You can tell from the roadside that Cooper’s is serious. At one end of the parking lot is a small mountain of enormous mesquite logs. Next to it is a barbecue fanatic’s dream landscape: five old rectangular, closed steel pits, lined up in a row. At the pit closest to the door, customers choose their meat, and a pitman pulls it off and slices it up for them on the spot.
The barbecue here is cooked cowboy style, that is, directly over smoldering hardwood coals. The logs are burned down to embers in a big enclosed fireplace, then transferred to the pits by pitmen using shovels with twelve-foot handles. The brisket takes six to eight hours, and it fairly explodes with the robust flavor of meat and smoke. Everything else is fabulous too: the huge pork chops, the sirloin, the pork sausage, the chicken, the pork ribs, the goat, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, the beef ribs. Cooper’s secret? No complicated marinade. No fancy dry rub. “Just salt and coarse pepper,” says pitmaster Lorenzo Vences with a shrug.
The tangy and thin, vinegary, tomato-based dipping sauce cooks on the pit and is flavored with sirloin fat. The sides are homemade and good: creamy slaw, mild potato salad, zippy jalapeño-inflected pinto beans, corn on the cob. The fruit cobbler is not homemade but good enough.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q, 604 W. Young (Texas Highway 29), Llano, 915-247-5713. Brisket plate about $3.50. BYOB. Rating: 5. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday through Sunday till 8.