Cooper’s vs. Inman’s Kitchen Llano barbecue throwdown

Raising the lid on the barbecue pit at Cooper's. Inman's Kitchen serves from, you know, a kitchen. That is part of what makes Cooper's the best for Llano barbecue.
Raising the lid on the barbecue pit at Cooper’s. Inman’s Kitchen serves from, you know, a kitchen. That is part of what makes Cooper’s the best for Llano barbecue.

All Texans worthy of the name have, at some point, driven through Llano and eaten barbecue. It is simply what we do as a people. For those of you new to the area, welcome. My purpose here is to provide a guide to the two leading barbecue joints in the area so you can make an informed decision. Because OF COURSE you wouldn’t stop for a fast food hamburger for lunch. Both Cooper’s and Inman’s Kitchen provide excellent choices, and it is important for you to take sides. Seriously, this is the only thing my wife and I fight about. Llano barbecue is that important.

When discussing Cooper’s, it is important to be clear: I am talking about the original restaurant located in Llano. The branch chains simply are not as good. Cooper’s is like a barbecue Valhalla, because when you walk up you go to a pit and point to the particular piece of meat you would like. Someone will ask you if you would like it dipped in sauce, and the correct answer is “yes.” He will then put it on a plastic tray, and you take it inside to be sliced and weighed. You also get your side orders inside.

Inman’s works differently, and it is more of a traditional restaurant. You go up to the counter and order a regular plate, and several minutes later your pager buzzes and you go and get your food. Personally, I prefer the ambience of Cooper’s- it feels like real barbecue when you walk right up to the pit and point out what you want.

Inman’s has turkey sausage, pork ribs, brisket, and several other choices. Cooper’s does not have the turkey sausage, although they have beef ribs and pork chops. In terms of which you prefer, it is a close call. I like Cooper’s because smoked beef ribs are hard to find, and they do them awfully well. The seasoning mix, however, may be better at Inman’s. Both places have free beans in the dining room, although this is one place where Cooper’s shines: The beans at Cooper’s have an actual flavor. You can see chunks of pork and peppers floating around, and that flavor carries through to the beans. At both places, you can also order your standard barbecue sides.

The other notable difference is the sauce. The sauce at Cooper’s is a vinegar sauce, and the sauce at Inman’s is (somewhat) thicker and sweeter. Which you prefer is a function of how you like your meat. Then again if sauce is determining where you eat barbecue then you aren’t really from around here. There are things I like very well about both places, but if I am only going to eat there once every several months as I drive through town then the nod has to go to Cooper’s.

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