Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Salt Lick Cookbook

The Salt Lick is a place that holds many fond memories for me.  Back in the mid 70's, I spent one year at U.T. Austin, mostly partying (and I had the G.P.A. to prove it).  The Salt Lick already held legendary status by that time, mainly for their Family Style service.  I don't remember the exact pricing, but as I recall, the deal was they would serve up to 6 people, family style, all you could eat, for $30 or so.  At least twice a month, we would be scouring the dorm trying to find 6 people who had at least $5 and were willing to drive "way out in the country" to Driftwood.   There was never a problem finding folks who wanted to go, but finding folks with $5 was a bit tougher.  Many a night we closed the place down and left so full we didn't need to eat for a day or two after.

I was not much of a rib eater back then, but I could never get enough of their brisket and sausage.  They also had delicious bread, baked fresh, served hot and just about the only side I ever ate.  The trick was not getting filled up on bread and that was difficult because it was so good.

I remember my folks coming down to visit one weekend and I had to take  them out to the Salt Lick (their treat, of course).  We sat on the closed in porch and had a nice visit while we dined on some fine smoked meats.  It was during the spring and the hummingbird feeders were buzzing with activity and my folks were just fascinated.  Soon after that, hummingbird feeders started appearing along the back of their house and that was something they enjoyed to the end of their days. 

Now this was all long before I started getting crazy about BBQ.  I don't have a single photo from back then, except in my head.  The last time I was in Driftwood to eat was back in 2005, but I did just sample them again at the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival last weekend.  Imagine my surprise at receiving an e-mail this week about a new Salt Lick Cookbook and an offer to review it for my blog.  Now I have received offers like that before, but I usually decline in favor of folks like Man Up or Full Custom Gospel because they are doing a lot more with BBQ than I ever will.  I just like to eat.  However this source peaked my interest and I quickly had a PDF version of the book in my in box to peruse.  A few hours later I had read through the whole thing!

First off, this is not really a BBQ book.  It is more of a family cookbook that happens to include some very good BBQ tips and recipes.  The most interesting parts, to me, were the family history and stories of how the Salt Lick came to be.  I remember wondering how that little Japanese lady happened to be running a Texas BBQ joint way out in the country south of Austin.  Well the whole story is right there in the book.  It's a great story.  Only in Texas would you find a recipe for chicken-fried venison prefaced with a story of how little Hisako Roberts knocked down a big buck with a bucket full of pecans then dispatched it with a rock!  The book is full of stories like that, interspersed with family recipes, some familiar, some not, but all tied together by the Roberts family and their hill country BBQ business. 

The BBQ part of the book starts to get serious on page 179.  First off, no, they do not reveal their sauce recipe.  There has to be a little mystery remaining, right?  Pit master Scott Roberts tells you all about brisket, sausage, pork and beef ribs, from how to select the right piece of meat, to carving it up after it's done.  There is a great little BBQ school in just 30 pages or so.  But there is much more.  Chicken, prime rib, turkey, and even desserts like peach cobbler and pecan pie have their own recipes and yummy photos.  There are even step by step photos for some recipes, like pecan pie, which show you each step in the process.  I can promise you I am going to be trying a few of these recipes soon.  Especially the brisket poppers and brisket burgers. 

There are many more photos in the book, not just of food, but of the hill country around Driftwood and historic photos of the Roberts family and their land.  In fact "lavishly illustrated" would be a good term to use, so there it is.  The total runs about 330 pages and a rough guess on the make-up would be about 20% family stories and history, 40% recipes, and 40% photos.  It's a nice mix and an easy ready.  The pictures will make you hungry and the recipes are right there to help you fix that.  The book won't be out til later this year, but you can pre-order now through the Salt Lick website.  I ordered one for myself and look forward to adding it to my bookshelf!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Texas Monthly BBQ Festival 2012

sampled 9/23/12 
Another wonderful meat extravaganza down and (mostly) done.  This was their third festival and the second one I was able to attend.  Having learned our lesson on year one, I had my buddy Dave waiting online to score us V.I.P. tickets the moment they went on sale.  We showed up a full hour before V.I.P. entry and ended up about 30th in line.   The rumor going down the line was that they sold 500 V.I.P. tickets this year and it definitely seemed like the V.I.P. crowd was almost double what it was last year.

As usual I prepared by fasting the previous day and kept to small samples from each booth.  We managed to try all 21 participants in about 2 and a half hours.
 We were joined by Dave's buddy Bill who made the rookie mistake of filling up early.  However he was helped by our game plan which meant we scheduled some of the best joints right at the start.  Our first 3 targets were Franklin, Snow's, and Pecan Lodge.  The one to one comparison of Snow's and Franklin last year was an easy win for Franklin.  Not so this year.  Snow's brisket had perfectly rendered fat and a nice smoke flavor.  The sausage was average.
I had been looking forward to trying Pecan Lodge.  I have heard nothing but good things, yet have never managed to find myself in downtown Dallas for lunch on the days they were open.  That might have to change and soon.  They knocked it out of the park on brisket, beef ribs and pork ribs.  All were exceptional.  In fact, they were so exceptional, both Dave and Bill went back later and got more!  Yes, it was that good. I heard many people in the crowd, throughout the day, talking about Pecan Lodge's quality meats.  Too bad there was no voting for people's choice this year.  Franklin's, I hate to say, was a disappointment.  Maybe it was because we hit them early, maybe it was because they were serving just lean brisket when we were there, I don't know.  It just came across as tender roast beef. 

