I’ve been doing a lot of research into Virginia barbecue places as part of my duties as Regional Smoke Detector with the Campaign for Real Barbecue. I’m trying to identify places that cook the traditional way — the best way — exclusively with wood and charcoal, no heat from gas or electricity. I’ve been spinning my wheels a lot, and would be lost without the help of Joe Haynes, who pointed me to a dozen places, including Shaffer’s BBQ and Market in Middletown,Virginia. You can read about it here. If the other places on his list are half as good, I’ll be in clover. (I started to write “Fat City,” but I prefer to be in denial.)
The focus on Virginia got me thinking about Blaine Cooper, the genius behind the late lamented South Fork in Harrisonburg. Blaine Cooper set up shop there and for a brief shining moment treated Virginians to the very best barbecue in the state, and very good barbecue it was. It was the first place up here that really excited me. Jon Breul and I both ordered pork — he a sandwich and I a pork plate plus some ribs. It was excellent. Would y’all like to sample the brisket? Does a … Indeed we would. Cooper actually had the self-confidence in his product to offer lean rather than moist brisket. And his confidence was entirely justified. It was excellent, better than any lean brisket I tasted while in Texas. Okay, I always ordered moist, but I always tasted Nancy’s lean.
South Fork was only a two- or three-hour drive from my house, back when a two-hour drive for good barbecue was reasonable — a lot shorter than the alternative, a drive to North Carolina. What a gem it was! Alas, the Harrisonbourgeoisie didn’t appreciate great barbecue. Brother Cooper finally got tired of people asking for chicken tenders when people could have had great brisket, much as Rembrandt got fed up with people asking him if he did chalk caricatures. Cooper packed up his custom smoker and headed back to God’s country (at least in Texas barbecue terms) to set up shop in Austin, where people appreciate great art.
I wondered what he’s doing now, so I used my occasionally adequate internet skills and found B. Cooper Barbecue in Austin. Take a look at his site. Those of you who have leftover brisket should check his site if only for his highly detailed instructions on reheating barbecue. Cooper and his bus and cooker are at 705 Gunter Street in the Govalle/East Austin area Thursday through Sunday. His menu is here.
Blaine Cooper’s brisket is great. Sensational.
And if your’e lucky, he’ll have some of his macaroni and queso on the menu. It’s one of the great ideas of the 21st century. Actually, when you think about the other ideas of the 21st century, it’s world class.
And it isn’t all brisket. He smokes lamb breast, which I really need to try and, of course, ribs, with pork and beef. He cooks cabrito and Elgin sausages and all sorts of other things. He grows his own collards and kaleidoscopic carrots (for slaw?), and he offers several different cobblers, including a pecan cobbler, about which I would like to know more. I stress again that everything we tried at South Fork was very good.
There are, at last count, nearly two gazillion places you can eat barbecue in Austin. Do me a favor, and swing by B. Cooper Barbecue. He’s a great guy and deserves your support. And you — well, almost all of you — deserve to eat some great barbecue. And tell him I’ll be there as soon as I can get to Austin.
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