A two-and-a-half-year-old barbecue joint in the middle of Austin that’s still unknown is an anomaly. After eating two impressive meals at the B. Cooper Barbecue trailer off East Seventh Street last week, I think it should be known. Between those two meals, I talked to dozens of Austinites, many of them in the barbecue industry. None had visited, and only one had heard of the place. A trio of diners sitting at the other tent-shaded table during my second meal lamented that their “secret” barbecue stop may get busier after I write about it, but they agreed that Blaine Cooper deserves a more brisk business for his hard work and skills.
Developing those skills has been a winding road for Cooper. A native of eastern New Mexico, he managed a biotech lab in New York City for thirteen years. He missed the West Texas–style barbecue he grew up eating, so he wheeled a couple smokers onto the roof of his apartment building. Texas-style barbecue was in short supply in NYC back then, so he cooked for his neighbors and to soothe his cravings.
“There’s a point you reach that you just know you have to leave,” Cooper said of living in New York. He retreated to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where some family members lived, and brought along his desire to cook barbecue. Cooper opened South Fork BBQ in Harrisonburg in 2015, serving brisket, smoked sausage, and mac and cheese made with queso, among other items. An oil painting of J. R. Ewing from Dallas, painted by Cooper, hung beside the chalkboard menu.
Cooper said he mostly served Texas transplants who drove in from D.C. The restaurant garnered praise from a well-traveled barbecue blogger, but South Fork eventually closed in 2018. “There weren’t enough people that even understood it,” Cooper said of Virginians’ reception of Texas barbecue. The black pepper in his rub was considered too powerful, as were the jalapeños in his beans. “They’re very spice averse,” he said of his clientele. Cooper sought a place that appreciated his kind of barbecue, so he headed for Austin. He bought a 1947 food truck that used to be a lobster truck and needed the crustacean smell washed out of it. He screened in another trailer for the smoker he’d built out of an old Sinclair gas tank from the family’s New Mexico ranch. B. Cooper Barbecue opened in December 2019.
“I’ve been here two years,” Cooper said of his grassy lot behind Leal’s Tire Shop. “But people weren’t wandering around looking for barbecue for the past two years.” He used the slow times to get his cooking back to his preferred flavor intensity. Even now, he sees just enough customers to justify smoking two briskets on a weekday, and they were already gone when I stopped in at 12:30 p.m. on a Thursday. But you can find great brisket at plenty of barbecue joints in Austin—the same cannot be said for smoked lamb.
Cooper serves lamb breast every day, and it’s popular. “The only problem I’ve had is sourcing enough of it,” he said. The cut is basically a bone-in lamb brisket, and there are a couple bones in each serving. The ribs are best eaten by separating the layers of meat, fat, and sinew, so the whole thing needs to be pull-apart tender. Cooper’s was spot on, with a flavor heightened by his vinegar-based barbecue sauce. There’s also a sweet sauce and a spicy sauce that is probably spicy to Virginians.
A variety of pork ribs also come out of Cooper’s smoker. I preferred the tender St. Louis–cut ribs to the undercooked baby back ribs, both seasoned with a savory rub. The Mangalitsa pork ribs, though, are what I’d return for. Cooper sources the heritage-breed hogs from Acorn Bluff Farms in Iowa. The meat ($27 per pound) has far more marbling than the commodity-pig meat served at most Texas barbecue joints. The ribs are also much smaller and thinner. They could easily be over-seasoned, but Cooper has a deft touch. The generous fat in each rib crisped up in the smoker, and the meat had a richness that made it different from any other pork ribs I’d eaten. The dish is a unique treat available every Friday and Saturday.
Cooper has all the equipment to make his own sausage, but he doesn’t have enough traffic to sell that daily. He currently buys sausage raw from Southside Market and gives it a good dose of oak smoke. The casings have snap, and the slices run with juice when squeezed. The pulled pork could use some of that moisture, but I loved the generous amount of bark. Cooper has experienced some issues with his turkey-breast supplier, so he’s switched to smoking chickens in the meantime. I prefer my chicken skin crispier, but the leg quarter was nice and moist.
There was some brisket left the second day I dropped in. A slice from the lean side—with a stout bark and a fat cap just shy of melting—showed Cooper’s skill. The fatty side was decadent as well. Try it, but don’t miss the other stuff that’s harder to find in these parts. Cooper makes the proteins easy to sample with a five-meat plate with two sides for just $26.
Most of the sides are Texas classics like crunchy slaw with a zippy dressing, pinto beans spiced up with diced jalapeño, and a mustard-and-mayo potato salad. The vegetarian collard greens needed a hit of that vinegar sauce to brighten them up, but the homemade pickles were satisfying. The showstopper is the elote. Unlike at most barbecue joints, the sweet corn is served on the cob and slathered with butter, mayo, cotija, and cilantro. The chile-lime seasoning will wake you up if you’ve eaten one too many of the smoked meat options.
B. Cooper Barbecue is a one-man show. Cooper smokes all the meat, makes all the sides, and serves everything up himself in the Texas heat. His impressive barbecue deserves more than the meager attention it has received so far. “I’ve always liked the idea of something that you had to look for,” Cooper said of his hidden location, but he’d like a few more customers. He’s been getting some newcomers recently, but after I saw a total of five other customers during my two meals, I asked if he’s selling enough barbecue to stay in business. His answer was a question he’s been asking himself recently: “Can we break even for long enough to wait this out?”