“It’s all about the meat.”
You know you’re in the mood for barbeque when you wake up from smelling it in your dreams, prompting you to drive over 60 miles out to the Texas Barbeque Belt to get your meat-loving fix before all of the brisket sells out.
Luckily, at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano, the pits are as large as they are smoky, so the meats just seem to keep coming.
My first time to Cooper’s was on my way back from a road trip from West Texas, hungry from being on the road 7+ hours and in a literal and virtual food desert for hundreds of miles. It was already evening, and in my barbeque experience that means one thing — the good meats are probably sold out. Tired and weary from my drive, I headed in hungrily, only to be greeted by smiling faces and full pits of smoky brisket, jalapeno sausage, chicken, perfectly smoked ribs and pretty much any meat I could hope for.
Ever since my first visit, I get a craving from time to time that can only be solved by an ample amount of delicious barbeque. You have to get there a bit early if you don’t want to wait in a lengthy line (the restaurant seems to feed the entire town of Llano on days), but most of the time it’s a straight shot from the pits to the register, perfect for a hungry girl on the go.
Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
It follows in fine barbeque tradition of old-time pit cooking, cutting no corners in the process. We’re talking the old method of cooking meats, the cowboy way — a direct heat pit filled with smoky mesquite wood.
This is similar to how the early Czech-German settlers would cook their meats over piles of oak and mesquite wood on one end of the pit and place their meat on the other side. The ventilation pulled the smoke over the meats, cooking them while still leaving them tender and imparting a sense of woody flavor into each bite in the process. It occurs slowly and over a low heat, giving the meat time to develop the coveted smoke ring that is so sought after in a good brisket or beef rib.
Thick smoked sausages, perfectly moist brisket that falls apart with a fork — you’d have a hard time leaving hungry here. Especially after you factor in all of the fixings, like cole slaw, jerky, jalapeno bacon mac n’ cheese and their world-famous homemade pinto beans. Chopped beef, T-bone steaks, turkey, pork chops and beef ribs, oh my! I have a hard time deciding what to get each time, which is why I over-order so I have left overs for later.
Inside you have your choice of lengthy picnic tables at which to sprawl your meaty haul, and don’t forget the ample selection of onions, pickles, jalapenos and bread, which tie the whole meal together quite perfectly. You’re likely to be sitting next to locals from the Llano area or any number of people passing through, so make a friend or two while you’re rubbing greasy elbows. You never know what stories you might hear or the pals you may make.
A little background into the eatery — the patriarch of Cooper’s was Tommy Cooper, who opened the restaurant all the way back in 1964. His biggest barbeque secret was to sear and seal the meat, a trick he used to keep the moisture and flavor throughout the cooking process. It’s a tradition that has carried on through six decades of different pit masters and cooks, and the working proof is in every delicious bite of their prized pork chops, which you have to taste to believe. After Tommy’s death in 1979 his family took over the operations for a short while, and was later bought by area businessmen. In 1986 the Wootan family took over and has been serving hungry eaters ever since.
Make a day trip out of it and stop in nearby Llano for more barbeque, a bit of well-curated antique shopping and a whole lot of colorful Texas history. Or hang tight for Cooper’s new location in Austin opening in early 2015 on Congress Avenue.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (map)
604 W. Young St.
Llano, TX 78643