Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, Austin Texas
217 Congress, Austin Texas
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que announced their Austin expansion nearly two years ago in March of 2014 and at the time predicted a fall 2014 opening. In what I believe is the longest stretch between predicted and actual opening, the Austin site officially opened to the public on Saturday, January 23rd, 2016. While a soft opening allowed previews for a month, doors swung open for their operating hours on Saturday.
I was interested in this expansion for several reasons; the location poses some benefits and complications, and the west Texas style of barbecue that Cooper’s is famous for is not what is currently in vogue in Austin. I think that difference may help Cooper’s stand out in a city heavily loaded with similar joints.
With the exception of the Mason, Texas location, the other Cooper’s bar-b-que are connected. Even the Mason location shares a familiar pattern though. The meat is cooked in direct fashion as opposed to an offset pit, meaning that the meats are cooked much quicker than the “low and slow” method that is more common in the popular Austin joints lately. The rub is heavy with table salt, another difference to the kosher salt and pepper rub that again has become de rigeuer. Once cooked, meats are held in a warming pit which is exposed to customers as they arrive at the ordering station.
Another trend more common outside of the large cities is a free condiment station that includes unlimited pinto beans. The Austin location has multiple stations located throughout the expansive two stories that makes up the dining areas. Additional seating is available outside as well. Beer taps downstairs are complimented by a full bar upstairs in an area deemed the “llano Lounge” which overlooks Congress Ave and is open until 2am on the weekend.
While the décor is “new rustic” it feels comfortable and familiar. When I made my way to the warming pits I ordered up some moist brisket, turkey, and sausage. My budget prevented me from ordering one of their signature items, the big pork chop, but I saw several ordered during my visit and they looked good.
The brisket tasted as I recalled it from the Llano location. In short, if you like Cooper’s barbecue you will like the Austin location. While not unique to Cooper’s, I’m not a big fan of table salt in the rub, but that was expected. One of the other traditions is a large pot of sauce where they offer to “dip” your meat in before it’s sliced, which I declined as usual. This may help balance the salt rub, but it’s just not something I am accustomed to. I think I’ll try it next time just to get the experience.
The condiments are another area where Cooper’s continues to differentiate from other Austin joints. In the smaller cities it is common for an entire spread to be available for free, including beans. In the larger cities this has become extremely rare and I’ve even seen extra charges for jalapenos. Even white bread is doled out on demand at many locations. Here you can grab as much of these as you want and jars of jalapenos adorn the tables, along with sauces and even bottles of Parkay. One of the better deals in Austin would be to buy a quarter pound of brisket, and get your free side of beans.
The location is the downside for me, although it is probably an upside if you work nearby or are within cycling distance. The restaurant faces Congress and parking is limited to a handful of paid spots out front, one of which was occupied by a Cooper’s van when I stopped by. Even with only a small crowd in the restaurant I had to park over a block away at paid parking in order to make my visit.
I like the fact that what Cooper’s is offering isn’t the trendiest version of barbecue, and I recommend a visit. I also wish them the best and hope that they host some live music events in the evenings, the location has potential but time will tell if the Austin crowd warms to the small town experience.