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Our plan for the last day of our barbecue crawl was to visit only two joints: Snow's BBQ and Louie Mueller Barbecue. This was a good plan, given that we were overwhelmed after visiting four joints the previous day. But it also had to do with the fact that I had promised my wife a Saturday night dinner on trendy Congress Avenue in Austin, so we couldn't eat so much barbecue that we'd be unable to do that. As it turns out, a good nighit's sleep and a shower can work miracles, because Saturday morning we were raring to go for what turned out to be a great day of barbecue tasting.
Our first stop was Snow's BBQ in Lexington, Texas, population 1,100. I have a friend who lives in Austin, and I told him we were going to Lexington for barbecue. He said he'd never heard of Lexington, and he'd living in Austin for many years. So let's just say that Snow's BBQ is off the beaten path, about 52 miles east of Austin.
The trip starts as a drive on I-35 that turns onto smaller US-290 that turns onto two-lane Farm-to-Market Road 696 that follows the contours of the Texas countryside until you arrive in Lexington, where you make a right turn onto Main Street and arrive at Snow's BBQ. Along the way, you'll pass through Elgin, the Sausage Capital of Texas, and right past the famous Southside Market and Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse. Southside claims to be the oldest barbecue joint in Texas...we'll have to visit on another trip, but when I got home I mail-ordered some Southside sausages and smoked them on the WSM.
At the time of writing, Snow's BBQ is open on Saturdays only from 8:00 am until the meat runs out. Parking is available on the streets around the restaurant. Credit cards are accepted.
It's said that you should arrive by 9:00 am if you want to order from the full menu, but we arrived around 10:15 am and just about everything seemed to be available for purchase.
The star of the show at Snow's BBQ is pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz. Tootsie was born and raised in Lexington. When she and husband Edward married in 1956, they moved to nearby Giddings where he worked at City Meat Market. Tootsie learned the art of barbecue starting in 1966 when one day the meat market was shorthanded at the barbecue pit and the owner asked Edward if Tootsie could lend a hand. She knew nothing about barbecue, but said yes anyway and helped out for a few days.
Those few days stretched out to 10 years of making barbecue at City Meat Market in Giddings. In 1976, Tootsie and Edward purchased an old meat market in Lexington, where she continued making barbecue in the Saturday-only barbecue tradition of the area. In 1996, after Edward had some health problems, they sold the meat market. The new owners turned the market into a restaurant and kept Tootsie on the payroll, making Saturday barbecue.
It was during this time in the 90's that Kerry Bexley, the eventual owner of Snow's BBQ, approached Tootsie with the idea of opening a new barbecue joint in Lexington, but Kerry didn't get serious about it until 2002. After what was described as a "heart to heart" conversation between the two, Tootsie agreed to come on-board and Kerry started construction of the pits.
The new joint opened in March, 2003 with Tootsie at the helm, and Snow's BBQ immediately started building a reputation for great barbecue. In May 2008, Texas Monthly magazine crowned Snow's as the best barbecue in Texas and the place blew up into a must-visit destination for barbecue fans from around the world.
These days, Tootsie gets some help running the pits from her son Hershel and owner Bexley, but she's up and at it every Saturday morning at 2:00 am, minding the pits and making sure everything is ready for the 8:00 am opening.
Located across the street from a pair of old grain silos, Snow's BBQ consists of a smallish barn red building up front where you order and receive your food, a large shed roof structure with galvanized roof out back that houses the pits and picnic tables, and a small building tucked between the two where the restrooms are located.
Get in line and wait your turn to enter the small building where you place your order and get your food. Make sure to sign the guest book near the front door. The line consists of locals who show up for their weekly barbecue fix, plus folks from Austin and other locales, and barbecue tourists like us who make the trek to sample the award-winning barbecue. On the day we visited, there were lots of Texas A&M football fans loading up on barbecue before the game against Alabama. I'm sure the 'cue was the highlight of the day for those folks, because the Crimson Tide beat the Aggies 41-23 later that afternoon.
Once you get inside the building, the line leads to a counter where you'll order meats, sides, drinks and desserts. Meat is sliced, weighed, and served on butcher paper by the friendly ladies behind the counter. Take your tray to the register to pay, then head to the opposite side of the room for sliced bread, onions and pickles. Beans are always free at Snow's, just serve yourself from the big crockpot.
Meats include brisket, pork steak, pork spareribs, chicken half, original and jalapeño sausage, and turkey breast. Lean or fatty brisket is not called out on the menu, just ask for your preference. Sides include cole slaw and potato salad. Desserts include pecan pie and banana pudding. A barbecue sauce is available but no one seemed to use it much, the meat is that good.
With food in-hand, you can grab one of the few tables inside the building, but you're better off heading outside to eat at the picnic tables behind the building. There you'll enjoy the company of other barbecue fans (we sat next to a trio of local senior ladies who visit Snow's on a monthly basis to eat barbecue and enjoy good conversation) and you'll be able to check-out all the action around the pits.
Make sure to take lots of photos, and if you see Ms. Tootsie and she doesn't seem too busy, don't hesitate to say hello and ask for a photo-op, she's happy to oblige.
Try some lean and fatty brisket, one of the sausages, a sparerib, and the half chicken. Tootsie says her specialty is the pork steak, which is cooked over direct heat. I'm not sure if we didn't notice it on the menu, or it was already sold-out by the time we got there, or it wasn't available on the day of our visit...in any event we didn't get to try the pork steak. You should try it if you can.
