The drive through Texas Hill Country to the town of Llano is desolately beautiful, with long stretches of dusty dirt broken up by patches of electric-green shrubs and stout trees. The weathered roads are wide, though traffic rarely comes.
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I turn into the parking lot of Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, a boxy crimson building that’s impossible to miss. I nearly walk right past the line that’s formed at the door before a young man in a camo hat and a soot-blackened apron calls me back to ask what I’ll have. He grabs a plastic lunch tray and lines it with butcher paper as I mull over my choices: barky brisket, slabs of mahogany ribs, giant pork chops.
He loads my tray with a slice of this, a link of that, and a pork chop, and then points to a deep pot of sauce at the end of the pit. Common wisdom holds that good barbecue doesn’t need sauce, so I confidently decline. He ignores me and, in one swift motion, grabs my chop with tongs, dunks it, and returns it to my tray. I consider protesting but think better of it and move inside to eat.
When I cut into the tender chop, the sauce, surprisingly bright with vinegar, clings jealously, beautifully to it. A new lesson: Listen to the pitmaster.