Our visit to Schoepf’s was, more than anything else, an aberration. We didn’t explore Belton at all, we sat and took our time and didn’t even try their brisket. We were well past the hangover phase of this Texas BBQ Tour and were moving in a low gear. None of that, however, means that we didn’t like what Schoepf’s had to offer.
Pulling into the parking lot of Schoepf’s Bar-B-Que the first thing we saw was five smoking pits, a wood pile and a man in a red t-shirt and cowboy hat sweeping near the main fire pit. Beyond him and watching our approach from inside of the building was another man, also in a cowboy hat. It was reminiscent of our visit to Coopers’ BBQ in Llano, only without a hunter’s lodge feel to it.
Upon entering Schoepf’s, we took one look at the menu board and a moment of clouded uncertainty silently passed between the four of us: what the hell did we want? We were on the tail end of a trip that had already included so much brisket, chicken and pork sausage that we couldn’t handle any more of any of them that day. Slowly the smoky haze parted from out minds and two items on the menu stood out from the rest: pork chops and venison sausage. We had had neither yet that trip, largely because they are not commonly found on Texas BBQ menus.
As we placed our order Ronnie Schoepf Jr. came by and starting talking with us. Like many Texas BBQ joints, Schoepf’s is run by its namesake family: Ronnie had bought the business from his parents and runs it with his wife while his grandmother bakes the pies. (She had been sick when we visited so we were unable to try one of her pies and had to “settle” for the peach cobbler.)
As we chatted with Ronnie, the men behind the counter started slicing our meat down to appetizer-sized portions. I can’t say if this is their custom or if Ronnie, after hearing of where else we had been and possibly seeing our eyes glazed over from too much BBQ, gave the man behind the counter a sign, but what had been a giant pork chop and some links of venison sausage was now a plate of cubed meat. On another day we may have balked at this presentation – when cut up the meat looks less like an edible piece of art and any juices inside could have leaked out, thus spoiling the taste – but we were weary and glad that we wouldn’t have to use knives to cut this meal.
After paying the nice man standing behind the weird antler lamp we sat down to eat. The pork chop had a slight crust from its peppery seasoning, but the crust didn’t overpower the flavor of meat itself. The light trim of fat? That had become both succulent and sweet from the juices released while being cooked (in my original notes it is referred to as “Fatty Pork fat! Succu-sweat”). The venison had a nice kick to it and paired very well with the jalapeño cornbread. All was chased down with some sweet tea and the cobbler*.
And then… we just sat there in Schoepf’s dining room. For a while. No one was in rush to leave or go anywhere else. Exploring the town of Belton? I don’t think it was even discussed. We were done, not defeated by the meat, but just done, satisfied if you would. We had, after four years of trying, finally gotten to Schoepf’s and Zimmerhanzel’s. We had no more places that we had to hit, so we just sat back in our wooden chairs, rested, and slowly nibbled at the few pieces of venison sausage left on our place.
Text: Dan Meade
Photos: Dan Meade, Rob Bellinger,
Melissa Jean Gibson
June 04, 2012
*The flavor of the peach cobbler has vanished into the dark recesses of my mind. It was good and one guy on Yelp raves about it, but I can’t add to the accolades.