The Incidental Tourist

REVIEW: The Best BBQ I’ve Ever Encountered at an Airport

Salt Lick is a very well known Austin BBQ restaurant, featured on several foodie TV shows, magazines, newspaper articles and so forth.  It’s one of those “If you’re ever in Austin, you have to have dinner at …” kind of places.  And that’s with good reason.  I was thus very disappointed on Thursday night when my friends and I missed out on dinner at Salt Lick because of a storm that blew through leaving ice and sleet everywhere.  The manager closed up early so his staff could get home safely, and I can’t fault him for that.  I’ve done exactly the same in the past when I was a restaurant manager in Chapel Hill.

But even if you don’t get the chance to try out their world famous smoked beef brisket, fear not, intrepid traveler, for there is a small Salt Lick satellite at the Austin airport.

Located Airside just to the right once you pass security, Salt Lick sits next to an ice cream shop on the right hand side of the terminal across from Gate 13.  They have a smaller menu than the flagship restaurant, but the specialties are well represented, from smoked sausage to beef brisket to BBQ sliders.  This is some of the best Texas BBQ and it can be had right here in the airport.

There’s been a sort of renaissance at airports around the country as the various management groups realize that travelers expect quality, variety and comfort when they travel.  No one wants to fly 4 hours and then have to sit for 2 in hard plastic seats with coin-operated televisions as they did in days past.  Today’s travelers want to shop, eat, drink and relax.  They want massages.  Shoe shines.  New watches, electronics and chances to pick up those odds and ends they forgot to pack.  They want last minute souvenirs, and in Austin, they want BBQ.

There are actually two places for BBQ at the Austin Airport, a Roadhouse and Salt Lick.  I chose Salt Lick specifically because I wanted to experience their brisket and I was not disappointed.  For $12.95 I received a scoop of non-mustardy or mayonnaisey potato salad, some slaw that wasn’t liquid, but rather full of satisfying chunks of cabbage, some beans that were NOT sweet, but rather the Texas style of baked beans and of course, a heaping pile of tender smoked beef brisket that literally fell apart under fork.  No gristle, but just enough buttery fat along with the meet to give it a slightly sweeter flavor amidst the smokey essence of the meat.  salt-lick-bbq

Covering the meat was one of the best non-Carolina BBQ sauces I’ve tried.  It was tangy, and just spicy enough to be interesting without overriding the flavor of the sauce itself.  It complimented the meat perfectly and they were not chintzy with it either.

Oh, there was a bun too, but who cares about bread when you have a plate full of smoked brisket swimming in delectable sauce?

From the first bite to the last, I had a Texas sized smile and a feeling of utter contentment as I enjoyed every last piece of Texas steer until that unfortunate moment where I was finally out of food and had to resign myself to cataloguing this experience to my memory to savor for many days to come as I look back fondly on my last few moments in Austin.

I’ve often said that there are only two places where you can find acceptable Bar-B-Que in the world.  For pork, there can be only North Carolina, and even within NC you have your choice of pure vinegar based Eastern style or the more mustardy and thicker Western style.  For beef, you can not beat Texas beef brisket.  And if the small satellite operation at AUS is an indication of just how good Salt Lick is, I will definitely make it a point to try the actual restaurant in Austin on my next visit.

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