If you drive 30 minutes outside of Austin, you’ll arrive at a quaint town square that’s home to a row of unassuming antique stores, a small coffee shop, and one of the most historic royal families of Texas barbecue.
On our way to check out a candidate forum in College Station, we made a pit stop in Taylor to visit Louie Mueller Barbecue, a place that isn’t merely a great spot to eat smoked meats, but a regal house of Texas history and barbecue folklore.
The Mueller story began in 1900 when the original brick building was built; it was at one point a grocery market, then a gymnasium for golden glove boxing and semi-pro basketball.
In 1946, right after the war ended, Louie Mueller built his first pit out of scrap plate steel from the Navy in Galveston, and in ’49, he lit the smoker’s fire and opened the restaurant’s doors.
Nearly 30 successful years later, Mueller handed power over to his son Bobby, and over three decades after that, Bobby ceded the throne to his son Wayne in 2007, who runs the place to this day.
When we walked through the double screen doors of the 120-year-old building, it was almost like we had just entered an old barbecue sanctuary. The “cathedral of smoke,” as it’s been called, was certainly that: creaky wood floors, blackened walls and a ceiling stained by decades of soot, and a whole wall of framed news articles about Mueller’s that were displayed like a triumphant chronicle of their barbecue kingdom.
We tried a full sampling of their famed fare, and it definitely lived up to its national renown.
The brisket is well-marbled and so tender it could be sliced with a finger; the taste was a deep, flavorful smoke that you could tell had sunk into the meat over many hours of lovingly applied heat.
The turkey is lean yet moist, and was superb with their sweet and tangy mustard sauce; the made-in-house, all-beef sausage has a crisp bite and a peppery kick.
Mueller also has a “dino rib,” a gargantuan beef rib that seems like it came from a T-Rex rather than mere cattle. Its thick bark encases the rich, succulent meat and falls apart at even the glance of a fork.
Eating at Mueller’s is a complete Texas experience, and is like eating at a rustic Americana museum: the old neon signs, the well-worn brick and wood structure, the faded framed pictures of legends who have stopped by the place (Stevie Ray Vaughn shot one of his last photoshoots at Mueller’s before he died). There’s even a jukebox in the corner that Wayne said has been featured on three or four different album covers. It hasn’t worked since ’75.
Mueller’s has been ranked somewhere in the top five of Texas Monthly’s best barbecues in the state ratings ever since the list started in 1973, and was the first Texas barbecue joint to earn the prestigious national James Beard Award in 2006, in the “America’s Classics” category.
On top of that, Mueller’s legendary family tree has grown offshoots, spreading their barbecue legacy throughout the Central Texas region. In addition to numerous others, LeAnn Mueller co-owns critically acclaimed La Barbecue in Austin, and John Mueller is a famed local pitmaster currently serving his food at Granger City Brewing. Both are children of Bobby Mueller, son of Louie.
Overall, our trip to Louie Mueller’s was one we highly recommend, one that was indeed a memorable experience into a rich chapter of Texas history—and one that tasted pretty darn good, too.