Count your Barbecue Blessings

coopers.jpgDavid Plotz of Slate has just completed a whirlwind tour of the United States, barbecue style. Barbecue has long been the source of great regional pride and unending debates, and not even the Wal-Martization of America has been able to homogenize the critical differences in what is essentially a very basic cuisine. Thank god for that.

Everyone knows that Texans like to boast, but in the case of barbecue, it is entirely justified. Kansas City may have the best cuts of meat, North Carolina may have its tasty hickory, Memphis may have … a big river, but only Texas gets it right in so many ways and so many places. And the barbecue gourmand from Slate agrees. Money quote:

I had driven 1,800 miles in seven days, eaten 15 barbecue meals in a row, and finally found bliss in Texas. The four Texas barbecue meals I ate in 24 hours were better than any other barbecue I ever had in my life (save my one meal at Cooper’s in 1989). I had found my barbecue bliss, and I was done. My lower intestine had ground to a complete stop, and I had a slight pain in my chest. It was time to go home.

In particular, Plotz singles out Smitty’s (the old Kreuz building) in Lockhart and Cooper’s in Llano as places that capture the essence of barbecue, in both taste and culture.

For me, Cooper’s is the crown jewel of Texas’ BBQ collection. The unpretentious building, the outdoor line-up, the personal selection right off the grill, and obviously the meat, make this the 1st choice for any barbecue road trip. It doesn’t hurt that Llano is within shouting distance of some great hiking and swimming, and nothing tastes better than some smoked brisket and pork loin after a couple days in the rough. It also helps if someone else has driven, so you can best enjoy the digestion during a meat-induced coma on the trip home.

Austin and Central Texas have no shortage of barbecue cathedrals, and most of the best ones like Smitty’s and Cooper’s are well known. But there must be some undiscovered jewels out there, and many popular joints that don’t live up to their self-perpetuated hype. Donn’s in Oak Hill surprised me with their damn tasty bird, while I’ve often found County Line wanting with relatively dry and bland meats.

Got an opinion? Any diamonds in the rough or over-rated meat-a-donnas needing to be cut down to size?

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