Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cooper's BBQ - Statewide

I tried four different barbecue joints with the name "Cooper's" in just over a month. Here's what I found.

Cooper's - Mason
This is the original. Started by George Cooper in 1953, but sold to Duard Dockal (who still runs it) in 1983. This is where the family traditions of cooking directly over mesquite coals and ordering straight from the pit were born. It was one of my favorites of mine and Sam's inaugural BBQ tour back in 2006, but it disappointed a few years later. This visit would sadly be more like the second than the first.



On this day you could see the dried out edges of meat when the pit lid was raised. A thick beef rib was still chewy despite the prolonged warming time, but the hefty cut still had some juice left. Brisket was over-tender and a bit spongy while goat ribs provided the most disappointingly bone-dry meat. With all the sub-par meat here, the goat sausage was a revelation. A mix of pork and goat, these links also get a good dose of spices for a bold flavor that's not too heavy on the salt and a great snappy casing. Even with the numerous disappointments heaped on the butcher paper, I would return if just for the goat sausage.

Cooper's - Llano
In 1962, Tommy Cooper was sent out by his father George to expand the Cooper's BBQ business from Mason to Llano. Tommy sadly died in an accident in 1979 and the business was sold. It was sold again in 1986 to current owner Terry Wootan who has seen this Hill Country staple's fame reach new heights. The Wootan's have also taken to some expansion of their own and have seen new stores open in New Braunfels in 2009 and Fort Worth in 2010.





This is by far the most popular location with weekend road-trippers and bikers flooding the place by the dozens on the weekends. We opted for a visit right at opening time on a Friday where we had the dining room to ourselves. All the meats are ordered from the pit at the entry. The cooking pits are scattered about under the same roof, but this pit is just for warming. This is also where Cooper's can suffer. Meats are stored here without any protection, and I've had dry meats on occasion when I make a late afternoon visit. I didn't let the drying process start on this day and the meats were all superb. Beef ribs and brisket were boldly seasoned and tender with that signature flavor from those coals. It ain't called 'Home of the Big Chop' for nothing, and the one on this morning was better than I'd ever eaten. The two inch thick chop was still hot from the fire just flowing with juices. This was best meal I've had at a Cooper's anywhere, so get there early, folks.

Cooper's - Round Rock
I didn't dine here since it's closed, but I thought I'd add a word about it since we're talking about Cooper's. Another of George Cooper's sons named Gary Cooper opened this location in 1985, but it had to close in 2006.

Cooper's - Junction
The sign may claim that they've been smoking since 1953, but this joint opened in 1999. Current owner Mark Cooper is a grandson of George Cooper, so they're sort for taking credit for a few decades of Cooper's operation in Mason. The woodpiles and pits are just as impressive as the Llano and Mason versions, but its position at the off ramp of I-10 belies some of the quaintness offered in the smaller towns.

 

The general theme here is dry, dry, dry. The brisket was tough to pull apart and most of the moisture was gone before it was sliced. Pork ribs hadn't lost all of their juices, but again the meat was tough. Save for a good fatty jalapeno sausage, this one was hardly worth the effort.

Cooper's - Fort Worth
This was my third, and best visit to the newest Cooper's near the Fort Worth Stockyards. This is the newest in the Wootan empire, and it pays to get here early as well. Even at 11:00 the 'Big Chop' was starting to lose some of those juices. Fatty brisket edges which I usually relish for their richness can hardly be enjoyed here given the massive amount of salty rub applied.

 

Pork ribs had a bit more a kick from black pepper, but they were also a bit chewy, especially the rib tips. A beef rib had decent flavor, but wasn't particularly memorable. One memorable item worth noting is the beans. These are freebie beans to be doled out by the bucket-load if you wish from the communal pot. For free beans, they certainly put plenty of effort into them. Viscous and meaty enough to be a meal on their own, there are also plenty of jalapenos floating around if you want some greenery with your meal.

If I were to rank on these visits alone, it would be hard not to put the Junction location at the bottom with Mason barely beating them out with that excellent goat sausage. The Fort Worth location is still a pretender in my book with Llano easily outshining them all.

- BBQ Snob

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your takes on that Joke in Junction and the Mess in Mason Coopers. Walked into Coopers Junction to find ALL the meats stacked together under a heat lamp and all looked dry as a bone. Asked the old man if they ahd any "fresh" BBQ and he pointed at the stack and said, "Right there". I turned and headed toward the door and ate some pretty avg. BBQ at Lums down the street. Went to Mason next morning and ordered a half chicken and some brisket and both were horrible as well as overpriced and no free beans here. Cooprs Llano is solid and has really good chicken and goat but when they raised the price to $21.99/lb I stopped ordering that, Free beans are some of the bst anywhere. Coopers New Braunfels is by far the most "customer friendly" as the manager comped my entire $50 tab just because the meat cutter accidently charged me for goat when I had two big chops. This place is close to Llano in overall meat quality and similar pricing. Worth going to if closer than Llano. Never been to the one in FW.

BBQ Smoker Grills said...

That's a lot of Coopers... Most of the BBQ we have here in north Florida is oversimplified. The largest chain is Sonny's which is ok, but lacks good smoke flavor most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Been going to Iraan once a month on a construction job and have stopped the last two times at Cooper's in Junction. Asked for "moist" brisket and that's what I got along with jalapeƱo sausage. Both were good, nothing to write home about. The sides were so so and puny sized servings. Potato salad was obviously "manufactured" and beans not very well spiced. All in all this BBQ is extremely overpriced considering the portion sizes. Next month I'm trying Lam's. If that doesn't work then maybe the remodeling work on the McDonald's across from Cooper's will be complete!!

Anonymous said...

I just visited Cooper's BBQ for the first time (New Braunfels). I really don't appreciate the way the whole place is set up period. You're walking up towards the entrance, you smell the bbq, it smells great, then you enter, and the first thing on the left, is the pit with all of the meat, it looks great, and you would think that you can afford to try a variety of meat or something, but THINK AGAIN! Plan to get ONE BEEF RIB FOR EIGHT HARD-EARNED DOLLARS - OR - THE PORK CHOP AND BAKED POTATO FOR TEN DOLLARS, AND NOTHING ELSE! ITS TOO EXPENSIVE. Everything else is too expensive. The ribeye is 23 dollars. If you get what appears to be a normal portion of beef ribs, about 3 ribs, you had better expect to pay at least 17 dollars! 3 beef ribs for about 17 dollars. Next, you enter the next room where all of the sides are arranged, all packaged up and ready, and not worth paying the extra price, DON'T GET THE SIDES. They have a huge pot of beans that are out of this world, and they are FREE! Yes, all u can eat out of this world beans. Therefore, you really don't need to waste your money on sides, right? Get your beverage, pay for it all and sit down and eat all u can eat out of this world beans. The bbq sauce is gross; its watery, tastes like vinegar, nothing like Rudy's at all. By the way, the beef rib will have enough fat on it to make you cough up phlegm for the rest of the night. If you want to pay a high price for a sample of good bbq, then maybe it's right for you, but if you want to maintain your savings account, then I would suggest not stopping at Cooper's to find out why the parking lot is often empty, but they still manage to stay open. On a scale of one to five, Cooper's BBQ gets a one star-rating from me, based on value. That's one star.

DISCLAIMER:

Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.

-THE PROPHETS OF SMOKED MEAT