How one bite of brisket changed the life of this barbecue journalist

“Think back to a song that you heard that made you think differently about music or a movie that you watch that made you think differently about film. Like you’re never going to have that realization again.”

By Casey CheekMay 15, 2024 2:42 pm, ,

Ever had a meal so good that it changed your life?

For Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, his occurred at a legendary barbecue joint in Taylor, Texas. He joined Texas Standard with the details. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Now, before we get to this memorable meal of yours, as someone who eats barbecue, you ever counted how many barbecue joints you’ve sampled in your time as a barbecue journalist?

Daniel Vaughn: I do keep track on a giant barbecue map that I’ve got. And let’s see… Yeah, about 2,300 right now.

Holy cow. So it’s really saying something that, as you write for Texas Monthly, you took one bite of this particular barbecue that we’re about to talk about, and it changed your life. What was that bite and where did you have it?

Well, it was a Saturday morning in 2006 – August 2006 – at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. I’d eaten a lot of barbecue around Dallas, where I live, but I hadn’t really gone on a big road trip through Central Texas to see these places that magazines like Texas Monthly had called the best.

So I went down to Louie Mueller. That was my first stop of the day and not really sure what I was going to find. And [I] took one bite and, really, it did change my mind about just what barbecue could be. Changed my entire outlook about the cuisine.

What made it so special? How did it how did it change your life?

Well, you know, I think a lot of people are introduced to barbecue through barbecue sandwiches – maybe chopped beef, little sauce here and there. Something to help with the flavor and the tenderness.

But here I had this perfect slice of brisket. It was just the perfect pull-apart texture. The fat was just so nicely rendered – the heavy pepper flavor and the smoke all melding together with the beef.

You described this as an “epiphany.” And I got to thinking, you know, is there really such a thing as a perfect bite of barbecue? I mean, doesn’t that depend on a lot of things? You were saying you were pretty hungry when you pulled in.

Well, no, that’s the thing about this type of bite. There is such thing as a perfect bite, but there isn’t really such a thing as another one.

You know, I’ve been at this job for 11 years now at Texas Monthly, and it’s all been just a futile search, I guess, for the next bite to try and match that one at Louie Mueller long ago. I’m pretty certain now it’s never going to happen.

I think that’s not optimistic enough. I mean, because after all, I would imagine as a barbecue journalist, you’re on a search to have another epiphany, surely.

Well, yeah, you got to think bigger than this, right?

Like, think back to a song that you heard that made you think differently about music or a movie that you watch that made you think differently about film. Like you’re never going to have that realization again.

And that realization with those things certainly happens in the mind. This one just happens to, you know, take place in my mouth and stomach. That sort of change in perspective is just never going to happen again.

Now, you said something interesting there. You said your mouth, and then you said stomach. What is it, man? Where is it? Is it the taste or is it how it sits?

It’s definitely the taste and the smell. That smell of the fat, of the oak smoke. And then the smell that really lingers on your fingers afterwards.

Dude, you sound almost like a poet as you’re talking about that barbecue.

Yeah, I don’t know. It really does take me back when I think about that meal.

And I guess what I’m wondering is, should we all pack it in now and head out to Louie Mueller and have our lives changed?

I mean, you might as well give it a try, right? Enough people that I’ve talked to change their entire trajectory of their career and their lives – feeling like after a meal there that they just had to figure out a way to recreate that.

See what I thought you were going to say is “no, there are so many other places now that have discovered, some of these secrets. And now we’re seeing it crop up all over Texas. You can have some, epiphanies in a number of places, perhaps.”  

I don’t know, it seems to really be catching in Louie Mueller. There’s something in smoke. There’s something in the pepper.

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