Editor’s Note: The Texas Monthly BBQ Festival is almost here! Each day until then, we’ll be talking to one of the featured pitmasters, with questions from TM staffers, esteemed BBQ experts, Twitter followers and you, the readers of this blog.Today we bring you Wayne Mueller, 46, of Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor. For more info, visit their page on TMBBQ.com. What is your heat source and what type of wood do you use?
We use oak wood for all of our heat sources. It’s an abundant hard wood source here in our region. It provides a smoke that isn’t overpowering—it’s subtle but distinct. It works well for us and it’s readily available. There is plenty of it, so we don’t have to constantly change what type of wood we use, which would ultimately change how our product tastes. Who did you learn your craft from? Well, I started working in the family restaurant when my father took over from his father in 1972, when I was 8 years old. I worked in the restaurant until I left town to go to college, so about 10 or 11 years. I came back in 2007, when my father was ready to retire and we wanted to insure the restaurant stayed in the family. So I divested myself from an agency in Houston and moved back to Taylor. What’s your signature meat? Brisket is our number one entrée. I don’t want to say we have a cult following because that has a negative connotation, but we also have strong following of our beef ribs and sausages. Sauce or no sauce? No, we use a dry rub. We do offer a sauce, but it’s more of a complimentary hydration fluid. It doesn’t cover the meat. It’s not a thick, viscous sauce you would find in the south or anywhere else – like a ketchup kind of covering. Instead, it’s primarily made of the rubs. So it acts like a compliment to the meat instead of covering it up in sauce. Do you make your own sausage? We do. My father devised the recipe for beef sausage in 1967, while he was working as a butcher in my grandfather’s grocery store. The restaurant opened in 1949. My grandfather bought a grocery store in 1946 and the restaurant sort of grew out of that. My father developed the beef recipe there and it’s the same recipe we’ve been using since. We make it in house multiple times a week. You know, everyone’s sausage is a little bit different, and it has a lot to do with what your fat-to-meat ratio is, the seasonings you’re using. We use similar spices that are in our rubs, and we add a couple more. The beef used is 100 percent beef and beef tallow, or fat, with all-natural hog casings. There’s no filler involved. Slow and low or high and faster? What temperature do you generally try to maintain? We’ll find ourselves settling in anywhere from 230 to 260 degrees Fahrenheit. Each apparatus is different and cooks differently, so the temperatures have that range. The process allows for the movement of brisket from hotter to cooler in the sections of the pit, so we try to keep them on average at the 250 range. So low and slow, for us, just works extremely well. What non-secret ingredients are in your spice rub? For all of our beef products, it’s a simple, coarse black pepper and salt. Nothing else. On other products, depending on the product, we’ll add maybe some garlic powder or onion powder. But nothing too exotic. It all really stems from my grandfather’s philosophy on many things, which was “Just keep it simple, stupid.” That way you don’t mess it up, it’s more easily replicable and it’s easier to teach. There’s less to buy and less to worry with. Favorite BBQ in Texas other than your own? I like what Aaron Franklin does. I think he does a good job. I think Snow’s in Lexington does a good job. I’m sort of partial to Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Que*, their pork ribs. But I have to say, I still like our beef sausage over anyone else’s Do you start a new fire each day or do you keep the same one going? By and large, we extinguish the fire at the end of the day and start a new one the next day. On those rare occasions where the pre-sale demand causes us to cook for a couple of days straight there will just be a continuous fire. Aluminum foil or butcher paper? More generally, what is the secret to holding great barbecue? We don’t use foil to wrap our product in. Instead, we will use butcher paper. And the briskets and the meats have been fully cooked, we wrap them in butcher paper as an insulator against additional heat. All of us are always fighting against cooking it just the right length of time for that particular cut of meat. If you cook it too long, you start to dry out. You don’t cook it long enough, it’s not as tender as you’d like it. Once you reach that point, you need to find a way to keep it from drying out so, for us, butcher paper was our solution. What should the home smoker look for when picking out a side of brisket from the market? Is grade or quality important or does smoking render them all equally delectable? I have cooked all three cuts of brisket and I can’t taste the, can’t really tell the difference in the cooking process. I would advise them to go with the lowest end cut, because the whole process is meant to bring out the cuts of beef and make them tender. So there’s no sense in putting in premium unleaded when all you need is unleaded. It’s really more about the process. I mean, you can get the finest cut of meat there is and if you cook it incorrectly, it’ll still come out tough or dry. It just depends on how you cook it. What’s the one other piece of advice you’d give to someone smoking a brisket at home? Most home smokers are small so they’re going to need to monitor their temperature, make sure it doesn’t get too hot. Don’t go checking it every 20 minutes. Just let it sit for a while. Try to monitor the temperature and make sure it stays fairly consistent, and keep it covered. Every time they open the lid to check it, they’re allowing heat to escape and then it takes that much longer for the heat to rebuild back in the chamber. Do you use or have you considered using a gas- or electric-fired smoker, such as a Southern Pride, Ole Hickory, or J&R, for any of your meats? No. I’ve never considered it, and hopefully there will not be a situation where that will be necessary. Call me a purist, but in order for it to be truly the art it is, it requires the art form both of understanding fire as well as understanding how a pit cooks, as well as understanding how a brisket cooks on a different apparatus. Understanding all those variables and taking some of them out through automatic controls, I think it takes some of the creativity out of it, a little bit more of the skill out of it. Just keeping and maintaining the fire at the right temperature in different weather conditions, that in itself is a skill that takes time to learn. Ever have any Texas barbecue outside of Texas? What did you think? Most recently, I went to a place in New York City called Hill Country Barbecue. For being in the middle of New York City, it wasn’t bad. My expectations were lower than what the results were, so I was surprised. I think people can learn Texas barbecue over time, more than a couple of years or just visiting a place. There’s something about Texas that goes into the barbecue itself, I just don’t…it’s a Texan thing. It’s like asking me if it’s possible to make deli sandwiches in New York, I don’t think that you could. The essence, you can get close to replicating it, but you can never get the full brunt of it. It’s an intangible, it’s intrinsic. You can’t touch it, you have to feel it. How many pounds of meat do you smoke in a week? Thousands. *Correction: The original version of this story referred to Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Que as Stanley’s Greatest Barbecue. We regret the error.