After our top 3, we ran from stand to stand, usually gathering 3 or 4 to take back to our table to sample.  This year we found a spot under one of the tents and just kind of camped out there.  When Bill filled up on food early, he stayed and guarded our spots so we always had a seat to try our food at.  It was a good system and served us well.

I have to say overall, the food was a bit better than it was last year.  I had at least 6 good smoky pieces of brisket including Baker's, Snow's, City Market, Goode Company, and Lambert's.  I marked down Lambert's as number 2 to Pecan Lodge.  I think we had more good ribs last year but I noted Baby J's, Stanley's, Vincek's, with Baby J's being number 2 to Pecan Lodge.  I thought Opie's beef rib was superior, but my co-conspiriters  raved on Pecan Lodge.  I guess I just got a bad rib. I never found any really good sausage.  Probably the best flavor was from Smitty's, but their super thick and chewy casing just ruins it for me.

There were all kinds of famous folks milling about.  I saw Daniel the BBQ snob and Drew from Man Up but never got to visit with them.  Aaron Franklin was signing autographs.  However for me the real BBQ royalty was seated over at the Taylor Cafe booth.  Mr. Vencil Mares was there in person this year and anyone who can operate a BBQ joint for over 60 years is BBQ royalty in my book.
You might have noticed I said "mostly" done when I started this post.  As usual, I brought along some ziploc bags for taking home leftovers.  When I sampled each stop, I just took a bite or two, then consigned what was left to the bag.  A few didn't qualify, but by the time I was finished I had around 5 pounds of smoked meat to take home in the cooler.  That should make for some nice dinners this week, even if some of it will need sauce.  I can't wait for TMBBQ Fest number 4 next year!!
Two more posts follow with just food and booth pictures.

TMBBQ pictures part 1


TMBBQ pictures part 2


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Drat. Then Yum!

Despite best laid plans we find out Franklin's is closed all next week.  Drat!  I guess I'll just have to settle on eating my fill at the third annual Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. 

However to make me feel better, my Mrs made pie.  I do feel better.

Friday, September 14, 2012

You snooze, you lose

Well, I had great plans to grab some Meat Fight tickets for Scott and I this morning when I got up.  Unfortunately I spent a little too much time dreaming of BBQ and not enough time getting up to buy tickets.  By the time I hit their website they were sold out.  Oh well, I'll just have to make do with a freezer full of Aaron Franklin's brisket, if my buddy Dave can work his magic next weekend.  He gets up early.  Got my fingers crossed!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wanna be on a BBQ TV show? Here's your chance

Got this e-mail through my blog and they said to share it so here it is!  Looks like they're mainly looking for cooks and restaurants rather than just eaters like me, but good luck to YOU!  Click on the letter for a larger view.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Bedford Blues and BBQ 2012

sampled September 2, 2012

This was my third KCBS judging stint at the annual Bedford Blues and BBQ Festival.  As there are not many KCBS events in Texas, this is billed as the KCBS Texas State Championship.  This year there were 59 cooks competing, up a bit from the 51 last year.  We had plenty of judges present, I'd guess about 60 or so.  The judges meeting kicked off at 10:30 am with the usual instructions, CD, and the BBQ oath.  The food began to arrive at noon and continued non-stop til 3:30 pm.  Overall, I was disappointed with the quality of the entries I sampled this year.  I had one piece of chicken which was exceptional, but the ribs, brisket and pulled pork were all very average.  Discussions with the other judges after we had turned in our score cards showed I was not alone in that evaluation.

After the 4 main meats, about 2/3 of the judges departed, and us hardcore types stuck around to try sides, sauce and desserts.  Since we had a much smaller judging crew left, they split us up on sauce and beans and our table received 10 samples of sauce.  Again, several were "OK", but nothing stood out, except in a negative way!  One, I swear, was just ketchup.  Maybe one of the cooks was just screwing with us, but I don't think there was anything in that cup but store brand ketchup!   Another was so thick it was gelled and laid on my plate in a pile!  A pile of sauce.  Ick.  I wish I could have taken a photo of that, but we're not allowed to take pictures of entries.  Potato salad was up next and this was one of the better categories of the day.  The fact that a sponsor had kicked in a $1000 prize probably helped that a bit.  The one that stood out to me had bits of bacon and grilled shrimp.  Yum!  Desserts were last and as they came in there were oohs and ahhhs from the judges.  We were even lobbying for specific entries, "Hey, we wanna judge that cake!"   Some of them really looked great.  We ended up with only two dessert entries to judge at our table, and the standout was a peanut butter cream chocolate cheese cake.  It was as good as it sounds. 

I left a full and happy man after a fun afternoon of sampling some pretty good food with some really nice folks.  Once again the facilities at Bedford were great.  We dined in air-conditioned comfort and the KCBS staff did a great job of running the fast moving events.  I hope to be back for number 4 next year!