By: Courtney Dabney
When Cooper’s opened in the lot adjacent to Billy Bob’s six years ago, many people rejoiced that the well-known Llano establishment was coming to the Stockyards. Of course, few foods bring people together while also dividing them so thoroughly like barbeque. Ask your friend, neighbor or co-worker to recommend the best barbeque spot in Fort Worth, and you’re likely to get a different answer from each one.
Barbeque tastes are as unique as a fingerprint, but what separates the great barbeque joints from the rest comes down to the simple things—moist brisket, fall-off-the-bone ribs, downhome country sides and long picnic tables designed for communal dining. On all counts, Cooper’s doesn’t disappoint.
The 26,000-square-foot space certainly accommodates a crowd, and the ambiance is everything you expect if you’ve eaten barbecue in Texas—cement floors, long wooden tables, and plenty of neon beer signs with sports on the TV and classic country playing over the speakers.
Guests select cuts of meat from the pit, then wait in a cafeteria-style line to get it weighed and sliced and to pick sides for their meal. With almost a dozen meats to choose from, deciding can feel overwhelming. Do you want lean brisket or moist? Regular or spicy sausage? One rib or two? They will also ask if you want everything dipped in sauce. Cooper’s barbeque sauce is thinner, more acidic and less sweet than typical Texas barbecue sauce, so I get selections dipped but also grab a cup of sauce for the table.
Other parts of the South may judge a pit master by the pulled pork, but in Texas it’s all about the brisket. When I’m trying a new place, I always start with brisket. At Cooper’s, I prefer the moist brisket because it’s so fall-apart tender. You may be tempted to remove the fat, but I recommend leaving some of the melt-in-your-mouth marbling on the meat.
The pork ribs are generous in size, tender and flavorful, if a bit salty. Although their mammoth size can be intimidating, I prefer the beef ribs. Eating one of those is a primal experience, and the best way to describe them is more beefy than beef. For a less primal experience, the turkey breast is a great choice. It has a lovely peppery, crisp skin and is deliciously moist. It’s one of the only items at Cooper’s I eat without sauce.
For sides, you can’t go wrong with a foil-wrapped baked potato from the pit. The skin is oil-rubbed and sprinkled with salt and pepper. The jalapeño mac n’ cheese is quite popular, but I prefer the classic mac preparation, and the grilled corn is delicious.
For dessert, Cooper’s has cobblers—apple, peach, cherry and pecan—as well as Blue Bell ice cream. I found the apple cobbler surprisingly light, with a delicately flaky crust, firm apples, and a cinnamon-flavored filling that wasn’t overly sweet.
For the best selections, show up early. Otherwise, you may find yourself looking at an empty peach cobbler tray or unusually dry piece of pork loin. However, if you’re craving a ribeye, they’re only available Fridays and Saturdays after 5 p.m. No matter what time it is, bring a big appetite. At Cooper’s, your eyes will definitely be bigger than your stomach, and that’s a good thing.
Location: Cooper's BBQ, 301 Stockyards Blvd.
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
What We Like: In addition to the usual free sides (bread, pickles, jalapeños and onions), Coopers offers free ranch-style beans. Cooked with jalapeño and pork, these pintos are smoky, not sweet and perfectly creamy.
What We Don’t Like: Cooper’s proximity to Billy Bob’s may cause parking issues on nights when there is a big concert or event on the schedule.
Our Recommendation: Ordering meat by the pound can add up quickly. If you don’t want leftovers or plan to sample several items, don’t be afraid to ask for serving size recommendations when choosing selections from the pit.
By: Courtney Dabney