Q&A with John Mueller and Trey Hutchins of Hutchins BBQ on Collaborating and the Path Ahead

John Mueller (on right) and Trey Hutchins are collaborating on new menu items at Hutchins Barbeque.
John Mueller (on right) and Trey Hutchins are collaborating on new menu items at Hutchins Barbeque. Lauren Drewes Daniels
While the Texas barbecue revolution that started more than 10 years ago continues to flourish, the meat causing all the hullabaloo at the center of it isn't anything new. For decades barbecue restaurants have been anchors of communities, especially in small towns. A meat plate with two sides was an affordable mid-day meal, an essential need met, not an Instagram moment. Owners/pitmasters (always the same job) only recently attained a celebrity-like status.

Hutchins Barbecue in McKinney and Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor are both those types of places. John Mueller — whose grandfather Louie opened his eponymous Central Texas restaurant in 1949 — is a third-generation pitmaster who grew up in the business. For the Muellers, barbecue was a matter of making a living. Same for Trey Hutchins, whose dad opened their first barbecue stand in Princeton in 1978.
click to enlarge Jalapeños stuffed with brisket and cream cheese, wrapped in peppery bacon made for a fantastic snack at BrewFest this weekend. - LAUREN DREWES DANIELS
Jalapeños stuffed with brisket and cream cheese, wrapped in peppery bacon made for a fantastic snack at BrewFest this weekend.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
It's fair to say that both are part of the patriarchy of Texas barbecue, and recently they collaborated; Mueller, who operated restaurants in Central Texas for 30 years, has joined the team at Hutchins Barbeque in North Texas. Both were at BrewFest this past weekend passing out bites of sausage and brisket and cream cheese-stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon. We caught up with them for a chat to see what their new collaboration is all about.

How are things at the recently reopened restaurant in McKinney (closed for about eight months after a fire)?
Hutchins: It’s outstanding, and what the city has done, really everyone even making the drive over to Frisco [which has remained opened]. It's been amazing. We’re finishing up our second week of both stores being open, and it’s full throttle. The community has come back and supported us. It's truly incredible.

So, John, what brings you North?
Mueller: It was for a change for me, I’ve been an owner for 30 years, and Hutchins has an impeccable reputation. So I gave them a call, they said yes, and I’m here.

What’s your role at Hutchins going to be?
Mueller: We don’t really know. My role is to talk to people like you.

Hutchins: To me just being alongside one of the best pitmasters in the country. John is super creative and really we just kind of like hanging out.

Mueller: We’re learning a lot from one another.

Hutchins: It’s kind of fun to see different scales and different styles. We want to be craft barbecue, but our volume sort of shuns that.

What do you mean by that?
Hutchins: It takes more than one or two guys to operate our pits, we have a lot of meat we're putting on, and obviously the hours with both locations seven days a week. Some of the Austin guys and the guys like John Mueller, they're loading their pits and they're touching 99 percent of everything that's coming off.

Mueller: I did all my cooking and all my sides. I didn't have the big operation. It was big enough for me.

Hutchins: John just has a totally different method of cooking and it's really cool to see.

Are y’all actually working at the pit together?
Mueller: We’re together every day a lot at the pits and having a lot of fun just talking.

Hutchins: We come from the same background. We grew up in it. A lot of new guys, and kudos to them, but they’re coming from corporate America or different marketing backgrounds, and that's what’s going on with this Texas barbecue revolution. So me and John have loved that over the last 10 or 12 years. It’s put money in our pockets, but at the same time, we can go back to when it was just a job. It was making a living.

Mueller: We both grew up in it.

Hutchins: John is the third generation, I’m the second generation. My son Nick is really jumping in here, and I’m hoping he’s third generation. When I grew up, Louie Mueller and Salt Lick, that’s all the names I ever heard. When John reached out to us, it was a huge honor. Whether it be six months or whatever, just to be able to work alongside him. It's great just getting to know him.

Will you have new menu items soon?
Hutchins: Absolutely. A lot.

Mueller: We’re working on some other things. Sausage.

Hutchins: A lot of sausages. Over the last three weeks, (...) Tomahawk pork chop and he was showing me pork belly rib this morning.

What’s next for you two and Hutchins Barbeque?
Hutchins: With the dynamics of working through the pandemic, we'd had a lot of big plans for this year and then the fire in McKinney hits. Then a few months ago John reached out to us. So we had some big plans and navigated through them. And so we’re hoping to just sit back and hopefully get a little bit of normal. To both our restaurants.

Mueller: I know I’m loving it.

Hutchins Barbeque, 1301 N. Tennesse St. (McKinney) and 9225 Preston Road (Plano). See website for hours.
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.