of the best
barbecue our country has to offer. Along the way, I would meet some
of the legends of industry, often getting a personal tour of their
pits and a behind the scenes look at where the magic happens. I
would talk with the locals to get a sense of the pride and passion
they have for their revered locale. Every person had a story and
over the years those individual stories had become interwoven to
create the legend of each barbecue shrine.
On the third day of my tour I 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 Willie Nelson.
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 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 he’ll
ensure nothing skips a beat. He 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 to learn how
to make barbecue? To an average person, that probably seems crazy.
But that’s what makes this place 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
Of the nineteen places I visited on my
tour, Louie Mueller had the best brisket and the best atmosphere,
and I can’t wait to go back!