With this being my last year as a student, and by extension my last spring break EVER, I decided to go big–Texas style. I spent one glorious week in Austin, enjoying the warm weather and exploring the city’s incredible food scene. Of course, no trip to Austin would be complete without sampling the Lone Star State’s most famous dish: BBQ. I stopped at The Salt Lick and Franklin Barbecue, two of Austin’s most famous BBQ joints, and am happy to report that both lived up to, and went far beyond, my wildest BBQ dreams.
The Salt Lick, located about 45 minutes outside of Austin in Driftwood, TX, is a Hill Country institution. For over 45 years, The Salt Lick has been serving its signature BBQ, cooked over a legendary open pit. The meat smokes for hours atop a low fire of oak wood and pecan shells. The mouthwatering aroma hits you about a mile away, as you drive up the highway and arrive at The Salt Lick’s idyllic grounds.
My friends and I went to Salt Lick on a Saturday afternoon, and had to wait for an hour (which turned out to be nothing compared to Franklin–more on that below). By the end of the hour though, we almost didn’t want the wait to end! It was absolutely beautiful weather that day, perfect for walking around the expansive grounds or listening to the awesome live band playing outside. The Salt Lick certainly knows how to keep guests entertained and play up its Texas charm.
After the hour lapsed, we were promptly seated in one of the many dining rooms. I appreciated that the hostess did not force us to share a communal table with strangers, instead giving our small group of 3 a huge table all to ourselves. Our waiter, Matt, was also awesome, accommodating our many photo requests and menu questions.
We ordered an all-you-can-eat family style meal ($19.95 per person) and a double beef ribs plate ($19.95). The family style meal came with unlimited brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, beans, bread, and housemade pickles. I can wholeheartedly say that I loved everything on my plate. The brisket was fall-apart tender, with just the right amount of fat that instantly melted in my mouth. While I am not a big sausage fan, I could not stop eating Salt Lick’s; it was spicy and smokey, with a nice bite to it. And everything was doused in Salt Lick’s famous BBQ sauce, made with a secret recipe rumored to have 32 ingredients. I literally could drink the sauce–it was sweet and mustardy, without being pungent or sour.
Surprisingly, another favorite was the sides. The coleslaw had a clear Japanese influence, perhaps from the owners’ mother, who was Japanese-American from Hawaii. Flecked with sesame seeds, the coleslaw had a mild rice vinegar flavor and had just the right acidity to counterbalance the meat. I also could not stop eating the bread, which was not your traditional white sandwich bread. This bread was fluffy, light, and slightly sweet, almost like Hawaiian bread.
The beef ribs were almost comical in how large they were! The meat was very rich, and intensely beefy. I could only eat one bite, but that bite was magical.
For good measure, we decided to order the BBQ chicken ($10.95), which is only available “when in season.” It turned out to be a good decision, because that was possibly the best BBQ chicken I’ve ever had. The smoke completely penetrated the chicken, leaving the meat moist and flavorful. The skin was completely coated in that luscious sauce, some of which caramelized over the grill.
As if we weren’t full enough after our BBQ feast, our awesome waiter Matt brought over a complementary peach and blackberry cobbler for us to try. Topped with vanilla ice cream, the cobbler was comforting and tasted like it had been made with love. I especially loved the topping, which was more cake-like and not the more traditional biscuit or crumble topping.
And obviously, I couldn’t leave Salt Lick without trying a slice (read: a SLICE, not a whole pie) of pecan pie ($4.95). In contrast to other pecan pies I’ve had, Salt Lick (or maybe Texas in general?) tops their pecan pies with a layer of whole pecans, rather than mixing pieces of pecans with the filling. The pie was delicious, with the thick crust offsetting the sweetness of the filling perfectly.
The Salt Lick was overall, the best BBQ experience I’ve ever had. Every detail, from the rustic setting to the gracious service to the stick-to-your-ribs BBQ, added to our memorable experience. The Salt Lick is certainly a tourist trap in every sense of the word, but it is a tourist trap well worth going to, and can’t be missed on any trip to Austin. I would go back in a heartbeat.
The Salt Lick
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX 78619
Open everyday 11am-10pm
Cash only and BYOB