Cooper's Bar-B-Que Review (Llano, TX)
(With a jingle no less.)
Mike and I made a trip to Cooper’s BBQ in Llano today to eat some BBQ there and bring some back (Tish loves their sirloin). It’s a decent trip for each of us, and if you’re coming from the Austin Metroplex this place definitely qualifies as a “Trip” (see FAQs post to know what we are talking about). I’ve been there before and always enjoyed the food I’ve gotten.
It’s got a nice homey feel, and the pits are visible from outside. In addition, Cooper’s has the meat visible outside. You point at what you want and they cut it or give it to you. “I want that pork chop”, or “Cut me half that link of sausage”.
Mike orders a variety of things, as he gets his carry-out order at the same time he gets his dine-in food. I just get my dine-in food: going with a piece of original sausage, a slice of fatty brisket, a slice of turkey, a piece of sirloin, and a pork rib. (My to-go order is two pork chops, some cabrito, and a pound of sirloin for Tish).
A general note about their smoke: On almost everything I tried, the smoke flavor is subtle. The rub is definitely the strongest of the flavors. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is noticeable (some places more than others).
Sausage: In terms of texture, snap of the casing, and moistness, the sausage was prepared just fine. It had a nice snap, wasn’t too chewy, and was very moist. But the sausage has a flavor to it that personally didn’t appeal to me. I’d give it a 5.0/10, but would easily understand that most people would rate it higher.
Pork Rib: The pork rib has a decent crust, and is moist and tender (without being over-cooked). Having said that, this was the one item where the subtly of the smoke harmed the score. The rub flavors didn’t do as good a job as carrying this item as it did with others. At most places smoke would make up the difference, but not here (at least, not with this rib). It’s OK, but not anything outstanding. 6.0/10.
Brisket: The brisket has a nice flavor, is moist and tender, and is really good. Again, subtle on the smoke but the rub compliments it nicely. Couldn’t finish all of mine as my piece was a little too fatty, but good stuff! 8.0/10.
Turkey: Things are improving steadily however. The turkey has a nice subtle smoke flavor, and the rub accents the flavor nicely. My piece is a hair on the dry side, but Mike’s is nice and moist (I should have eaten this first). It’s definitely worth a try. 7.5/10.
Sirloin: Even better than the brisket. My piece is nice and tender. The rub works well, it’s not over-cooked (while I’d call mine medium I suspect most would call it medium rare), and the subtleness of the smoke brings out the flavor of the sirloin. To put a crown on it, my wife will eat it when it is pink. 8.5/10.
Pork Chop: The pork chop is nice and tender, with a good flavor (like the pork loin below). Just the right amount of smoke. Tish has never had it before, and is majorly impressed as well (I may have changed her favorite from sirloin to pork chop). Note: The pork chops here are like the beef ribs most places. I ordered two pork chops, and they came in at just a hair under 3 pounds (about $40). When I brought them home my wife said “$40 for pork chops?!?” Now that she’s tried them, I have been forgiven and she agrees it was a well-spent $40. 10/10.
Pork Loin: I have to save the best for last. This is juicy, tender, and has an excellent flavor and crust. Just the right amount of smoke. There may be another place that does it differently but as well, but I haven’t had better. 10/10.
Cabrito: A disclaimer here. I’ve only had goat a handful of times ,and never smoked. I found the flavor OK (a little gamey, but well-seasoned). It was a little dry, but this had been reheated (I comment on it because reheating was not a problem with the pork chop). More importantly, the meat/bone ration seems poor. Of my 4/10th of a pound of cabrito, over half of it was bone. Since I’m not an expert here, I’ll give it 5/10. I’d eat it if given to me, but it’s not something I’d order.
So, is it worth a visit? Absolutely. Cooper’s has a wide variety of items, and does an excellent job with most of them. I suspect they have a dedicated regular lunch crowd, and I can see why they are opening a location in Austin proper.
Is it worth a trip? With three scores (so far) 8 or higher, a 7.5, and the sausage score being based on personal taste preference, it’s definitely worth a trip. The quality of the food combined with the atmosphere (and free beans) makes this a place everyone should visit at least once.
Speaking of trip, if you are coming from the Austin area there’s two basic ways: Hwy 71 or Hwy 29. Which is shorter depends on where you are. But (having done both) there are perks to either. Hwy 71 is the prettier trip. Lots of good scenery: trees, rolling hills, etc. If you want the relaxing drive with a great view, go that way. Hwy 29 is the route that’s a little more fun. There’s a 10 mile stretch just west of Burnet where you have nice curves and hills. If you are willing to fudge the speed limit a little* then the drive becomes a lot of fun. The location is noted here.
*If you are a law enforcement officer reading this, that was put in strictly for entertainment purposes. As a law-abiding citizen, I would never..… Al, stop laughing!
(Al's note: I can't! Oh Lord, my sides hurt.)