JMueller BBQ

When Britt (my wife) and I moved to Austin this past September we noticed a big blank spot on South First, just a few blocks north of our house. Then a sign came up that said JMueller BBQ. Every time I drove by, I’d pull into the lot and yell “Where the hell is it?!”

Food trailer (left), smoker (right) and tables

Finally I used my internet sleuthing skills to find out JMueller BBQ was slated to open soon. At the time, I wasn’t very familiar with the Mueller name so I did a little research.

John Mueller is the grandson of the legendary Louie Mueller who started Louie Mueller Barbecue up in Taylor, TX. Of course, I’ve been to Louie Mueller, but that’s a story for another day.

One day, I hope to get the full details of John Mueller’s barbecue history, but for now here’s what I know:

Smoker made from 1000 gallon propane tank

John worked at Louie Mueller for 15ish (so I’ve heard) years before coming to Austin to open a joint on Manor (pronounced “may-nor”) in East Austin. That lasted from 2001-2006. On JMueller’s website, it says that the “business shuttered amongst a tornado of controversy” and then John “disappeared”.

I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I can tell you one thing: I must know the story. I’m sure John will tell me one day. Whether he’ll let me share it is something else.

I also know that John employed Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue for a while. He also sold Aaron the smoker from his Manor joint that closed.

Anyway, in early October JMueller BBQ opened for business. That day, I was the second person in line to taste his magical brisket. I was hooked.

I’ve been to JMueller multiple times but I want to write this story/review based on my most recent experience. See, JMueller just changed their hours to Wednesday-Sunday and closed Monday and Tuesday. So Chris, Britt, some other friends and myself decided to get some Sunday ‘cue.

I knew about how many people would be eating with me later, so I placed the order before we got there. How far ahead is a closely guarded secret 🙂

I got 1lb of moist, 1lb of lean, 2 beef ribs, a pork chop, one pork sausage and one beef sausage. When we actually got there later we added potato salad, chipotle slaw and yellow squash.

Brisket with perfect pepper bark & smoke ring

First let’s talk about the brisket. On my Top BBQ page, I say that I won’t declare one place my favorite. That’s bullshit and I’m changing it.

Chris will argue with me about this, but I’m just gonna say it: John Mueller has the best brisket I’ve ever tasted.

His brisket has a pepper bark that is unparalleled and a smoke ring that is just glorious. The only way I can describe the bark is that it is brisket candy. It’s sweet, crunchy, melts the second it hits your mouth, very peppery. It is the definition of perfection.

I know all the old school Central Texas folks and other barbecue eaters may say that Lockhart or elsewhere has the best brisket. They’re wrong. I refuse to believe that their palates are as refined as mine. Granted, I still need to go to Snow’s out in Lexington, TX but if Kreuz, Black’s, Smitty’s, Chisholm Trail, Louie Mueller, Franklin, City Market and others are definitely not as good as JMueller, I can’t imagine that Snow’s will be better.

Beef ribs: no one makes them better

Now let’s talk about the beef rib. Dear. God. You can’t imagine. They were huge, fell off the bone, had John’s signature pepper bark, massive amount of smoke flavor. Just really damn good. This beef rib shames all others. I LOVE it.

Both sausages were perfectly spiced, moist but not oily, excellent smoke. John Mueller makes some great sausages. In fact, they are some of my favorites. The casing pops like a firecracker when you bite into it. It just doesn’t get any better.

The pork chop was moist and smoky and really tasty. In fact, the brisket, beef rib and pork chop are absolutely my favorite things at JMueller. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sausages. But few establishments are capable of producing a perfect, tender pork chop.

Tons of BBQ and sides

Let’s not forget the sauce. Anyone who has ever been to Louie Mueller can see the similarity, but John has taken it to a whole new level. This is definitely my favorite Texas-style sauce. Big chunks of onion, plenty of pepper and spice. Just heavenly.

Finally, we’ve got the sides: mustard potato salad, chipotle coleslaw and yellow squash. All very good, but the squash definitely won. The squash was cheesy and just plain yummy. The squash pieces could have been a little more al dente, but let’s be honest: I wasn’t there for sides. They were requested by others in the group 🙂

If you’re keeping track, you’ll notice there is something missing from my list: pork ribs. There’s a reason for that and I’ll have to get into it another time.

JMueller, to me, is barbecue. Everything about JMueller makes me happy: the location, the trailer set up with all outdoor seating, obviously the food, the employees.

My limited interactions with John have been great. He seems like a “to the point” kind of guy. John tries to move his line as fast as possible which means you won’t have any 2 hour waits here. He also loves his regulars and always sees us off with a “See ya next week!” Jokes on him. I’ll be back in 3 days.

If you are in Austin and have time for just one barbecue joint, it must be JMueller. Nothing else compares. Forget Stubb’s, Iron Works and the like. Go straight to JMueller and never look back.

