Taking The Measure Of Former Louie Mueller Pit Boss Lance Kirkpatrick At Stiles Switch Barbecue In Austin, Texas
When you spend nigh on to a decade under the tutelage of Bobby Mueller [RIP] of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, your bona fides are not only in order, you’re immediately held to standards higher than any smoked meat house in Austin Texas.
John Mueller Barbecue down in South Austin has unique status hereabouts. Pit boss and son of icon Bobby, John started working at grandfather Louie’s place when he was still in grammar school. When he wasn’t in a pull apart brawl in the play yard at Taylor elementary he was following in the family tradition of hard work and superb smoked steer meat.
Now Austin has another Louie Mueller alumnus manning giant fires in steel pits.
Lance Kirkpatrick is on the tail end of a 29 hour shift. Opening day nerves haven’t got the best of him but he’s stretched thin. Instead of getting a few hours shuteye before the big day he’s elected to go all in and just stay up through the eve of opening.
Late Friday night December 15th 2011 he hoists 48 briskets on the big, Klose constructed, barbecue pit and begins the process of turning the toughest part of the steer, the brisket, into beefy butter. A few hours later he begins loading up beef rib racks, pork rib racks and sausage links as well.
Walking into Stiles Switch Barbecue on a gorgeous late fall afternoon a wall of sound greets you. The room is glass, steel and cement and the customers are creating a cacophony.
It’s the classic Texas barbecue system where you walk up to the meat man, in this case Lance himself, place your order, then shuffle on down the line where your sides are ladled out for you before you make your way to the cashier.
I ask for a half pound of black and fatty brisket and further query as to the origin of the sausages. They’re not producing their own but have enlisted O’Brien Meats of Taylor and Thorndale Meat Market as purveyors.
The sausage is fine if unremarkable. With the canon of homemade hot links fully in place in towns like Lockhart, Waelder, Luling and Taylor, Austin is kind of like the poor cousin of the barbecue world. Even Franklin Barbecue, the national media darling, outsource their links.
Brisket is the barometer of Texas barbecue and Kirkpatricks is very good. This steer did not die in vain. The hunk like cuts are not my favorite style but when the meat is this tender it really doesn’t matter. You could cut it with the edge of a plastic spoon.
During a lull in service I make my way to the counter to inquire after a photo of pit boss with pit. Mr. Kirkpatrick is very obliging. We make our way through the kitchen out back where a big steel pit is parked. It’s from “BBQ Pits By Klose” from over in Houston, Kirkpatrick explains.
These guys have been around since the mid 80’s and are nationally famous for superb pit construction.
We discuss Lance’s tenure in Taylor under Bobby Mueller; “Best cook in the state of Texas” Kirkpatrick announces tearfully.
While it’s true that Fred Fontaine played a big role in the early stoking of the fires of Louie Mueller in the national barbecue conversation it was Bobby who really led the outfit into its golden age. He was on the pit when the Taylor smokehouse began being discussed as perhaps the finest barbecue in the USA.
After Lance left Louie Mueller he started a fine dining restaurant in Taylor called Mimosa’s in the old Odd Fellows building. Mimosa was ahead of its time in the little community. Taylor is awash in delicious food from places like Davis Grocery and Ed’s Place but the town wasn’t ready for Beef Wellington and Trout Nachos.
After a little over a year Mimosa’s shuttered. As that chapter in Kirkpatricks life ended another began; Stiles Switch Barbecue. Local media exploded when Wayne Mueller, current pit boss at Louie Mueller Barbecue tore into Lance calling him a “neophyte” and claiming to have issued a “cease and desist” order against the veteran pit boss.
The fracas was covered here http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/index.cfm/2011/11/7/DustUpNew-BarbecueStiles-Switch-From-XLouie-Mueller-Pit-Boss-Lance-Kirkpatrick-Under-Storm-Cloud in what turned out to be one of the hottest dust ups of the year in Austin food.
I bring the debacle up in conversation but Kirpatrick demures. He’s not interested in discussing the affair. I mention that perhaps the reporter just caught Wayne at the end of a hard day and he agrees.
We leave it at that.
Business is starting to pick up so we say our goodbyes. The line is snaking towards the door as I make my way back to table.
Somebody hi-jacked my brisket while I was in the pit room! I dash back up to the counter to see if there is a security camera up somewhere so I can round up a posse and go gunning for the blackguards who’ve committed one of the great crimes of Texas; brisket thievery.
It was an overly zealous bus boy. I briefly consider launching a missile dropkick over the counter to dissuade him from such actions in the future but he’s good and apologetic. Plus he quickly grabs me a couple strips of beef off the nearby cutting board. Oddly, these two replacement cuts are in no way as good as my original meat.This is the nature of Texas barbecue.
These are interesting times in the world of Austin barbecue. When Aaron Franklin established himself as a major player in the national barbecue conversation, media turned its focus back to Austin-a lens that had been missing since the shuttering of John Mueller’s joint 5 years ago.
Then Mueller himself announced a return creating the possibility of a master vs pupil showdown as Franklin had worked at Mueller’s during that joints heyday.
Now it’s just an embarrassment of riches with yet another Louie Mueller pit boss wading into the fray. We’ve never had it so good.
And what about these young guns that are eating at these 3 places then jury rigging their own smokers in their backyards and throwing underground brisket parties like Franklin used to do before he hit the big time?
What about these cats that are about to make the scene?
What happens when Tony White up at Louie Mueller’s decides it’s his time for the spotlight and gets his outfit rolling?
Interesting times indeed.