The NBBQA scheduled tours of the hill country and local barbecue establishments on Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, but I just couldn't justify going down that early. Oh, and a little history, Sheri and I had talked about spending a few days visiting the famous Texas hill country barbecue establishments between Christmas and New Years, but ultimately decided it just wasn't in the '08 budget. I've long wanted to make the rounds and form my own opinion of Texas barbecue from this famed, well documented area of the south.
On Thursday at the luncheon, a few of us at our table began discussing what we'd missed earlier in the week. After all, those that made the hill country tour absolutely raved about it. It was like rubbing a little Smokin' Guns Hot in the wound honestly. So, as we sat in our seats discussing the possibilities, I began to realize that Thursday afternoon was going to be the only time I would have to see anything at all in the Austin area. Luckily, Chris Jones of Colins Creek BBQ, a ranch style cuisine caterer, bbq competitor, Midland, Texas native and soon to be student in our Saturday class, was seated at our table. During the video presentation, I scribbled down my short list of possible destinations on a piece of paper including Lockart, Taylor, Elgin and Llano and pushed it his way, including a note to rank the locations in the order he thought we should see them. Not at all surprised, he returned my inquiry with Llano ranked number one, confirming my long held suspicions that Cooper's Old Time BBQ belonged at the top of my list of hill country barbecue joints not to miss. Knowing it was an hour and a half each way and still feeling unsure about breaking away from the conference that afternoon, I pondered whether I should put the thought out of my mind and prepare for the tasks ahead. Luckily, Danielle Dimovski of DivaQ fame was seated next to me and when she realized that I was even half considering making the journey, she began to needle me. See, she had missed that Tuesday tour as well. My face must have shown my reluctance, because a short time later Chris took the note back, scribbled something down and slid it back to me. It said "If you don't believe me, ask Paul Kirk." As luck would have it, Paul was sitting at the next table, concentrating on the presentation, but that wasn't going to stop me. So I asked. Paul, in fact, confirmed that we should head for Llano and rest is history.
Danielle, Chris, Kelly Wertz and I were on the road inside of thirty minutes. In short, we all loved Cooper's and agreed that it was some of the best barbecue we'd ever eaten. We ordered every meat offered that day and our tab of $134 proves it. It was all amazing. Nothing but properly cooked meat seasoned with salt, pepper and smoke from well seasoned post oak wood.
But here's where the story takes a turn for the worse and even get's a little dicey. I don't understand why Texans must continue to promote the idea that they cook as their ancestors did. As you can see by the pictures, Cooper's had an area where they burn wood down to hot coals. These coals are scooped up and distributed by extremely long handled shovels. The old metal and brick pits, resembling large dog houses found on a greyhound farm, are lined up at one end of the building, portraying an old fashion, direct cooking method long since abandoned by most cooks. However, if you make it all the way around back, you'll find three very modern JR Oyler rotisserie pits well hid. Why? Why hide the way you really cook your food? Everything we ate at Cooper's was fabulous. It was so good, I'd recommend it to anyone, any time. I don't care if that barbecue was cooked in something praised by Ron Popeil or George Foreman on a 4:00 AM cable channel informercial. It was that good. Why must they hide how they really cook? Will people think any less of them? In my opinion, as long as they continue to turn out the level of quality we experienced that Thursday afternoon in Llano, Texas, nobody would give two hoots how that barbecue was cooked. Oh, and in case you're wondering, there are other legendary Texas barbecue establishments that do the same thing and as long as their food is any where near as good as Cooper's, I won't think a bit less of them.
Someday I'll get back to make the rounds to those well documented, historical Texas barbecue joints. Until then, visions of tri-tip, jalapeno cheddar sausage and beef ribs from Cooper's will dance in my head while I dream. It was honestly some of the best barbecue I've ever eaten, even if they can't be honest about it.