Anniversaries are often times of reflection. So it was for the Posse on Saturday when we visited Snow’s BBQ and Louie Mueller Barbecue 10 years after our very first trip to these Central Texas meccas of smoked meat.
In many ways nothing has changed. The food was still terrific. Snow’s brisket remains among the best around and my first bite of the beef rib at Louie Mueller’s was the best mouthful of barbecue I’ve eaten in a long, long time. Posse member Mike Gagne, my son-in-law, put the rib on his short-list pantheon of “most perfect bites of barbecue,” comparing it favorably to the beef rib he once had at La Barbecue in Austin, co-owned by LeAnn Mueller, Louie’s granddaughter. The Louie Mueller rib weighed almost two pounds and cost $45. We all shared.
And for atmosphere, Snow’s remains the Posse’s No. 1 choice among all the joints we’ve visited over the past decade. Eating outside near the smokers, watching Tootsie Tomanetz and the pit crew work, listening to the cows mooing at the Lexington cattle auction down the street, is something every barbecue-lover should experience.
In some ways, though, things have changed. For one, we can’t and don’t want to eat as much as we could when we were younger. More sampling and tasting now rather than gorging. Call it gastronomic maturity. Or just getting old.
The lines were shorter than we remembered on many past visits, too. At 10 a.m., when we were about to leave Snow’s, there might have been a 15-minute wait to get served. “You could come at noon today and get just about anything you wanted,” owner Kerry “Snowman” Bexley commented. That doesn’t happen too often.
When we got to Louie Mueller’s in nearby Taylor a few minutes before 11 a.m. there was no line. “I’ve never been here before and there wasn’t a line,” Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said. By noon, though, the line inside was to the door and curling. So, it’s probably too early to wonder if the bloom might be off the barbecue rose. If definitely isn’t for us.
“This is the most perfect barbecue day we’ve had,” Wilkins said. “No lines, great weather, great food.”
Another difference, 10 years ago during our first Central Texas tour, we took a break from eating for a game of horseshoes in Lockhart. While, we didn’t make Lockhart this trip, some of us did take an eating break in Taylor. Posse member Jim Rossman gave my grandkids, Ella and Jake, a lesson in drone flying right in front of Louie Mueller’s. Jim was testing a new drone for a review he is writing. There were no personal drones a decade ago.
For this trip we arrived in Lexington from two directions. Michele & Chris Wilkins, Tom Fox and Rossman drove down from Dallas on Friday and spent the night at a Rockdale motel. Early Saturday, Sherry Jacobson and I drove up from Austin to Lexington. It takes about an hour. Mike and Ella and Jake followed a bit later.
Small, rolling hills are prevalent in this part of Texas. In the fall of the year, morning fog often snuggles the low-lying areas. Beautiful on this trip just as it was on our first tour so long ago.
Before we left Louie Mueller’s, Wilkins, Rossman, Fox, Michael Ainsworth and I corralled a corner table for a bit more reflection and reminiscing.
“Has our definition of perfect barbecue changed in 10 years?” Rossman asked.
“It has and it hasn’t,” Wilkins answered.
And we were off on an hour-long discussion.
Regarding our definition of great barbecue, we have evolved as a group. In the early Posse days, we were hard core. “It ain’t good it if it ain’t wood,” we thought, meaning the ONLY way to smoke meat was on log-burning pits. And sauce was a four-letter word. Good barbecue doesn’t need sauce.
Over time we have mellowed. Pellets, charcoal, wood chips and chunks, even gassers have their place. Weber kettles and Big Green Eggs — as well as stick burners — can produce good barbecue. The operator is more important than the machine. “Let the meat speak for itself,” remains our motto more than ever.
Our personal tastes have evolved, too. Early on, we thought the simple salt and pepper rubs used by many classic Texas joints were the best approach. Now, some of us like a little more flavor punch. Saturday, for example, the spareribs at Snow’s seemed quite tame. More spice. More sweetness. Yes, even a dab or two of sauce on occasion.
One of the reasons for our evolving tastes and definition of good barbecue is experience. Over time, we have sampled more smoked meat, cooked in many different styles. You can’t beat experience.
“When we started,” Fox said, “there wasn’t any good barbecue,” referring primarily to the Dallas area.
Then Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse opened. There was an explosion of good joints in DFW and elsewhere in the state. And there was an explosion of barbecue coverage on blogs, in newspapers and magazines, all discovering new places and advising readers where to go.
“The main difference with 10 years ago is that there are 100 times as many good places now,” Wilkins said.
“Does that contribute to no lines today?” Rossman wondered.
Maybe. Competition is a great leveler. We’ll have to do more investigating before we can offer any definitive guidance on that question.
Still, there are experiences that endure, like our first trip to Snow’s and our first trip to Aaron Franklin’s little trailer in Austin where he stayed up all night cooking with John Lewis. And our first trip to Louie Mueller’s.
“You can’t get places like this anymore,” Michael Ainsworth said of Mueller’s, comparing the patina of decades of smoke on the walls to the aluminum and brass foundry where his father once worked in Fort Worth.
Ainsworth and the other photographers at the table called the light at Mueller’s “Rembrandtian,” after the famous Dutch painter and print maker. Wilkins praised the “tonality” of the setting. “The light just bends around,” Wilkins said.
“These walls are painted with 60 to 70 years of smoke,” Wilkins added. “You can’t replicate that.”
As we drove back to Austin from Taylor, about 35 miles, Sherry and I noticed another change in recent years. The suburban sprawl from Austin, now the 11th largest city in the country, keeps extending. There was a new development of nice homes south of Taylor and a couple other developments from there to Manor, all within reasonable commutes to the city, especially when compared to Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.
Oh yes, Sherry also mentioned one thing that hasn’t changed at Snow’s that she wishes would change: The bathroom facilities. Men use a porta-pot. The ladies room is inside with a real toilet. But not that clean, Sherry observed.
Make a note of that, “Snowman.” We will be back
Texas BBQ Posse 10th Anniversary trip. Nov. 16, 2019
7:30am: Leave Days Inn, Rockdale. (Austin crew left at 7am)
7:50am: Arrive Snow’s BBQ, 516 Main St, Lexington, 979-773-4640. Open Sat 8am–until the meat runs out. (Line was 35 minutes long)
10am: Drive Lexington to Taylor (31 miles)
10:40am: Arrive at Louie Mueller Barbecue, 206 W Second St, Taylor, (512) 352-6206. Open Mon-Fri 11am-6pm or until the meat runs out, Sat 10am-6pm or until the meat runs out. (No line when we arrived)
1:30pm: Head back to Dallas & Austin.