The world of barbeque encompasses a huge variety of flavors and techniques. There’s Brazilian barbeque, known as churrascaria, where prime cuts of beef and other delectable morsels are cooked and served on long skewers. There’s Char Siu, the chinese version, featuring pelts of tender, juicy pork cooked over an open fire until they’re dark mahogany with a sweet and spicy crust on the outside. There’s Korean barbeque, the DIY method where you cook your beef short ribs over a small charcoal or gas grill right at your table. All over the American south and southwest, styles and methods of barbeque have been morphing and localizing for centuries, since early man slapped his first slab of buffalo meat over an open fire. However, for me Texas barbeque is where it’s at and nobody quite nails it like The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. The Salt Lick started by process of elimination in 1967. Thurman Roberts was tired of life on the road with a bridge construction company and longed to spend more time at home with his family. He and his wife made a list of the 54 things they could do to stay in their beloved Driftwood and selling barbeque was #14 on the list. Thurman had been wowing friends and family with his slow-cooked meats for years, now was his chance to show the world. He and his sons built a brick barbeque pit in the middle of Nowhere, Texas and the Salt Lick was born. Today, The Salt Lick not only serves succulent brisket, turkey, sausage and pork ribs to thousands of diners every day at three different locations, they also cater, hold special events and weddings, sell their sauces and t-shirts…….heck, their original Driftwood location even has a winery now.
For Texas barbeque mavens, The Salt Lick is a religious experience, a sacred journey to nourish our souls with smoked meats anointed with the ethereal smoke of the live oak tree and a touch of tangy barbeque sauce. When you walk in the door, the first thing you see is the pit, bejeweled with dark roasted brisket and racks of ribs slowly cooking on the grate and plump pork sausages hanging above, dripping with otherworldly juices. The way its built actually resembles a shrine, as if these folks have a direct pipeline to barbeque heaven. To worship at the Salt Lick is to take a step closer to nirvana.
The Salt Lick offers an all-you-can-eat option, with all the meats and sides served family style and you eat until you keel over in a meat coma. For those of us with normal appetites, there are three and four meat plates with potato salad, coleslaw, beans and the traditional condiments of white bread, pickles and onions. I chose ribs, sausage and beef brisket. They actually ask you if you want your brisket lean or not so lean and you know what I ordered, right? The brisket was melting with a thin ribbon of fat through it. I took my first bite and had to stop in mid chew as my soul began to rise from my body. The rib was perfectly smoked and because they use live oak wood, the smokey flavor lightly caressed the back of my pallet. The sausage was mild and lovely and the sides simple and delicious. Unlike most Texas barbeque spots, The Salt Lick lightly dresses the plate with their signature sauce. It’s a tangy, mustard based sauce with richness and depth of flavor and it adds a high note to the fatty meat. It’s the perfect complement. And what’s a plate of barbeque without a tall, cold glass of iced tea?
Maybe its the Texas hill country landscape with its gentle, treeless slopes rolling joyfully across the horizon. Maybe its the rustic wooden beams, the rough-hewn decor and the welcoming atmosphere. Maybe its the flavors and aromas of really well cooked barbeque. Whatever the magic combination of circumstances is, call it divine inspiration if you will, I walked out of the Salt Lick feeling invigorated with a new spring in my step. According to Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen, barbqcue makes old ones feel young, barbeque makes everybody someone. If you’re feeling puny, you don’t know what to do, let your feet hit the street, find a good place to eat, treat yourself to some meat, get some barbeque. Robert, I could not agree more.