In Texas, it's impossible to find bad barbecue. While out-of-towners might only be familiar with the hip names of Franklin Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats, and Pecan Lodge, the old guard of Texas barbecue is still serving up some of the best damn sliced meats in the state. There is one standby, now with four locations, that seemingly slips by on Best Barbecue lists. That family-run restaurant is Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que.
Cooper's is known proudly for its Big Chop, a bone-in pork chop that's over 2 inches thick and has been featured in countless articles on Texas barbecue. The slow-roasted Big Chop is different from other barbecue offerings you'll find through Central Texas, an area known for its meat market style of barbecue. Where most meats here are smoked with oak with an indirect cooking process, like Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Cooper's actually burns branches of mesquite and places the hot embers underneath the coals in the pit. Those mesquite coals smolder in a style many lifelong barbecue fans in Texas will recognize as cowboy style.
The Big Chop is seasoned with salt and pepper, seared for an hour over a hot fire, and moved to slow-roast for an hour. Pork isn't a traditional Texas barbecue meat; ask anyone and they'll tell you that the brisket is really where the heart of Texas barbecue pulses. Cooper's BBQ, however, gives us one more reason to consider pork a hallmark of Texas, even if the Carolinas have it locked down. Hungry diners agree, and it's the Original World Famous Pit Big Chop that Cooper's famous pit barbecue is known for.
The original Cooper's BBQ in Llano, Texas, is still the heart of the restaurant chain and was so successful that the barbecue chain not only has three other locations (Fort Worth, New Braunfels, and Austin), but even has an online store where you can order their famous smoked meats and spreads. Good barbecue delivered to your door is a luxury that many of us never think to take advantage of, but the real fun of Cooper's BBQ is ordering in person.
The downtown Austin location, where the above video was filmed, has brought real barbecue business to Congress Avenue. Giving visitors and Texans alike a taste of the famous Texas Hill Country barbecue, it's quickly become a lunch spot for us at Wide Open Eats, especially on the days when we're all knee-deep in stories about pork ribs, cole slaw, and sweet tea. It doesn't hurt that it features a full bar and a place for live music, too.
You could get serious decision fatigue from choosing your meat alone, but if there's one side that Cooper's Barbecue does best, it's the jalapeño mac 'n cheese that you order at the hot side bar, just after watching a meat master slice up your chosen dishes and handing it off to the scales for weighing.
While the original Cooper's location holds so much barbecue history, the flavors of their three other locations carry that same Hill Country BBQ taste. Nothing is lost in translation from one Cooper's storefront to the other, and that is an impressive feat.
The next time you're in downtown Austin and craving good barbecue, but not ready to saddle up to a hour-long line, consider Cooper's BBQ at 217 Congress Ave. Or, if you have the time for a short day trip, head out to Llano for the original Cooper's and soak in the glory of those old pits and pulleys.