JMueller BBQ (Austin, TX)

Update: Well, things come, and things go. JMuller BBQ closed at the end of October 2012 in the midst of what appears to be a family squabble. You can read details over at schrumptiouschef’s blog. They’ll be missed, but as I write this, the replacement LA Barbecue is already up and running, and supposedly quite good.

After our breakfast at Flaco’s, the 2012 Central Texas BBQ run began in earnest on May 11th with a visit to JMueller BBQ (That’s pronounced “J. Meller”, btw).

JMueller was definitely one of the most anticipated places on our 2012 itinerary, since it is one of the up and coming BBQ spots of the Austin area, and has been getting favorable reviews from the standard sources like Full Custom Gospel BBQ, who give it a solid 5 star rating. Since none of us had been there, we made it our first stop.

Carol and I were the first of our group of eight diners showing up that Friday morning. And, true to our expectations, JMueller is still a relative newcomer to the scene, running out of a modest cart and smoker on South 1st St (in much the same sort of setup Franklin was running a few years ago). JMueller has been “discovered”, but hasn’t yet gotten the crazed following that several of the other area places (again, like Franklin) have gotten, so a mere five minutes before their official opening, there was actually no line at JMueller. Yup, we showed up, and managed to even sit and relax at a table waiting for the rest of our party to arrive. So JMueller might be getting some good press, but it’s not yet attracting the massive throngs of BBQ-seeking fanatics that some of the other places have.

Once our whole party arrived at mere minutes after 11, a few other people were starting to saunter in, but we were still able to be first in line. Mostly, we got our standard “sampler” order: a few pounds of brisket split between fatty and lean, some sausage links, and a beef rib (one of our diners, Cathy, is particularly fond of beef ribs). We also went for the prime rib special, and the staff convinced us to also stray from our usual “meat only” path by trying their squash casserole.

Here’s a good place to mention that after the 2011 Central Texas BBQ Run, I’m still feeling the effects. At least when it comes to brisket, there’s some solid evidence that Texas does have a great thing going here, most any other BBQ place I’ve been in the last year has paled to some of the better places from last year’s run. In fact, most places I’ve been with supposed “good BBQ” just weren’t even in the same class as the better places from last year (like the most excellent Franklin or City Market), so I’ve started already to become weary and jaded. I’ve been many places that supposedly had “great BBQ”, but turned out to be normal, run-of-the-mill joints that aren’t even close in quality to some of the better Central Texas joints. So when a new place shows up in a dirt lot in South Austin and several people start proclaiming that he’s the “Next Aaron Franklin”, I’m skeptical.

In this case, I shouldn’t be, because JMueller is putting out some of the best BBQ out there. I’m definitely not joking around when I say this place is “top five” material, since the brisket and the sausage both knocked it out of the park. Let’s start with the brisket. JMueller starts off well by maintaining a rather good texture and moisture level in both the lean and fatty slices; several places I’ve been can do a great fatty brisket, but put out a dry and mealy lean brisket, but all the slices here were juicy, tender, and just starting to fall apart. Flavor-wise, there was a good smoke ring and a nice smoke taste throughout the meat, although I usually shoot for a bit more smoke left to my own preferences. The bark was also top rate, with a nice caramelized texture, strong salt and pepper flavors (JMueller’s forebears at Louie Muellers also do a very peppery bark), and nice smoke. Overall, this was some great brisket, having that nice lace-like texture that I look for from properly-smoked beef.

Next up was the sausage, and this was a thorough crowd pleaser with the group as well. It had all the properties I look for: A good spicing level with a bit of bite, a nice coarse grind, casing with snap but not requiring a massive effort to tear into, and a good smoke level. I keep waffling between here and Kreuz Market down in Lockhart, but it’s a solid sausage contender, and shows what they can do well.

As far as the rest of the meats? Very good, but not quite making it into greatness. The prime rib was a nicely done piece of meat, but like almost all smoked prime rib I’ve had, it just didn’t take up the smoke very well. Sure, if I were at a decent steakhouse and ordered this, I wouldn’t be unhappy with this: it had a nice crust rub to it, a good dark pink verging on red interior, and a nice texture (tender and moist), but it just wasn’t that smoky, and what little smoke it had tasted a bit more like an afterthought. Nothing bad, but nothing notable, either.

Similarly, the beef rib was, to me, well done but nothing outstanding. This rib was basically middle of the pack. Not disappointing in general, but when I’m sampling this many BBQ places in an extended weekend, I’m mostly going to eschew something like this for more of what JMueller’s got that’s working well, like the brisket and sausage.

I will mention that I did like the squash casserole (and the beans looked mighty fine as well)… if I was a resident or regular to these parts, I’d probably enjoy that as part of a nice plate, but with our meat-centric group, it was mostly a sideshow.

Overall, I was very pleased with JMueller. It often gets mentioned these days in the same sentences as Franklin across town, or with the well known places of Luling and Lockhart… and you know what? They’ve earned that spot. JMueller also has a lot of things going for it, like the shorter lines. If you are looking for in-town Austin BBQ, you won’t be disappointed here.

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