With Aaron Franklin's East Austin barbecue joint being anointed as ruler of the Great State by Texas Monthly magazine, we decided to double down and visit the man who gave the young pit boss his start in the business back when Moses was young.
Under the aegis John Mueller Meat Co. the old pit boss is back up and running. Again.
In that top 50 barbecue piece that came out last week, there were a few surprise omissions. We detailed 5 joints that are on our personal top 10 that were left off entirely (http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/index.cfm/2013/5/16) Such is the nature of lists everywhere.
Franklin, Pecan Lodge, Snow's and Louie Mueller were estimated to be the top 4 in the state.
John Mueller? Outside looking in. Again.
The cantankerous barbecue cook has a backstory that reads like a collision between the work of Nick Tosches and Cormac McCarthy. Drunkenness, fistfights, filial brawls, financial meltdowns, high plains drifting, rambles through the agave plantations of Mexico, getting knocked the fuck out with a shovel and having his briskets stole.... the old Taylor, Texas meat veteran has lived in a world of hurt for the last few decades.
We'd love to see Gaspar Noe attempt to capture the irascible Mueller on film. An Enter The Void-style parable with Mueller in the central role.
Sam Fuller would've been our first choice.
So how's the barbecue at his new food trailer.
Better than it's ever been.
Walking down the dirt alley that leads into the compound which houses the business, there's a hubbub rising from the crowd of a hundred or so eaters huddled over the big picnic tables stretching across the yard-lot.
John Mueller Meat Company is housed behind Kellee's Place, an old timey Mexican drinkery which simultaneously pulls off rough and tumble, and neat and tidy. Certainly no easy trick.
One imagines the hard-drinking Mueller has tilted back a Bud Lite or two in those 4 walls.
As we approach the order window, beef chuck ribs gets crossed off the paper menu taped to the side of the trailer. It's all I can do to restrain my dining companion as she announces she's going to "take em off that guy"
No matter, we'll still get fed via the brisket, pork ribs, and sausage that Mueller cranks out on the high dollar grinder/extruder at O'Brien Meats up in Taylor.
City Market down in Luling is the gold standard for pork ribs in Texas. Their technique has been adopted across the great state to the point where it's getting hard to find a plate that hasn't been laquered with a sweet glaze prior to making its way to the eater's mouth.
Mueller has adopted this style to good effect. The candy glaze glosses the crisp outer flesh concealing a smoky inner that barely clings to the bone. We liked the old style salt n pepper ribs that Mueller put out for years, but this new-ish version's as good as you'll find in Austin.
We hold that sausage is just as important as brisket in the Trinity of Texas barbecue. It's importance has been back-burnered by the rise of the commercial stuff across the state (after all Texas Monthly's putative number 1 joint uses a commercial purveyor) but ask any Texas meat lover of a certain age what his favorite meat is, and he'll invariably reply "hot guts". Hot links had a half century head start on brisket (http://chowpapi.com/wordpress/wordpress-2.8.6/wordpress) and we think one of the big stories in 2013 will be the renaissance of handmade sausage in Texas.
The links at Mueller's are fine. Salt and pepper, both red and black, power the flavors, and there's plenty post oak smoke. We could do with way more heat, but a heavy dose of cayenne is something we're always looking for in our hot guts.
The brisket's another matter entirely. It evokes the meat coming off the pits at Louie Mueller prior to Fall 2008. From 1991 onward we pilgrimaged up to Taylor, Texas regularly to eat in the storied dining hall that put Texas barbecue on the map.
Back then, Bobby Mueller (RIP) was putting in 90 hour weeks making sure that his daddy's old meat parlor stayed in the number one spot in the Great State. We lost a lion of a man in September of that year when Mr. Mueller passed.
His son is carrying on that tradition from the back-lot of an old dive bar in East Austin.
John Mueller is still the king.
editor's note. This article was featured on Digital Texan with the headline "Austin's John Mueller left out of Texas Monthly 50 Best Barbecue Joints list"
Obviously that title is incorrect as Mueller was in the bottom 46 of the magazine's rankings.
Our article did not mean to imply that Mueller was not ranked, just that he was not ranked in the top 5.
Apologies for the confusion.