In the heart of Taylor Texas, a with a population of 16,000, sits an old brick building that houses the Louie Mueller Barbecue. The surrounding street doesn’t offer much beyond a service station, some antique shops and a Mexican restaurant. Two large fans sit atop the wooden screen doors at the building’s entrance and circulate air during the blistering summer months. A Christmas tree stands as a permanent fixture in the corner. Over the years, the walls have blackened from the kiss of wood smoke that permeates the air. The original smoker still stands in the middle of the room. After visiting, it’s apparent that barbecue history has been made here. Louie Mueller Barbecue isn’t just a barbecue restaurant, it’s an institution.
Wayne Mueller, the current owner and pit master, is a man with passion and vision. Wayne doesn’t just make barbecue, he is barbecue. It’s in his blood. His Grandfather started Louie Muller Barbecue 65 years ago and the honor of pit master has been passed down through the generations. During a recent visit, Wayne took a few minutes to wax philosophical about food and barbecue with me and my fellow barbecue enthusiast, The Smoking Ho. While it’s no secret that he’s planning an expansion to Houston in the near future, the process has moved slower than expected. Wayne has a vision of what the new restaurant will look like and he’s seeking investors that see it as clearly as he does. Despite the success of the Louie Mueller Barbecue, Wayne informed us that serving great barbecue might not be enough to be successful in today’s current restaurant climate. The price of beef has more than doubled in the past few years and profit margins have shrunk on the foods he is most famous for, brisket and beef ribs. While Wayne thinks barbecue is here to stay, he wants to provide an experience that patrons will enjoy and want to return to over and over. Although nothing has been finalized, he’s planning to feature a diversified menu (obviously featuring the great barbecue the Mueller name has become synonymous with), craft beers from local breweries exclusively for his restaurant, and live music.
While the plans for expansion linger, the Taylor outpost is still going strong. I’m not going to list all of the accolades, although there are many as the barbecue speaks for itself. The line still approaches the door by 11 am and the team works feverishly to minimize wait time. As with prior visits, the barbecue is still on point. The brisket and beef rib are where the money’s at. The brisket is moist and the bark is flecked with an extra dose of black pepper, a signature of Louie Mueller’s. The fall-apart-tender beef rib is as big as your head, so plan to share or be prepared for leftovers.
After lunch we headed back for a tour of the barbecue pits. The original smoker is made from scrap metal from a decommissioned Navy ship. The thick steal helps insulate and prevent too much heat from escaping. This smoker is primarily used for cooking hanging items like sausage. Whole briskets are unique because they contain two types of muscle that cook at different rates. For these, Wayne uses the horizontal smoker with the fatty portion towards the fire, insulating the leaner flat end. The beef ribs are also smoked on the horizontal pit and can tolerate more heat than most of the cuts because the thick bones shield the meat. The original brick chimney of the horizontal smoker still stands, but the remainder of the pit was replaced after it was recently ravaged by a fire.
If you’re heading out to Louie Mueller’s and want to try some other authentic Texas barbecue north and east of Austin, consider this barbecue tour:
- Arrive at Southside Market in Elgin around opening. Sample the brisket and hot guts. Don’t eat too much, there’s better BBQ to come. Meyer’s is also in Elgin.
- Travel up the road to Lexington and hit up Snow’s. Try everything. This is one of my top three BBQ joints but it’s only open on Saturdays. Give Tootsie a hug for me.
- Head northwest into Taylor to Louie Mueller Barbecue. Everything’s tasty, but the beef rib is the star of the show.
- Walk around the corner to the Taylor Cafe to see Vencil Mares, one of the oldest pit masters at 91 years of age.
- If you’re really committed to making the whole day into a BBQ adventure, drive north another 50 minutes into Belton and visit Miller’s Smoke House.
Always call ahead as some of these locations will sell out early. Enjoy the meat sweats!