From Austin, the road into Texas Hill Country quickly fades from city living to country quiet. As I drive up and down hilly roads with just ranches in between, I know that I’m not in weird Austin anymore. The heavens begin to grumble as they turn shades of gray. The sky lights up every so often when lightening strikes, but I’m on a mission for barbecue. One of the Austin area’s most famous spots for barbecue might have you risking your life through summer thunderstorms to reach her, but one bite of brisket and a whiff of the barbecue pit will make defying death worth it at the Salt Lick.
What’s the Story:
The Salt Lick traces it roots back to Bettie Howard in the mid 1800s. The fourteen-year-old orphan from Mississippi promised to have children with a local man if he would marry her and take her to Texas. He obliged to her deal and they headed off for the Lone Star State. Bettie used to barbeque meat by searing it and then slowing cooking the meats while on the wagon train. Eventually, her great grandson Scott Roberts would take over those ideas for grilling, notions his father borrowed from Bettie when Salt Lick was born in 1967. Scott’s father Thurman came up with the idea for The Salt Lick, beginning with just a barbecue pit. He would start cooking the meats on Thursday and sleep by the barbecue pit’s side until all the meats had sold. His method grew in popularity, eventually becoming The Salt Lick, a full-blown barbecue institution.
What’s The Beef?:
You will find several different meats up for eating on the Salt Lick pit. Combo plates of brisket, pork ribs, sausage, turkey and chicken are all offered. If you have more than enough of an appetite for one plate, you can order the mouthwatering meats family style, an all you can eat serving of plate after plate of barbecued meat. If you aren’t full enough, the sides of coleslaw, beans and potato salad come with most plates. All of the meats are served with a choice of sauces. The most popular meat and arguably the best offering at the Salt Lick is the brisket. The brisket is dry rubbed, seared on high heat and then barbecued in a sauce, creating a buttery, melt in your mouth sensation after just one bite.
The Salt Lick hides away not so quietly in Texas Hill Country. Just 30 minutes from Austin, the barbecue bonanza is a short drive to the town of Driftwood. You will easily spot it from the road with the assistance of signage, but the massive line of cars turning off an otherwise lonely Texas road might be a better indication. The setting is what also makes the Salt Lick special, surrounded by rolling hills, century-old oak trees and wildflowers. You almost feel like you have crashed a big family reunion out on a Texas ranch.
Know Before You Go:
Being such a staple in the Austin area, you might think the Salt Lick has succumbed to new ways of doing business. The good news is that it hasn’t. Only cash is accepted and you have to bring your own booze if you want an adult beverage with your meat. Beer and wine is offered at the next-door tasting room of the Salt Lick Cellars, but if the rain is pouring, you might want to make friends with a nearby table that brought a giant cooler to avoid the elements. Even on Monday night, The Salt Lick will be packed so try to arrive by 7PM to score a seat for meat.
Have you been to the Salt Lick outside of Austin?
Photo: Suzy Guese
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