We thought that the fatty brisket at Snow's was far better than any we'd eaten in Lockhart the previous day and that it came in second place only to the brisket at Franklin's. The original sausage was also one of our favorites. Both the pork rib and the chicken were good, but make sure to focus on the brisket and sausage at this stop on your crawl.
At the time of writing, Louie Mueller Barbecue is open Monday through Friday 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed on Sundays. Parking is available in the lot next to the restaurant. Credit cards are accepted and the restaurant is BYOB friendly.
The last stop on our crawl was Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, a 29 mile drive northwest from Snow's on Farm to Market Road 112 through the Central Texas countryside. The early morning opening of Snow's allowed us to finish there and make it to Mueller's in time for the lunch rush.
As is the case with many barbecue joints in Texas, the story of Mueller's begins with a grocery store. Louie Mueller arrived in Taylor in 1936 to open a Safeway grocery store. In 1946, he opened his own grocery store named Louie Mueller Complete Food Store and in 1949 opened a barbecue restaurant. In 1959, Mueller moved the restaurant to its current location where it operated under his watchful eye for many years, then by son Bobby, and now by grandson Wayne.
The restaurant consists of the long, narrow original building with dining room upfront and pits in the back, and a 1999 addition on the side for additional dining space that's referred to as "the porch". The original building really shows its age, with high ceilings and walls blackened from years of pit smoke, worn wooden floors patched with sheet metal, mismatched tables and chairs, and a rickety old screen door that bangs loudly as people come and go. One of the best features of the main dining room is the huge bulletin board covered with a thick layer of business cards, some old and smoke-stained, some relative newcomers. When you visit, look for the TVWB card I taped to the board!
We arrived just before noon, when the barbecue was at its best, and the line stretched from the counter almost to the front door. When you reach the counter, you're greeted with a sample of beef brisket—a nice touch. You'll place your meat order first, which is cut to order and served on butcher paper on a tray. A thin barbecue sauce, sliced bread or crackers, pickles and onions are included with each order at no charge, and Cajun Chef hot sauce is available at the table. Slide your tray to the right to order sides, drinks and desserts, then stop at the register to pay.
Meats include USDA Prime CAB brisket, beef short ribs, pork spareribs, baby back ribs (Saturday only), half chicken, turkey breast, sausage in original, jalapeño and chipotle flavors, chopped beef, pulled pork, and a variety of sandwiches featuring these meats. You may find pork tenderloin on the menu, but we didn't see it during our visit.
Sides include potato salad, cole slaw, pinto beans, baked potato with or without meat, Frito pie, chips, cheddar cheese, whole dill pickles and whole jalapeño peppers. Desserts include peach cobbler, banana pudding, and ice cream. Beverages are limited to fountain and bottled soft drinks, iced tea, and lemonade. Despite all the beer signs on the wall, Mueller's doesn't sell beer but you can BYOB.
Look for third-generation owner and pitmaster Wayne Mueller working the kitchen. If you can grab his attention, don't hesitate to tell him you've come a long way to try his barbecue and grab a photo-op. He's super-friendly and was very interested to know what we thought of his barbecue versus the others we'd tried on our crawl.
We order a USDA Prime brisket sandwich, a beef short rib, a sparerib, and an original sausage link. You must order some of the brisket, it's very good and close to the stuff we tried at Snow's earlier in the day. Try one of the sausage varieties, to be sure. And although we didn't try it, I'm told that the banana pudding is absolutely transcendent.
But the absolute must-have item at Louie Mueller Barbecue is the beef short rib. According to TMBBQ, Mueller's was the first joint to put them on their daily menu years ago, which started the craze for dinosaur-sized beef ribs in the Lone Star state.
Wayne starts with beef chuck ribs, bones #2 through #5 on the carcass, cut from just above the brisket. He literally dredges the ribs in a rub consisting of 9 parts coarse black pepper to 1 part kosher salt measured by volume, then smokes them over a post oak fire. The resulting meat is soft and tender, with rich, beefy flavor, and a peppery crust that surprisingly is not to spicy. The fat and collagen (that renders into gelatin during cooking) is marbled evenly throughout the meat. And the size is impressive, to be sure. This beef short rib is a sharable item between two or even three people, with each portion weighing as much as two pounds after cooking!
After leaving Louie Mueller Barbecue, we headed 17 miles west on US-79 to Round Rock Donuts in nearby Round Rock. I love a good donut and saw this outfit featured on a food show on television. It's a small place that does a huge drive-thru business. Their claim to fame is a yeast donut coated with an orange glaze and a Texas-sized version that weighs 2 pounds and is bigger than your head.
We skipped the monster donut and tried a couple of smaller ones. Warm, soft and sweet, Round Rock Donuts makes a very good donut. I'd go there too often if I lived nearby.
With the barbecue crawl over and the last donut consumed, we drove back to Austin to spend the afternoon visiting with some old friends. That evening, my wife and I headed over to Congress Avenue for a New York-style slice at Home Slice Pizza, window shopping, people watching, and a late dinner at Doc's Motorworks Bar & Grill.
We were up early on Sunday morning to catch our flight home to San Jose. It had been a fast, fun adventure covering seven famous barbecue joints in just three days. It was a trip that we'll always remember, and I can't wait to get back again to Austin someday for more great barbecue!
Just to recap, these were the best meats we enjoyed at each location we visited. We'll have to give Kreuz Market and City Market a second chance someday with a visit during the lunch rush, as we were not impressed by the beef at either spot in mid- to late afternoon.
Here are some valuable resources to help you learn more about Central Texas barbecue.
Websites & Apps
Books & Magazines
Photo of Texas-sized donut: 2015 by Round Rock Donuts.
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