In a gritty cotton town east of Austin, Texas, disciples pull into a gravel parking lot. On the side of the unassuming building, a painted Texas flag is as big as the state itself. Leading the way to the entrance, the hungry step over a white hex tile threshold on a quest for the best BBQ in Texas.
Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor Texas
Open the door and the unacquainted walk into a time capsule. The screen door slaps as the original pine floor squeaks, announcing another diner at Louie Mueller Barbecue.
Taking a place in the back of the line, diners look around. Sixty years of wood smoke have tinted the walls a rich umber brown. The main dining room is humble. The original wooden four-top tables are still in use, each aged with a waxy patina. The chairs around each are mismatched, some wood and some beige metal folding chairs.
At one table, an executive in a dress shirt cuts a hunk of house-made sausage. Alone.
At a picnic table in the corner, a family gathers. In the middle of the table, the white butcher paper holds their favorites—brisket, both fatty and lean, and a pile of pork spare ribs. As grandma passes out the ribs, the kids dig into the potato salad, a Mueller family recipe.
As diners move up in line, each grabs a white foam cup. Following the instructions on the ice machine, ice tea quenches the thirst from the journey. Then kids grab bottles of Big Red from the cooler.
With a drink in hand, the deciding comes next. On the wall, a roll of brown paper holds the daily menu, written in black permanent marker.
Original Beef Sausage
Jalapeno Beef Sausage
Pork Spare Ribs
Smoked Turkey Breast
The pitmaster looks up and slides over a hunk of brisket to nibble on.
“What’ll take?” as he turns and heads back to the cutting table.
Behind him, the row of smokers sits dormant from the overnight cooking.
Can’t find that in a strip center BBQ joint.
The Quest for Authentic BBQ
For me, Texas BBQ is comfort food. I first walked through the screen door of Louie Mueller’s about 15 years ago, but barbecue is in my blood.
As soon as the wood smoke hit my nose, it felt familiar. I smelled my grandfather, who showed love with a smoked brisket covered in white butcher paper. He owned a BBQ joint in the 1960s outside of Houston, now long gone to a road expansion.
Even the squeaking pine floor resonates with me—feeling the wood flex, never breaking. I understand the resiliency needed to live in Texas. Weathering severe storms, droughts, and the long, sweltering summers, with strength and grace.
The State of Texas BBQ
I sat down with Wayne Mueller, third-generation owner of Louie Mueller Barbeque, to talk about the state of Texas BBQ. It seems Texas BBQ is exported out of the state faster than the oil these days.
Wayne isn’t just the owner or the pitmaster, he’s the storyteller. Spinning the tale of Texas BBQ and educating all on what makes it unique. Taking cues from the Spanish vaqueros who cooked beef on the range to the rich German sausage heritage of Central Texas—both mingle equally to define the uniqueness of Texas BBQ.
Taking beef, especially brisket, rubbing it down with pepper and a bit of salt so thick it forms a crust. Then letting the indirect heat and smoke do the rest. Wayne goes on to explain how he uses the principles of fluid dynamics to study the flow of smoke through his smokers.
According to Wayne, the draw of Louie Mueller BBQ is in the trifecta of “the food with the authentic aesthetic, paired with the service. Diners feel nostalgia for BBQ and the sense of community and positive moments felt when eating it.”
Louie Mueller BBQ Accolades
Back a couple of generations, most Texas BBQ was found in small towns across Central Texas. Each town had a place where the menu was scribbled on a piece of butcher paper and the brisket was cut to order.
It was eaten, never celebrated.
That all changed in 1973 when Texas Monthly published an article listing the top BBQ joints in the state. Taylor’s Louie Mueller BBQ and Lockhart’s Kreuz Market topped the list.
Both shared a German-inspired, meat market style of cooking and presentation. With the indirect heat from hardwood smoke, the beef and sausage were cooked low and slow, mainly overnight.
Completely unglamorous, the job of maintaining the fires and moving the meat around was in the hands of a pitmaster. And they described the job as just plain hot and hard work.
Still a regional destination, Louie Mueller BBQ continued on. Until one day in 2006 when Bobby Mueller, Wayne Mueller’s father, received a phone call from New York City.
The venerable James Beard Foundation, the culinary equivalent to the Academy Awards, wanted to honor the establishment with its coveted American Classics Award. An award that “recognized the nation’s beloved regional restaurants. Distinguished by their timeless appeal, they serve quality food that reflects the character of their communities,” according to the foundation.
It was only after buying a tux and accepting the award that the significance sank in. It changed the Mueller family business, made Taylor a worldwide BBQ destination and announced to the culinary world that Texas BBQ was a new American classic.
To date, Louie Mueller BBQ is one of only six restaurants in Texas to receive the coveted James Beard award.
The New York Times chimed in and called Louie Mueller BBQ the epitome of Texas barbeque.
As for Texas Monthly, Louie Mueller BBQ still tops the list. In the latest installment of top BBQ Joints across Texas, it was in the number five spot.
Louie Mueller’s Texas BBQ Reach
The reach of Louie Mueller BBQ, and Wayne Mueller especially, extends around the globe. Apprentices work under Wayne learning his methodical approach of cooking with indirect heat and the dynamics of smoke.
In Tokyo, a Mueller devotee, Craig White, opened White Smoke and now provides Texas-inspired beef BBQ to restaurants across Tokyo.
In Paris, another Mueller aficionado, Thomas Abramowicz, opened The Beast to critical acclaim from the French Foodie Elite.
And for fans across the U.S., gourmet mail-order Goldbely ships out the best of Louie Mueller BBQ.
What to Eat from a Local
If it’s your first visit to Louie Mueller Barbecue, the brisket is a must. This is Texas barbecue at its best.
Another must is the original beef sausage. For rib eaters, like me, I recommend the pork spare ribs. The beef ribs are big and one is a meal.
The BBQ is sold by the pound. There will be a line—there’s always a line. And that’s a good thing.
Take a look at the world map in the adjacent dining room. Pins cover it from all corners. That’s when you know you’re in the right place.
Where to Find Louie Mueller
Serving up BBQ since 1949, find Louie Mueller BBQ at 206 West Second Street in Taylor, Texas, about 30 miles east of Austin.
Open Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. though watch for later hours. Beer available and look for a full bar opening soon. Visit online at www.louiemuellerbarbecue.com.
Be sure to check out more great things to see and do in Texas on Wander With Wonder.