Some years after moving to Texas I was invited to hunt deer on a ranch in the Hill Country. By this time I had eaten a lot of barbeque in many states including, of course, Texas. However I was not prepared for the barbeque at Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que (Llano, Texas) I encountered for lunch following the morning hunt. I was in for a new barbeque experience.
One gets in line and approaches the pit masters, who stand between their smokers and a chopping block. The meat is priced by the pound. The pit masters cut what you want there in front of you. Then there’s the meat. I had some prime rib and steak on that day at Cooper’s and several other meats. They put it on a plastic tray that they weigh and that one carries on through the sides to community tables.
Cooper’s is on the fringe of the Central barbeque belt or maybe outside it, depending on who is defining the region. In any case, Cooper’s is heavily influenced by the Central barbeque region of Texas, which more strictly is northeast and southeast of Austin and includes the towns of Taylor, Elgin, Lockhart and Luling.
Cooper’s slogan is, “It’s all about the meat.” Though that’s Cooper’s slogan, it seems to apply to Central Texas barbeque in general. It is common to enjoy prime rib, pork loin, ham, and pork chops as well as the typical brisket, sausage, pork ribs, chicken, and turkey of East Texas Oak is the wood of choice, and pecan is sometimes used in the region. Sauce is not emphasized – it is all about the meat, after all.
Kreuz (pronounced Krites) Market (Lockhart, Texas), which Melinda and I recently visited, actually has a sign that reads in part, “No barbeque sauce (nothing to hide).” And they are not kidding – there is no sauce, and there are no forks. And until recently there were no sides. Charles Kreuz , Sr. started Kreuz in 1900, and as is true of many Central Texas barbeque restaurants, Kreuz began as a meat market and grocery in the style of Central Europe. Keith Schmidt, who added sides when the business was relocated, now owns it. We especially recommend the sausage. Lockhart is not large, but is known for famous barbeque. In fact, the Texas State Legislature named it the BBQ Capital of Texas.
Black’s Barbecue is another well-known restaurant there that Melinda and I visited. Started in 1932 by Edgar Black, Sr., Black’s originally had no sauce, but added it much later when “Northerners” kept requesting it. The brisket is fantastic. Pit master Johnny showed us all around the pit area. Each brisket gets individual attention; there is no set cooking time. The sausage is made on site and was served at a White House dinner at the request of President Lyndon Johnson.