Monday, April 6, 2015

Snow's BBQ and Louie Mueller Barbecue - Pit Quest Saturday

Sometimes you need to commit to a early start and a long trip to get a chance at quality BBQ.

My friends @BBQBryan and @HoustonFed had a notion to make a "quick" two-stop run with our families on Easter weekend to hit Snow's BBQ in Lexington, TX, and Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX, two of the TMBBQ Top 4 spots from the 2012 rankings. I was a bit hesitant at first, given the holiday, figuring many people would have a long weekend and be on the roads looking for bluebonnets, antiquing, and exploring. Eventually those droves would get hungry, and I knew stopping for BBQ would be a popular choice. Deep down, I knew I needed to make this trip, one way or another.

It still took me a few days to convince my family to join in, since we would have to depart at the unheard of hour of 6:30 am on a Saturday (cue the teen grumbling) to have a chance at the first stop of the day, Snow's. The opportunity for all of us to be available to go on a Pit Quest together doesn't come too often, so I was especially pleased for them to be able to join me for this particular Quest. I think the realization they would get a chance to sample quality BBQ from two of the best in the state eventually convinced them it would be worth it.

Snow's BBQ, Lexington, TX

Line at 9:00 am at Snow's BBQ, Lexington, TX

Snow's BBQ opens at 8:00 am, on Saturdays only, and serves until they run out. We arrived about 9:00 am and took our place in line, which moved at a decent pace. With family members in tow to hold our spot, I was able to slip out of the line for a bit to have a look around. Owner Kerry Bexley was working hard to get several to-go orders out for the day, and back and forth between the direct-heat pits was legendary Texas pitmaster, Tootsie Tomanetz, tending to sausage and ribs. Tootsie, always with time for a smile and kind word, spoke with me for a few minutes, fussed at me (in good fun) for wearing another BBQ joint's t-shirt, and even autographed a picture of the two of us taken at last year's Texas Monthly BBQ Festival (which I now treasure). If you don't know much about Tootsie, who turns 80 this month, you would do well to read Daniel Vaughn's interview with her from 2013. A remarkable person, in a position traditionally dominated by men in this state, Tootsie is now in her 49th year of working BBQ pits in the Lexington-Giddings area.

The legendary Tootsie Tomanetz, Pitmaster at Snow's BBQ

Bryan, always after that elusive perfect BBQ picture

There's a pretty shot, steam cascading over brisket with the breeze

On this day we were after the highly-regarded brisket and chicken, as well as sausage and a little turkey. The ribs were gone by the time we reached the ordering counter.  With the first bites of brisket, we knew we were onto something special. Succulent, moist and flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth type brisket. (Order 2 lbs. so you will have one to take home!) Excellent smoked sausage link with a well-balanced peppery spice and coarse texture. The chicken really got my attention. It's easy to overlook BBQ chicken with all the focus on beef in this state, but I had heard rumblings about the chicken from Snow's for a long time. This chicken should not be passed up, especially the dark meat. Flavor penetration was deep, but not too smoky. The crispy skin was unique and especially tasty; the skin on most chicken you get in BBQ joints has been sitting around sweating to the point of disintegration. Some of our dining companions also ordered the pork steak, sliced from thick cuts of smoked bone-in pork, and pronounced it outstanding as well.

Half chicken from Snow's, one of the best you'll find anywhere

It's easy to see how Snow's earned their #1 spot in the 2008 List, and stayed in the Top 4 in the 2012 List. Unfortunately, it's not on the main highways, and their Saturday-only hours limit most people's ability to get there. It's also not a place you're likely to drive past. For BBQ that's off the beaten path, you have to make a plan, and make it a destination event. Snow's BBQ is special, and worthy of this type of effort. This is BBQ that's not to be missed. 

Brisket, sausage link, and chicken from Snow's

Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor, TX

Louie Mueller's, Taylor, TX

Texas BBQ royalty? Louie Mueller Barbecue has spawned more of the current Texas pitmasters, either directly or indirectly, than any other single institution, so this title probably suits them perfectly. Their influence extends far beyond our border as well, like Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn, NY, for instance, who considers Pitmaster Wayne Mueller "like a brother." The Texas BBQ family tree has a significant portion of its roots in Louie Mueller Barbecue.

Louie Mueller Barbecue traces its origins to Louie Mueller's arrival in Taylor in 1936 to operate its first Safeway Grocery Store, and opened its current location on W 2nd St. in Taylor in 1959. Stepping into Louie Mueller Barbecue is like stepping back into Texas history. From the creak of the wood plank floors, to the smoke-stained decorations and wall of business cards people have been leaving for years, upon entering you get the sense you're experiencing something special. We arrived about 11:00 am, and were in line just before the lunch crowd.

Main dining room at Louie Mueller's with pits in back

Screened west dining room

At Louie Mueller's, you order the beef rib. It's what you do. It is the gold standard of the big beef plate ribs that have become so popular in recent years. Why so popular? Visually, they are stunning, with a heavy black peppered bark, and rendered in the slow smoke to the point of release from its structure, the big plate bone. No sauce is necessary; one bite and you'll want the deep, rich flavors of the beef rib to stay true to the end. We also had to pick up just one of the house-made original link sausage, from which we were treated to the familiar snap of natural casing and clear running juices. The rib and the sausage were excellent, and worthy of a visit by themselves. We saved their renowned brisket for another day, giving us one more reason to return (soon).

Louie Mueller big beef rib and sausage link.

The gold standard of Texas beef ribs, up close and personal

We wrapped up our visit with a couple of orders of the homemade peach cobbler and a banana pudding to share. After two stops, it was time for some sweet to offset all that BBQ. The banana pudding here has a whipped texture, and plenty of wafers. The pastry portion of the peach cobbler has a cake-like consistency, and I would venture to guess the peaches were fresh, or at least frozen from last season's fresh peaches, given the depth of their flavor.

Peach cobbler from Louie Mueller's; if you have a Q Card, it's free with BBQ purchase (and topped with Blue Bell ice cream!)

This was a very manageable Quest from the Houston area for a Saturday. If you target a Snow's arrival at 9:00 am, and given it's only 30 minutes from there to Taylor, you can easily make it back to Houston by 3:00 pm. Very doable for the opportunity to hit two of the top BBQ joints in the world, and as a bonus you get to see some beautiful country along the way. 

I highly recommend it.

- Scott

332 miles on this day, round trip

Snow's BBQ, 516 Main St., Lexington, TX 78947, (979) 542-8189.
Hours: Saturday only, 8:00 am til sold out.

Louie Mueller Barbecue, 206 W 2nd St., Taylor, TX 76574, (512) 352-6206.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Saturday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Sunday.

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