We’ve all seen them. I mean, how could you miss them?

I’m talking about those grills at rest stops. They’ve always piqued my curiosity. And if you’re like me, you’ve wondered, “Who is using them?”

In all my years of traveling the country, I’ve never seen anyone use one. Not a single grill. The elusive roadside griller might be as rare as Bigfoot.

I doubt I am the only one fascinated with these little grills, so I conducted a little research. Turns out, they were part of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Known as “Lady Bird’s Law” after Lyndon B. Johnson’s First Lady. Improving highway aesthetics was one of her priorities, and she created the pathway for these rest stops. There are 77 such safety rest stops in Texas alone, with many more across the country.

After some thought, I figured I’d do something  I’ve never done and cook on one of  these grills. I take road  trips all the time, so why not just load up  and have a little grill party by the road? 

Roadside Grill | SRF
SRF | Roadside Steaks

I started telling my friends about the plan. They all gave me the same look and asked: “Why? That seems like a  lot of work.” Truth be told, it is work, but the older I get, the less interested  I am in doing things the easy way.  And for me, grilling is very therapeutic and forces me to slow down in a constantly evolving, busy world. 

I don’t mind that it takes some time  to unload, build a fire and slow cook. In fact, that is the appeal. 

I iced up the cooler, threw in some Snake River Farms steaks, stocked up my YETI LoadOut with cooking gear and grabbed a bag of charcoal. It was time to get this show on the road.

I pulled into the Gillespie County rest stop, just a stone’s throw away from the Johnson’s ranch in Stonewall, the final resting place of the former president and Lady Bird. 

Robert has always been intrigued by the grills that pepper rest stops across the country. Could they be the ticket to better meals on the road?

Robert Jacob Lerma | Team SRF
Salted SRF Steaks

This location was perfect to take in the essence of why these rest stops were created: taking a break. Walking around, it was easy to understand what makes them practical and necessary. Multiple families sat at picnic tables having lunch, while a few folks were literally asleep at the wheel, parked underneath the live oaks. Despite all the activity, no one was using the grills positioned near each table. 

I decided to get back in my rig and kept going. The town of Blanco was about 20 miles away. I knew there were some grills by the river off Highway 281. That’s where I’d set up shop and fire some meat.   

When I arrived, I noticed a few open spots. One lady was fishing on the riverbank, a few other couples were stretching their legs or walking their dogs. Again, no one was grilling. 

I unloaded the gear and set up on a picnic table. It was easy to tell the grill hadn’t been used in years. I cleaned it, then filled the chimney with charcoal, using sticks nearby to start the fire and set it on top of the grates. Once the coals were nice and hot, I placed them in the grill to burn it out and remove any further debris before scrubbing the grates. It’s important to have clean grates when cooking. 

I salted the steaks when I arrived to give them as much time as possible to dry brine, which amplifies the Mailard reaction and enhances the sear. To be honest, I almost forgot about the steaks. It was easy to get lost in the peacefulness of the river, chatting with all the people walking by, talking about their destinations. Some were traveling from out of state, but most were folks from Texas on day trips. 

The steaks turned out great. I mean, they're SRF. But what I liked most was sharing with people I had never met. It was an afternoon well spent, checking out the roadside grills. 

"It was different in a good way. I should do this more often. Next time, on a longer trip." 

Robert Jacob Lerma | Team SRF