No Hill Country tour is complete without a stop in Llano at Cooper’s, George W. Bush’s favorite barbecue joint. They cook cowboy-style over mesquite coals, and you order your meat straight from the pit and then take it inside to pay for it. The sirloin and pork chops are awesome if you get them at the perfect time (see Lorenzo Vences’ Sirloin below). The brisket is also excellent. The barbecue sauce here is bolstered with brisket juices and is truly outstanding. “Mesquite coals give the meat a lot of flavor without over-smoking it,” says Lorenzo Vences, pit boss at Cooper’s in Llano since 1986. “This is the best barbecue in Texas.”
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q’s in Llano and Mason have preserved the “cowboy barbecue” style. At Cooper’s, mesquite wood is burned down to coals in a fireplace, and the coals are shoveled into enclosed pits. The meat is cooked by direct heat about 28 to 30 inches above the coals with the lid closed. When the meat is done to 140°F, it is moved to a holding pit, where it continues to cook slowly until it is sold.
Lorenzo Vences estimates the heat in his pit at 350°F to 400°F. Cowboy barbecue is a cross between grilling and smoking. You start the meat over the coals and move it when the color is right—then finish cooking it with indirect heat.
Serves 4 to 6
1 USDA Choice beef sirloin steak
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. and 1 3/4 inches thick (branded beef such as Black Angus or Certified Hereford preferred) or 1 USDA Choice beef sirloin tip roast
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. (same preference as above)
salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
Allow the meat to come to room temperature, and season it with salt and pepper. Light the mesquite chunks in a starter chimney. Pour the hot coals into your firebox. Light another batch of mesquite chunks a few minutes later. Maintain a temperature between 350°F and 400°F, and place the meat at least 18 inches above the coals until it’s well browned, or until it reaches an in-ternal temperature of 120°F. Add more coals as needed. Douse