Monday, July 8, 2013

In Search Of John Mueller......

As I've become more interested in BBQ I find myself seeking the unique. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and truly good BBQ is somewhere between rare and non-existent. Even excluding the rubbish served by the National chain restaurants most of what one does find trends toward the Kansas City style. The sweet/spicy, sticky, tomato & molasses based sauce is what most people associate with "BBQ" hence that is what most purveyors produce...especially in an area such as this where BBQ is scarce.

I tend to prefer Carolina style or my own Caribbean spice profile for pork and Texas style for beef. Until recently, my experiments with beef have all been with Brisket and I was avoiding what Ive really been after - beef ribs - because I'd yet to experience good ones to try to emulate. By good ones, I mean John Muellers.

The Legendary John Mueller
John Mueller is the controversial and mercurial grandson of the late Louie Mueller of Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, TX. There are three Mueller offspring involved in the BBQ business, Bobby who currently operates Louie Muller BBQ in Taylor, LeAnn Mueller who runs "La Barbeque" after a fractious split with former partner/brother John and John Mueller.

John has had an on-again/off-again relationship with the Texas BBQ scene, with substance abuse and with effective management of employees & business relationships. He has appeared and disappeared a number of times with various ventures of his own and in partnership with others. Through it all there has been his ribs. It sounds silly, but they are the stuff of legend in BBQ circles. "Nobody does beef ribs like John Mueller" has been heard nearly as many times as "Yellow Rose of Texas". But I live in California, not Texas and I'd never had them nor could I justify time off and travel expenses to Texas to eat some ribs so I committed to suss them out on my own.

Researching reviews, video and the BBQ blogosphere guided me to a collection of descriptions of the flavor profile and aided me in assembling a framework from which to start my experimentation. There is a massive gap between that which is simple and that which is easy. Mueller's ribs are simple in that the rub contains very few ingredients (two by what I've been able to determine) and they are smoked to achieve the appropriate texture. But, achieving the right balance in the rub and getting the cooking spot-on are far from easy.

The ribs of a steer encompass nearly 10 square feet of cow on each side of the animal including backs, spares and short ribs. What part of the ribs to purchase is just the first part of the challenge, for that I visited my friends at Dittmers Meats in Mountain View, CA and filled Mark Dittmer in on my plan. He cut me a slab of beef short ribs with what we decided was the best mix of bone, connective tissue, fat and meat. To that I applied the rub I'd come up with from decoding various reviews and let them sit overnight.

The next day I commenced with the smoking and since a Texas style beef is what I was after I eschewed the fruit-wood I usually use for pork and went with straight oak and did my best to keep my rickety pit at 220-225 degrees.

I decided to treat them a bit as I would a brisket, shooting for an internal temp between 180-190 degrees and though I moved the slabs around in the cooker to ensure heat/smoke were applied evenly I didn't flip them at all. Bone side down for the entire cook.

In the event that the beef ribs were a miserable failure I tossed a slab of pork ribs in the cooker as well so I didn't have to order pizza for our guests...turned out to be a non issue, but just in case...

After 3 hours the beef began to contract away from the bone nicely, I figured at this point that I was on the right path in terms of heat and time.

By 4 hours I had hit an average internal temperature of about 180 degrees. At this point I removed them from the pit and put them in the oven set to my target temperature to stabilize and rest for 30min or so.

And below is the finished product. I'm exceedingly pleased with how the meat was cooked. The texture was fantastic with a hearty bark on the outside covering a layer of caramelized threads of beef. Aesthetics were nice with a bright rosy halo of smoke ring around the heart of astonishingly moist, unctuous, fatty, intensely flavored beef. The rub isn't right yet though, I need to tweak the proportion of salt. All-in-all I am pretty happy with the first attempt. I'll likely never make them as good as John Mueller's but the inspiration remains and I'll keep chasing it....


  1. Looks Delicious! As an FYI though, he cooks them WAY hotter than 225 degrees. Probably around 350, which is what gives them his signature VERY thick dry crunchy bark.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I'll try that next time. Need to tweak the P & S ratio too.

  2. I don't believe Mueller cooks his beef ribs at 350 as he cooks them along with his briskets at about 275.

    1. My future attempts will be at a higher temp. Thanks for the tip