SALT LICK Open Pit Barbecue
Driftwood, Texas

Entrance sign to Salt Lick BBQ

Salt Lick Bar-B-Que has reached
the pantheon of greatness. Photo/barron

Salt Lick Bar-B-Que
18001 FM Road 1826
Driftwood, TX 78619
(512) 858-4959

HOURS: Everyday; 11 am to 10 pm.

This is Texas' most popular barbecue shrine. Covered and raved about by Southern Living Magazine, GQ and People Magazine.

There is little that can be said about barbecue heaven that has not already been said.

My husband and I first came here in 1987. It was a much different place then, only open Thursday to Sunday. Limited staff, one main building, dark and rustic to the extreme.

The Salt Lick drew us like a starving man to food. We visited on Thursday afternoons about 3 pm and had the place to ourselves. Today it's an empire. Thurman and Hisako Roberts opened the barbecue restaurant on their ranch in Driftwood in 1969.

The stone used to construct the buildings came from the Robert's ranch. Deer gather and lick the large rocks for their sodium content and the ranch became known far and wide as the Salt Lick. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts built the original restaurant, pits and did the cooking themselves.

Their barbecue is a result of family recipes handed down one generation of Roberts to the next since the Civil War.

This is one of the last open pit barbecues remaining in America. The Salt Lick uses a combination of oak and pecan to smoke. The open pit allows three different types of heat. Direct for charing, sealing and caramelizing. Indirect heat for cooking and the back of the pit furthest from the fire is used for a warming bed.

Being a barbecue purist I would like to clear up some confusion about this method of barbecue that comes dangerously close to the dreaded grilling.

Traditional Texas barbecue is cooked in a fire box smoke chamber pit like Smitty's Market, Kreuz Market, Blacks Barbecue, Mueller's BBQ, City Market and others.

Flame never touches meat and the meat is not mopped for moisture or caramelization. The result is meat 100% slow cooked with smoke.

Texas barbecue purists have a difficult time with southern style barbecue. Meats can dry out fast on an open pit so a mop is necessary. The mop sauce is seared right onto the meat. A light crust appears and traps juices inside. This drastically alters the natural taste of the meat making it much sweeter. Folks that don't use sauce on their meat may not enjoy this age old but disappearing style of barbecue.

You either love the Salt Lick or dis it as pretend Texas barbecue. The detractors are barbecue purists or snobs trying to impress with nonsense arguments about the revered cooking process.

Bottom line is, the Salt Lick deserves all the kudos they get. For one thing, without doubt the most popular and successful barbecue operation in Texas. I was here on a Sunday when they served 3,000 people in the restaurant and another 1,000 at two weddings being held at the Pavilion.

This isn't the same old Salt Lick RD and I discovered in the '80s. Mr. Roberts passed away, now the operation is run by his son Scott.

Since Scott took over the business many outstanding improvements have been made. He cleaned up and expanded the restaurant adding rooms to accommodate special events. The Pavilion has been added on the gentle shores of Onion Creek.

Onion Creek at Salt Lick Pavillion

Onion creek flows over a damn under towering pecan
trees. Perfect spot for a stroll after dinner. The
all weather Pavilion sits next to this creek. Photo/NathanPhilpot

Parking space has quadrupled. A young energetic staff has been added. Including the best barbecue online in the world. No exaggeration, it's true.

After all this, the barbecue hasn't changed one bit. Identical to what we were served in the late '80s!

The best time to go is on Sunday. It's the only day they offer baby back ribs and prime rib. The baby backs are a legend. Thick, meaty and smoked perfectly. The sauce is caramelized on the rack. It's like candy. This is some of, if not the best barbecue ever, anywhere!

Prime rib is the best meal I've eaten. What I would order for a last meal so I could meet my maker with a big grin. One and a half to two inches thick, super juicy, tender and flavorful prime rib. The oak and pecan wood combination comes through with a flavor that enhances the natural flavor. Adds some wildness to it, reminiscent of elk steak.

Habanero Chicken is also great. A spicy barbecue chicken that is moist and has the most unique flavor of any chicken I've eaten. Very good.

Sausage is popular but I like sausage to be more peppered and spicy. I also think the brisket suffers from the open pit. There isn't enough concentration of smoke to properly cook brisket.

Open pits were designed to barbecue most everything except a five pound lump of tough meat. In the deep south where open pits were very popular, I don't think brisket was an option. People ate five pounds of pork for every pound of beef in the south for years after the Civil War. Pigs foraged for food on their own, wild pigs were hunted. Pork ruled.

This is conjecture on my part, but I'll bet the Roberts recipes brought to Texas after the Civil War did not include brisket. Brisket was undoubtedly added because in Texas, you serve brisket or perish. The unwritten rule of Texas barbecue law.

My best recommendation is go on Sunday to take advantage of Prime Meat Day. Get there before 11:30 am to insure a spot on the enclosed porch. This place fills up fast, waiting times start early.

We get there early and watch the place full up while we're filling up! Crowds and waits can be a real problem here. A two hour wait on a weekend is not unusual.

Various plates and combos of meat are offered including family style which is an all you can eat deal for $18.95 per person.

I don't use sauce. But their's is southern style. Not tomato based at all. Sweet, unique and works well with their meat selection especially Habanero chicken and baby back ribs.

RD enjoying himself at Salt Lick BBQ

I love everything about this ol' place and the
fellow with his face in the ribs. On a good
day when the sun is shining, cool breeze blowing,
the Salt Lick serves the most gratifying barbecue
meal I've eaten. Photo/Barbara Lynne

AUSTIN TRAVEL TIP: Visit the town of Wimberley when you come here. Historic old town, river, unique shops, lots of artists, Blue Bell ice cream. A real nice visit. Located about 17 miles southwest of Driftwood on really nice country roads.

MENU: Beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, chicken, turkey. Sandwiches include, sliced or chopped beef, sausage, turkey. Sides; potato salad, cole slaw and beans. Desserts; pecan pie, peach and blackberry cobbler. A la mode or not.

Sunday is Premium Meat Day when you'll find prime rib and baby back ribs on the menu.

CATERING: Indoor and outdoor facilities that can accommodate up to 2,000 people. They can plan weddings, reunions, small conventions, holiday parties or other special events.

Or have them bring their traveling smoker to your event, or ship the barbecue to your kitchen.

The all weather Pavilion sits on the banks of Onion Creek and makes a perfect setting for a wedding reception or other special event.

For more information, call the special events coordinators at (512) 894-3117 or email at catering@saltlickbbq.com.

DON'T MISS: Premium Meat Day (Sunday) – get there early!

MAIL ORDER: Yes – ribs, brisket, sausage, turkey, sauces, rubs, t-shirts and hats. This link opens another window and goes directly to their mail order section. Complete with cooking instructions once you receive your feast. Salt Lick barbecue online.

LOCATION: About 23 miles from downtown Austin. Follow South Lamar Blvd. to Hwy. 290 West. At the "Y" in Oak Hill stay left, continuing on Hwy. 290 west towards Fredericksburg. At the third light, turn left onto FM 1826. Drive 13 miles.

LINK: This goes to their web site and opens in another window; Salt Lick.

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