Back on the trail of Quality BBQ this past weekend, we found ourselves, wife, son and I, in Llano at Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que. You can find Cooper’s on Hy 29 West, crossing Hy 71. easy to get there, only about an hour out of Austin.
This is different from the Lockhart BBQ I reported on a few weeks ago—real different. Oh, you still pay by the pound all right, but their method is not the smoking method utilized down in Lockhart or over in Taylor. These guy cook BBQ like my Dad taught me some fifty-five years or so ago.
The first difference you will notice prior to ever getting inside the establishment—you don’t. The pit is outside and that’s where the line forms also. There is some sixty feet of covered area for the line to snake around on days when it’s real busy. We were lucky and hit there mid-afternoon and didn’t have to wait long at all. Like Smitty’s in Lockhart, you order from the guy currently cooking—that’s the last similarity to Lockhart.
There was the usual selection: beef ribs, pork loin, sausage and chicken. The main difference here was the thickest and biggest pork chop I have ever seen—affectionately known as the Big Chop. If you go for pork, who wouldn’t in their right mind, and believe you brought at least enough family members to cove a baseball field—a basketball team will not do the trick—the pork chop is the way to go. Upon making your selection, the cook will ask if you want it sauce dipped—I recommend fully that you take this option.
While I am a stickler for sauce and I far prefer my own, Cooper’s was better than most commercial I have had at these establishments. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best: Cooper’s comes in at a sound 4 while Smitty’s places at a high 2 and maybe a low 3 at best. I take my recipe from my Dad and it still remains the only solid 5 I have ever tasted.
BBQ sauce should be stick-to-your-ribs thick. That’s right. It should drip off like water when you dip a rib, a piece of brisket, or even, if you happen to lean toward the yard bird fancy, a piece of chicken in it. I was brought up in a Southern family and gravy was always part of the meal. BBQ sauce should be like thickening gravy. It has to have the viscosity of 60 weight motor oil and old 60 weight motor oil at that.
My Dad taught my Mom to make his recipe not long, I am told, after they were married. He had picked it up in the late 1920s while working at a pig stand in south east Oklahoma. I stole it from watching her make it. I had to steal it as I wasn’t allowed in the house much at all when the pit was fired. It actually took me several years of passing through and stealing glances while she was putting it together before I ever decided I could make it on my own. But I got it after a while.
If its not a gravy, don’t call it BBQ sauce. I don’t know what it should be called, but it’s not BBQ sauce. If you have a name for it, leave me a comment.
The desert selection was better than Smitty’s also. That bowl of blackberry cobbler was outta this world—just like my Mom used to make.
Before I forget it; the pickles, bread and beans were free—that’s right, free. And beside that, they were good and you could go back for as many seconds as you could consume.
Our choices consisted of: two inch section of pork loin, 8 beef ribs, 4 sausage rounds, ½ chicken (somebody snuck it in, I didn’t notice it) and some slices of brisket (I don’t remember how many).
Because the meat is cooked over mesquite and the rubs they use are different than those in smoking BBQ, I enjoyed the flavors better at Cooper’s than the Lockhart versions. This is the way BBQ is supposed to be done—over a wood fire.
As a side note: that guy that didn’t like the plastic used in Lockhart will be glad to know that there were real silverware although the silver content was about as low as I have ever seen—but silverware nonetheless.
The Lockhart BBQs take their place near the top rung of Texas BBQ as much for the quantity of establishments located there as for the quality of their product and longevity. I have sampled two of the top three in Lockhart and do plan to finish off my third in the near future.
If I remember right, I gave Smitty’s a rating of 8.9 on a scale of 10. I would have to say that Cooper’s comes in just above that, somewhere around a 9.3 maybe.
All the way home, my son just kept saying: "That was good stuff." Over and over he repeated' "Good stuff."
There you have it. If you have a suggestion for an establishment you would like to see rated, please leave me a comment. If you don’t agree with the ratings recorded her; please provide your feedback. I would love to discuss them with you.