Check out the rest of my pictures below.

Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q: Lockhart, TX

There are so many places to eat barbecue, it blows the mind. For this reason, it is rare for me to eat at one place when I travel for bbq. The same day that Chris (my cousin/barbecue cohort) and I went to City Market, we decide to stop at Chisholm Trail in Lockhart on the way home.

We had just left the great toxic oil smells of Luling and barely 15 minutes had gone by when we pulled up to Chisholm Trail. We argued for a minute if this was the “real” Chisholm Trail. Of course it was as there isn’t another 🙂

We stepped out of the car and we were immediately welcomed by the scent of post oak smoke. I swear that post oak has smoke has magical powers.

On the inside, Chisholm Trail is fairly simple (as any good bbq joint should be). There is a well defined line with an excellent looking buffet full of tasty looking sides, pickles, onions, peppers and so on. But let’s be honest: I didn’t drive all this way to eat sides that my wife makes 100 times better. I came for ‘cue.

Chris and I stepped up to the counter and placed our order. Like most cutters, the Chisholm Trail cutter started by slicing of the glorious bark and hiding it in a secret drawer. NO NO NO. I hate that more than anything. Why do they do that? I’ll never understand.

We ordered brisket and pork ribs, but no sausage this time. Perhaps that was a mistake…I’ll have to go back I guess 😀

Right in front of where you place your meat order there’s a big crock pot of sauce. The sauce was warm, thick and dark. Very Kansas City looking. We reluctantly scooped some up not expecting much.

The moment we paid we made a mad dash to the closest table to begin tasting.

The brisket lacked a well defined bark, which disappointed the hell out of me. Sure, there was bark present, but it was thin and soft. However, the texture was very nice. It had a good moisture content falling in that middle ground of not too moist and not too dry. But the outstanding quality of this brisket was the smoke flavor. Wow!

Chisholm Trail has really nailed that post oak flavor. It was freaking AMAZING. It’s like they have figured out how to perfectly infuse the post oak smoke into the brisket. This isn’t my most favorite brisket on earth, but it is tops in smoke flavor, easily moving it to my top 5 or 10.

The pork ribs were VERY tasty. They were thick and meaty spare ribs and this type of rib can frequently go wrong. Chisholm Trail’s ribs had been deeply penetrated by smoke and were pink all the way through. I really liked these ribs. A lot.

Finally, let’s talk about the sauce. In Texas, I would not expect a Kansas City style sauce. But I’ll tell you what: this was very good sauce. In fact, after my initial tasting of the meats, I ended up dipping everything in the sauce (which is atypical for me). I’m not gonna write home about this sauce, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Overall, I think Chisholm Trail is a must for your Lockhart trip. While we were eating, there was a steady stream of locals pouring in the door and the drive through. Honestly, Chisholm Trail had the most locals in and out of any other joint in town (at least that I have experienced).

We boxed up our leftovers and got back on the road to head home. I was fat and happy. Two barbecue joints in one will do that.

City Market: Luling, TX

It was 2pm on a gorgeous January Friday. In Central Texas, January can still have days that approach 75°-80°. So, Chris (my cousin, more on him another time) and I decided to skip out on work and get some ‘cue (obviously).

Like any other day, we headed immediately to JMueller on South First. We were greeted by John Mueller and he had a slightly apologetic face. I knew he was out. My heart sank to my feet.

“Where have y’all been? Y’all gotta get here earlier”, John said with a slightly scolding tone. He was right. His bbq is becoming too popular for us to be waiting until 2pm. Damn damn damn.

Chris and I chatted with John long enough to tell him about our recent trip to Taylor to eat at Louie Mueller. More on that later 🙂 (hint: John loved what we had to say.) Then Chris said “Well, I guess we have to go to Lockhart.” I’m not sure if John knew we were serious. But we needed a barbecue fix and by God no place in Austin would do.

So we jumped in Chris’ car, I called my wife and told her our plan (she said we are “gay” about barbecue), and we hit the road.

After about 20 minutes we decided we were going to make the trip to City Market in Luling, then stop at Chisolm Trail in Lockhart. We have been to Kreuz, Black’s and Smitty’s in Lockhart so our baseline for comparison has been established.

When we arrived in Luling (about an hour trip from South Austin) we were greeted by the smell of toxic oil. That smell penetrates the whole town and is frankly disturbing. To say I hate the smell there would be an understatement.

We pulled up to City Market and ran in as fast as we could. Once inside, our senses were taken over by the intoxicating smell of post oak. Oh, how glorious! I wish post oak smoke was a cologne. Bet your ass I’d wear it.

City Market is split into two parts: the back where you get your ‘cue, the front where you get the other stuff. Naturally Chris and I headed to the back where we entered the “IN” door.

The room is small and cramped and smokey and perfect. Brick pits line the wall, a few large men cut meat and everything is smokey as hell.

