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Mar 11, 2010 11:38 AM

Salt Lick Barbecue - Driftwood - Is the Same One as in late 70's?

I lived in Texas in the late 70's and we would go to the Salt Lick. I'm watching episode of "Food vs Man" on Travel Network and they are featuring Salt Lick. It doesn't look anything like I remember it - but then, it's been 30 years since I've been there. I remember a very small place, not very well known, with a gentleman and an Asian woman in charge (who ran the place like an army camp - I remember her slapping a ruler down on a table telling us to "sit down!"). But, we loved it!

Is this the same place? Has it moved to different building? Are the same people there?

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  1. Yes, it's the same place. Sort of.

    Here's a link to the history:

    And another:

    Thurman met Hisako while he was stationed in Hawaii. They returned to Texas and opened the Salt Lick on his family's ranch land. She came up with the sauce, which has some Asian fruity notes. They opened the restaurant in 1969.

    Thurman died in 1981 and his son has taken over. Although Hisako is still living and you see her around the place occasionally, mostly she's not there.

    The general opinion in Central Texas is that the quality of the barbecue has gone sadly downhill since Thurman's death. The son seems to be far more interested in selling t-shirts, coozies and other memorabilia, and in hauling in large motorcoaches of tourists, and in hosting weddings, corporate events, and bar mitzvahs, than he is in turning out quality 'cue. That large pit is now just used for ambiance and for displaying the meats, and not for any real smoking.

    They're built several large banquet-style outbuildings to host these big events. The main restaurant is still in the "bunkhouse style" building. I'm sure the ambience there is probably much like you remember it.

    But I'll wager that the quality of the meat is not.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Jaymes

      I was lucky enough to go in the mid-seventies when it was really good, and before it was descended upon by the masses. Out of nostalgia, I bought some sauce to serve on the side of some spare ribs I cooked a couple of weeks ago. It was not good.

      1. re: James Cristinian

        Thanks to both of you for helping me understand the history. We lived in San Marcos, while teaching at the College. We'd go to the Salt Lick about once a month with groups of students, all from Texas (we weren't). I have such fond memories of those trips. They'd head out through ranch lands, opening gates (the whole way) with no trespassing signs, and we'd finally get to the Salt Lick after the journey. I just remember the food and friends with some fond memories. This was in 1978-80.

        1. re: wintersummer

          My brother went to school in San Marcos from 1974 to 1978, and he turned me on to Salt Lick. I'd spend the summer up there, and we'd go in the evening and sit outside. We also went to Grins, Herberts Taco Hut, OST for chicken fried steak, the 2nd location of future chain Schlotzky's, and Gils Fried Chicken. We went a couple of years ago and I was in shock. Every chain restaurant you can think of lined I-35, and the traffic on the side streets was terrible, much worse than Houston. The place has almost doubled in size. We went to Grins, and just like Salt Lick, a tour bus was there. It was terrible. Gils was still good, local folk and nary a tourist in site. Ah I miss San Marcos in it's halcyon days.

          1. re: James Cristinian

            Yeah, when we first moved to Austin, it was mid-80's, and the Salt Lick was still good. Thurman hadn't been dead that long and Hisako was running the place like she and Thurman had, long before the son ruined it. We moved to Circle C, pretty close to Driftwood. I had a big family - three kids - and Salt Lick was our standard barbecue joint. We went several times a month, always getting the big "family style" meal.

            It was great.

            Now it feels more like an insult to Thurman and his vision.

            I actually went to the website last August and saw the slogan "Get your back-to-school Salt Lick wardrobe now!" They had a full line of mail order items, including clothing - shirts, shorts, dresses, slacks, hats. The works.

            Really sucks.

            1. re: Jaymes

              That is horrible, Salt Lick school clothes. I saw at least a couple of Food Network celebs, I think Bobby Flay and Duff from Ace of Cakes say how great it is, and what a must visit it is for true Texas bbq. Don't forget the hats and boots, yee-haw.

              1. re: James Cristinian

                Well, lots of the 'cue joints sell t-shirts, and hats and maybe aprons, and a few trinkets. But this was an entire line of clothing. I've checked back recently, and they seem to have cut back to just the more standard selections of t-shirts, etc. So it's not as bad as the "get your back-to-school Salt Lick wardrobe" days.

                But still, I think that the time when the quality of the smoked meats was, for all intents and purposes, the only priority, and certainly the main priority, is long gone.

    2. Times have changed at the Salt Lick in Driftwood. It's a fun experience for a first timer... and we went for a birthday celebration.

      If you are after great BBQ, it wasn't happening last night. I do cut them tons of slack because there was a two hour wait, SXSW was going on and another big event that I don't recall, other than the big birthday.

      All I ordered was brisket and pork ribs. The wet brisket that I ordered was fairly tender but not much smoke or seasoning that I could determine. I don't like too much smoke so I'll say there was very little. The BBQ sauce and hot sauce were not so good and didn't save the brisket for me. Unfortunately, the ribs were more like little rib jerky - but I was served an end piece with very little meat on the bone. I didn't bother with the sides.

      Please keep in mind that it was incredibly busy so I wouldn't say it was a typical experience.

      I'll go again as I thoroughly enjoy the ambiance and the Q is OK, kind of.

      1. When I used to go there in the late 70's, I thought the quality was excelent. Pretty cool atmosphere for an old Boy Scout camp. They had just one pit then if I remember correclly. And if you got there late, they might have been out of certain meats. Miss Texas cue being stuck in New England.