You don't have to take outlanders along with you to Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in the historic Stockyards to find out how good it is. No matter what, the first location of this Hill Country legend to open outside of the Central Texas region knocks out most newcomers -- whether they're from New York or just down the street.
After two visits to this location immediately north of Billy Bob's, I'm pretty sure Cooper's will become the region's top shop for wood-smoked goodness. Initially, I questioned whether the transition from a low-key, back-roads gem -- my family's favorite on Hill Country vacations since I can remember -- to our busy, flat, concrete environs would work at all. But the operation runs smoothly, with delicious mesquite-smoked meats and a folksy, no-frills setting that suits the Stockyards just fine.
On my first visit, I took a couple of locals. We had our tray piled high with a quarter-pound of this and that -- nearly every meat is priced by the pound -- and three of us were well-fed for just under $25. Another visit, I took three visitors from New York, who were agog at the choices and eager for a taste of nearly everything. It pushed our tab to $60 for four, though those totals included extras, such as a creamy, just-tart potato salad; a forgettable coleslaw ($2.49 each); and sublime blackberry cobbler ($2.75). All were plentiful enough for sharing.
Of the meats, we were big fans of the smoked chicken ($5 per half-bird). Unusually juicy and plump, the chicken fell apart at the touch of a fork. Beef brisket ($11.99 per pound), with a crusty, deeply smoky ring around the edge, was suitably tender and not overly dry, the way brisket can be. The New Yorkers went wild for the pork ribs ($10.99 per pound), which were thick but not overly fatty; and the chopped brisket ($8.49 per pound), far more flavorful and rich in texture than most.
Also scoring high points among our group: the peppery sirloin steak ($11.99 per pound), which sliced easily and was rosy-pink at the center; the jalapeño sausage ($8.99 per pound), which held bearable spice to balance the smoke; and the biggest surprise, the silky-tender boneless pork loin ($12.99 per pound), which turned out to be addictive. The only real loser in the bunch was the beef rib ($10.99 per pound), which was huge but far too fatty.
I'm fond of the serve-yourself, freebie jalapeño-studded pinto beans, found at a central counter. You also will find vats of thin, vinegar-tinged sauce flavored with smoky drippings, sliced bread, dill pickles and onions.
We simply ran out of room and didn't try the big chop, a massive pork chop that two or three people can share ($11.99 per pound), or the cabrito ($14.99 per pound). If you want still more meat, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, specials include a mesquite-grilled rib-eye ($24.99 for a 16- to 18-ounce steak).
In spring and summer, owner Barry Cooper, grandson of founder George Cooper, plans to throw open the big bay doors in the dining room that faces east. You'll get a sense of patio dining, with a magnificent view over the Livestock Exchange Building at the downtown skyline, he promises. It will be a fine place to drink a cold Rahr brew, eat some smoky pork loin and watch the tourists, agog at their first Hill Country barbecue experience.
Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
301 Stockyards Blvd., Fort Worth