We ordered brisket, pork ribs and sausage (our standard “tasting” order). Something I don’t understand about barbecue joints is that they cut the bark off the brisket before they slice it. Maybe that’s standard, but when they tried to serve us that we had to correct it!

We requested pieces with the most bark and they were very accommodating, sending us off with basically the most barky pieces you can imagine. We grabbed a couple of onions then they folded it all up in butcher paper and sent us on our way.

Naturally, we sat at the closest possible table. Who has time for walking in a situation like this?! We grabbed a little jar of sauce and began.

First, the brisket, as is custom when doing a tasting. Gorgeous looking, good bark formation, decent smoke ring. Excellent beef flavor, tender and a tad sweet just like you’d expect. However, it lacked that really powerful post oak smoke flavor to the extent that Chris had to go to the back and make sure they actually did use post oak.

If this was the first real brisket you’d ever eaten, I’m guessing you’d fall over with excitement. As a seasoned barbecue eater and considering that City Market occupies a top 5 spot over at Texas Monthly, I was a tad disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it is great brisket; probably one of the 10 or 15 best I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth.

Now the pork rib was up. They were legit looking ribs, definitely finished with a sauce. Moist, easy to pull of the bone. My God! The flavor! I wanted to jump out of my chair and scream! Yes! This is the rib I want to eat. Oh, it was just delicious. Quite possibly one of the two or three best ribs I’ve ever stuck in my mouth. You MUST eat one (or six).

Finally, the sausage. Chris was gushing and wide eyed over the sausage. He was trying to make coherent sentences as he ate it, but he was sausage drunk. I thought the sausage was a tad dry for my taste, but good nonetheless.

We had tasted all of the barbecue and almost simultaneously we looked at the sauce. It was sitting in what appeared to be a former Louisiana Hot Sauce bottle. It was yellowish-orange with black pepper and other spices floating around. Hmm. I don’t typically care about sauce, but we decided to try it.

Holy. Shit. Now THAT is a sauce. I can definitely say that this is the best sauce I’ve ever had. I know, I have promised I won’t proclaim a definitive winner in any category, but so what. This sauce is THE BOMB. I want to bathe in it. I want to eat it on everything, for every meal, forever. This sauce needs to be sold nationally. It needs to be elected President (would definitely do better than Obama). It needs its own tumblr site where it is just poured on things. citymarketsaucepouredonthings.tumblr.com. I can see it now 🙂

Quick recap: City Market, in Luling, has the best sauce, mind blowing pork ribs, solid brisket and decent sausage. If you are a serious barbecue eater you pretty much have to go here. Anyone will enjoy the trip to Luling, just beware the oil smell.

PS Out of curiosity, we walked over to Luling Bar-B-Q just a couple doors down from City Market. This is an establishment listed on the Top 50 by Texas Monthly. Puh-leese. I wouldn’t stick that ‘cue in my mouth if you paid me. Sorry guys, it just looked terrible.

The Birth of Brisket Man

A couple years ago, I was just some foodie. I had eaten at a million great restaurants all over America and Europe. I even ate at Michael Symon’s Lola before anyone even knew who he was (he went on to win Iron Chef). I’m not trying to brag, but rather offer evidence that I’m not some waterhead with no food experience. If anything, you could call me a gourmand.

However, I had an experience that changed me. My cousin had just moved to Austin, Texas from Los Angeles and my wife and I came to visit him in July, 2010. One day I told Britt (my wife) that she and I needed to go find some good barbecue because that’s the “rage” in Central Texas.

(It’s important to note that this wasn’t the first time I had eaten barbecue in Austin, but I’ll tell you more about that another day.)

Now, I’m from Kentucky where barbecue is pulled pork (maybe mutton) and everything else is smoked feces. I thought brisket was simply colored saw dust, compacted and flavored with beef bouillon. I had never heard of a “beef rib” other than the bones I gave my dog. And pork ribs were chewy masses of fat or braised and piled with goopy, sugar sauce.

Basically, barbecue was tasteless food for idiots.

So on a beautiful summer day, Britt and I set out to eat Franklin Barbecue. Would it be everything the reviews proclaimed? The best barbecue in America?

We showed up to Franklin…and waited. A line for barbecue? Insanity!

After 45 minutes, we were greeted by the smiling face of Aaron Franklin, pit master and owner. He cut off the very tip of a fresh brisket, handed half to me and the other half to my wife.

The moment I sunk my teeth into that brisket, everything changed. I had just tasted the first bite of real Texas barbecue. The smokiness of post oak. The perfect, slightly seasoned bark. The sweetness of the caramelized fat mixed with the beefy fullness of the lean.

After tasting Franklin, I knew that I would never be the same. I was destined to hunt down the best brisket. I had to find the greatest ribs. I must search for new kinds of barbecue, new flavors, textures and experiences.

Thus, Brisket Man was born.