Backroads and BBQ: John Mueller Interview

If you ever get a chance to sit down with legendary BBQ “cook” John Mueller, take it. He drinks Bud Light – take a 12-pack of cold cans. He’s irascible and interesting with a depth of knowledge and opinions about Texas barbecue that you won’t get anywhere else. And, be sure to ask him about his grandmother’s squash casserole recipe.

The Mueller family is BBQ royalty in Texas:

  • Louie Mueller BBQ In Taylor was started by John’s grandfather;
  • Father Bobby Mueller, James Beard award winner and widely known as the greatest pitmaster in Texas history, took over the family’s barbecue empire and taught John to cook;
  • Brother Wayne Mueller now runs the Taylor establishment;
  • Sister LeAnne Mueller owns renowned la Barbecue in Austin.
Chef John O’Neil, John Mueller, and Jack Crouch

Dubbed the “Dark Prince of Barbecue” by Texas Monthly Magazine, enshrined by Anthony Bourdain, and also named one of America’s most influential pitmasters by Fox News, John Mueller does things differently. Traditional barbecue pitmasters in Texas, including the Mueller family, cook brisket slow over low heat and usually post oak wood. Out of necessity, John Mueller rejected his family ways because he hated running out and not being able to serve hungry customers. He developed a method of cooking brisket quickly that is still moist and terrific over high heat. This way he was able to turn out more product to feed the lines of people that frequent his establishments.

Chef John O’Neil chatting with John Mueller over Bud Light.

One sunny Sunday in June, cousin Jack Crouch and his wife Belle took me to the alter of the Dark Prince, where I got the opportunity to sit down with Mueller for a chat. At that time, Mueller set up shop with his smoker in a trailer, some picnic tables, and his pickup truck on a lot just off the square in downtown Georgetown. Since then, Mueller relocated to Granger City Brewing Company where he serves “the whole thing”, meaning brisket, sausage, pork ribs, smoked turkey, and his signature beef ribs.

That day in Georgetown, we talked to John about giving Aaron Franklin his first job and teaching him how to work the pits. He reminisced about learning to “cook” barbecue from his father and grandfather. He insists that he is not a chef, but just a cook. He showed me his pit as he was adding wood, insisting that I notice the temperature gauge at 375. He says over 400 is where he likes it. He told me about his grandmother’s cheesy squash casserole with a tear in his eye. We evaluated the different methods of cooking barbecue, from the low-and-slow-over-post-oak traditional method of Franklin, to the rotisserie smokers of Blacks in Lockhart, to the wrap-technique employed at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington. It was like getting a Master’s Degree in Barbecue – John Muller accurately and precisely described the effects of each method on the ultimate product.

The barbecue John served was far-and-away the finest, melt-in-your-mouth brisket I have ever had the privilege of consuming. In all of our travels around Texas and beyond, nothing compares!

There’s not a finer day in Texas than one spent sitting at a picnic table, drinking Bud Light with John Mueller and talking barbecue. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.

Written by Chef John O'Neil