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Enigmatic Texas barbecue pitmaster John Mueller dies at age 52

Enigmatic Texas barbecue pitmaster John Mueller dies at age 52

Austin Photo Set: News_Adam Sparks_John Mueller BBQ_jan 2012_john2
Pitmaster John Mueller was well-known throughout Texas for his mastery of meats. Photo by Adam Sparks

The Texas barbecue community has lost a legend. Barbecue pitmaster John Mueller, a member of the Mueller barbecue dynasty, died last week at his home in Frisco at age 52.

“John Mueller was well-known to the Houston barbecue community, participating in charitable events here and mentoring Houston pitmasters including Jim Buchanan of Dozier’s BBQ and Wes Jurena of Pappa Charlies Barbeque,” writes J.C. Reid in the Houston Chronicle. “Anyone who got to know John knew that was mostly just a persona. He was more often than not generous and charming.”

Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor at Texas Monthlybroke the news December 16 on Twitter. Vaughn reports that Mueller died after a long illness.

“Mueller bounced between fame and infamy; mercurial, infuriating, hilarious, and generous would all accurately describe him. Through it all, he remained memorable,” Vaughn writes.

Mueller got his start in the barbecue business working for his father, the late Bobby Mueller, at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. He opened his first barbecue restaurant, John Mueller’s BBQ, on Manor Road in 2001 after leaving the family business.

Back in 2012, Mueller told CultureMap he chose Austin to grow his barbecue biz, in part, because it was in a different locale than the famed Taylor joint.

“I wasn’t going to barbecue in the same county where my parents were,” he said. “We agreed that they couldn’t barbecue in Travis County and I wouldn’t barbecue in Williamson County.”

Mueller left Austin for several years after shutting down his Manor Road restaurant in 2006, later opening the JMueller BBQ trailer. However, Mueller’s stint at the barbecue trailer, owned by sister LeAnn Mueller, lasted just one year, with the famously cantankerous pitmaster getting the boot from his sister, who eventually turned the business into the lauded and popular La Barbecue, which now resides on the east side. 

Aside from his natural talent for creating succulent meats, Mueller has another claim to fame in the Austin barbecue scene, having spawned from his business one of the city’s most renowned pitmasters. Aaron Franklin, who owns East Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, worked for Mueller in 2006. The latter was gracious in accepting the former’s success.

“I was happy for him,” Mueller told CultureMap in 2012 of the success of Franklin Barbecue. “I’m glad that him having that pit and working for me worked out well for him. And it wasn’t long. He didn’t need that at all. He’s just flat out good at what he does.”

Mueller then moved on to start John Mueller Meat Co. in East Austin and subsequently held down jobs at Black Box Barbecue in Georgetown, Granger City Brewing in Granger, and the Granary in Jarrell.

His final stint in barbecue came in Dallas-Fort Worth, where he worked for six months at Hutchins BBQ, which has locations in McKinney and Frisco.

The Chron's Reid recalls a telling conversation with Mueller: “We sat for an hour talking mostly off the record about his family and Texas barbecue. When I got up to leave he shook my hand and said, 'See, I’m not really the bad guy everyone makes me out to be.'”