In a wildly unscientific survey, it has been determined that at least half of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming in the Lone Star State are generated by Texans driving in search of barbecue.
It’s no laughing matter. Barbecue, and the merits and methods thereof, have started more fistfights than whiskey or football.
The miles that have been racked up driving from Austin to the Hill Country town of Llano, and the doorstep of the acclaimed original Cooper’s Bar-B-Que might reach to the moon (and, in fact, would, if some lunar pitmaster was offering the same brisket and Tom-Clancy-novel-thick pork chops that Cooper’s purveys).
But it’s a bit of a haul, even for the dedicated carnivore. So it was with some measure of anticipation that fans discovered a second iteration of Cooper’s closer to home, in New Braunfels. A third location, the better to satiate the ‘cue-crazed masses in the Metroplex, is located in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
Okay, so I was a bit late to the table, as it were. Cooper’s New Braunfels location opened its doors about three years ago. But I didn’t make my inaugural visit until this past Father’s Day.
Cooper’s is all about the meat; coming for any other reason is like visiting a whorehouse because you like the piano playing.
To those of us accustomed to the redolent, smoke-stained environs of the Llano location’s outdoor cooking shed, where tenders transfer shovelfuls of live mesquite coals between coffin-like pits, the New Braunfels location seems more than a trifle antiseptic (especially compared to smoke-blackened old-school BBQ shrines like Smitty’s in Lockhart and Louie Mueller’s in Taylor). But the quality of the product seems indistinguishable.
A side order of peppery pinto beans was well received, as was the potato salad (and even—heresy—a garden salad!), but really, what’s the point? Cooper’s is all about the meat; coming for any other reason is like visiting a whorehouse because you like the piano playing. The working pits are, sadly, out of sight and off limits, but patrons can still pick their meats from the warming pits inside the door. Pork is the headliner, courtesy of the aforementioned “Big Chop” and some juicy tenderloin, but a slice of medium-rare meltingly smooth prime rib and a homemade jalapeño sausage with peppery authority complement the palette of pork, chicken, brisket, rib-eye, turkey and ribs (beef and pork). Cabrito, alas, is no longer offered.
It should be noted that Cooper’s is a figurative rib-bone toss from Gruene and the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, as well as the Schlitterbahn water park. So there are the welcome diversions of tubing, dancing and drinking within easy proximity. But partake of them beforehand. After taking your best shot at Cooper’s pit, ambulatory endeavors seem like less desirable options.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
1125 Loop 337
New Braunfels, TX 78130
Open Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.