Food & Drink

Ribs with Hill-Country Heritage

The secret to beef ribs at The Salt Lick, a Texas favorite

When I was in school at Texas A&M, I would drive miles out of my way to eat at The Salt Lick, a legendary barbecue joint in little Driftwood, Texas. I knew the brisket was good. I did not know, however, until I opened the new Salt Lick Cookbook, about the centuries of family history behind it.

Owner Scott Roberts’s ancestors came to Texas by wagon in the second half of the nineteenth century. The trail seasoned their Southeastern methods of slow-cooking meat and chopping slaw, as did the family’s first decades in rural Texas. In 1967, Thurman Roberts took son Scott and a ranch hand to a hill on the family property, where he told them to build a concrete pit. That pit became his barbecue stand. Thurman would sleep beside it, tending the coals himself, in the early days. Over the years, his pit took on the walls, tables, staff, and regular hours of the restaurant it is now.

The only Salt Lick signature not in the new cookbook, compiled by Scott Roberts and local writer Jessica Dupuy, is the barbecue sauce, a tangy mustard-and-vinegar slurry purportedly influenced by Thurman’s wife’s Japanese roots. Beyond that, it’s all fair game. Roberts gives up step-by-step pictorials on his methods of smoking brisket, sausage, and ribs and offers enough side dishes and desserts to feed the town of Driftwood several times over.

Make these beef ribs for a hearty taste of the Texas Hill Country.


  • Salt Lick Beef Ribs

    • 1 rack beef back ribs

    • 1 bottle favorite dry rub, or the Salt Lick's dry rub—see recipe below

    • 1 bottle favorite barbecue basting sauce (one without tomatoes in it)

  • Salt Lick Dry Rub

    • 7 1/2 oz. Morton salt

    • 3 oz. black pepper, medium grind

    • 1 1/2 oz. cayenne pepper, ground


  1. For the Salt Lick Beef Ribs: Heat smoker to 225 degrees. Remove skin from back of bone side of ribs and discard. Rub each rack of ribs with dry rub for a moderately heavy coating. Place ribs meat-side down on rack of closed smoker midway from the main heat source. Cook ½ hour. Lightly baste each rack with the barbecue sauce, then turn over and baste meat side. Let temperature of smoker cool to 180 degrees. Baste every 1½ hours for a total cook time of 6½ hours.

  2. Check internal temperature of ribs in center of rack, making sure thermometer is not touching bone. If temperature is 160 degrees, ribs are ready for removal. If not, monitor temperature every 15 minutes, until ribs have reached 160 degrees. Remove to wire cooling rack on flat sheet pan. Baste ribs once more, and separate individual ribs with sharp knife. Serve immediately.

  3. For the dry rub: Combine well before use.

Chef's Notes

Though pork ribs are more often associated with barbecue, beef ribs are a quintessential part of the Texas barbecue family. Quite a bit larger than pork spare ribs, beef ribs are sold as one per order. We sell them as a “double cut” by butchering out every other bone so that you get double the meat in your order. They’re rich and smoky and one of the best cuts of beef you’ll ever put in your mouth. We’ve had a number of celebrity chefs come here throughout the years, and the beef ribs have always been a big hit.

The Salt Lick dry rub is a simple recipe with three ingredients. The trick is figuring out the right grind size. We have had to adjust this in order to sell it commercially in bottles. Feel free to adjust as you see fit.

Recipe from Scott Roberts of The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, excerpted from Salt Lick Cookbook