Badge of honor
Short of a plate of brisket, The Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family, and Love (University of Texas Press, $39.95) would surely be the No. 1 item on any barbecue lover's wish list. As much biography as it is cookbook, it covers not just recipes but the history of one of the best known barbecue restaurants in Texas. It's also a visual stunner, with 350 pages and breathtaking images by photographer Kenny Braun.
The book occupies a special niche at CultureMap because it was co-written by Jessica Dupuy, who serves as food editor for CultureMap Austin. Dupuy, who also writes for Texas Monthly, Texas Highways and other publications, partnered up with Salt Lick owner and pitmaster Scott Roberts to tell the story of his family, filtered through their recipes, some dating back more than a century.
Salt Lick is Dupuy's second cookbook collaboration with a restaurateur; in 2011, she wrote Uchi: The Cookbook with Tyson Cole, chef and owner of Uchi, Austin's highly-rated Japanese restaurant (and former home of Top Chef Paul Qui).
Salt Lick is Jessica Dupuy's second cookbook with a restaurateur; in 2011, she wrote Uchi: The Cookbook with Tyson Cole.
Dupuy spent a couple of months getting to know Roberts before the direction of the book emerged.
"I sat in the car with Scott Roberts for oh, two months before we actually had an idea of how it was going to come together," she says. "He'd drive around telling me stories about the Hill Country, stories of his life. I realized, this is not going to be a typical cookbook with appetizers, salads, entrees, desserts. This is a man’s story, with food being the main driver for all these memories he had."
The book is broken into chapters that are propelled by the main influences in his life, the primary one being his grandmother.
"He had so many memories of her — in many ways, she raised him," Dupuy says. "And the house she had that he grew up in on weekends, is still standing across from Salt Lick. That property has been in their family for about 100 years."
Another key figure in Roberts' life is his wife Susan.
"She's his personal profile in courage in that she's had some serious tragic events in her life, including a brain aneurysm — she shouldn't be alive today," Dupuy says. "They have a sweet relationship, and we made that its own piece. And his brother died at a very young age of 18, so there's a story about him."
From there, she began poring through recipes, many hand-written from his grandmother and his mom.
"Recipes like his grandmother's biscuits, his mother’s blueberry muffins — each has an individual story," Dupuy says. "The food you find at Salt Lick, the potato salad, the cole slaw that doesn't have mayonnaise — that's unusual. The way they cook barbecue is similar to the way they did it on the wagon wheel train. You couldn't preserve mayonnaise; you made things you could keep in your wagon."
One thing not shared is a recipe for barbecue sauce.
"There's only one chapter on barbecue – that's harder to do," Dupuy says.
"There's only one chapter on barbecue — that's harder to do," she says. "Salt Lick's is very different from the predominant German influence; they use sauce, they baste while they're cooking, and most everyone else uses dry rub. There are suggestions for using a Weber grill, but there's no way to replicate what anyone does, whether it's Aaron Franklin or Pecan Lodge."
Growing up in central Texas, Salt Lick was part of Dupuy's life when she was young.
"My father stumbled across their prime rib, and so on Father's Day, we'd make this pilgrimage out to Salt Lick," she says. "But never in my life would I have thought I would be writing a cookbook.
"In central Texas, we like to talk about how we've got the best barbecue, but it's not even the issue of whether you think it's the best," she says. "They draw 3,000 people every weekend, obviously because they like the food. It's a piece of Texas legend, and Scott Roberts is a man who cares deeply about what his family has built. The more I got to know the story, the more I felt it was a real honor to tell it for him."
Dupuy shares a recipe from the book for Salt Lick's prime rib, with this explanation:
"To be honest, I've never even ordered one of the steak-a-saurus ribs for myself. But it's because of this big juicy cut of beef that I had my first introduction to the Salt Lick. And I can thank my dad for that. Everyone loves a holiday tradition. And when it came to Father's Day, my dad somehow zeroed in on the Salt Lick in my late teenage years while growing up in the Lake Travis area. Each year when we'd ask where he wanted to go for his Father's Day meal, the Salt Lick was always his answer. And while he truly loved the barbecue, it was the Sunday Prime Rib special that drew his attention the most.
Each time we hopped in the car and bumped around on Ranch Road 12 through Dripping Springs, I geared up for a Texas-sized feast. (The kind comparable only to a Thanksgiving meal.) And each year, we were all happily rewarded. My father had his once-a-year allotment of prime rib—with two antacids and a Lipitor on the side—and the rest of the family got elbow deep in ribs, sausage and brisket. If it hadn't been for that colossal prime rib every Father's Day, who knows when I would have fallen for this barbecue legend.
Salt Lick Prime Rib with Jalapeno-Tomatillo Horseradish Sauce
1 10-pound prime rib
Roast garlic salt
Heat smoker to 225 degrees. Evenly season (medium heavy) prime rib with garlic salt. Place rib on smoking rack midway from heat source. Do not baste prime ribs. Smoke for 2 hours. Check internal temperature at thickest part of prime rib, targeting 125 degrees. If it has not reached 125 degrees, check in 15-minute intervals until temperature is reached. Remove prime ribs from smoker and place on wire rack, bone-side down. Serve with jalapeño-tomatillo horseradish sauce.
Jalapeño-Tomatillo Horseradish Sauce:
12 tomatillos, husked and washed
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 jalapeños, chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup prepared horseradish, drained
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, and jalapeño in medium roasting pan, toss with oil, and season. Cook until mixture is soft, but do not allow it to color, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to food processor, and process until smooth. Add vinegar, horseradish, and cilantro, and pulse just to combine. Season with salt and pep- per. Scrape into bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.