Free beer. There isn’t much that sounds more enticing when you’re standing in a long line in the hot sun waiting for the perfect beef rib. It’s just one of the gratis items that barbecue joints across the state are offering alongside their smoked meat. In Louisiana that little something extra is known as lagniappe. Unless you’re talking about a McRib, barbecue isn’t cheap, so those little extras are enticing. I’m not talking about the requisite pickles, onions, and white bread that most joints provide; these freebies are part of the draw.
Cheap, squishy white bread works well as an edible napkin or as a key ingredient to an impromptu barbecue sandwich, but its primary quality is inoffensive tastelessness. But Austin’s Micklethwait Craft Meats and Hashknife on the Chisholm in Peadenville bake fresh homemade bread to go along with their barbecue plates. It’s still white bread, but it has a heftier texture and some actual flavor—and still free. It’s homemade cornbread that’s free at Dallas’s Slow Bone and at Hog Heaven BBBQ in Big Spring.
A PLETHORA OF PICKLES
You’ll find more than just dill pickle chips from a five gallon bucket at places like Two Bros. BBQ Market in San Antonio and Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas. Both have full pickle bars. Spicy pickle chips, still-crispy jalapeno slices pickled in house and pickled onions are popular at Lockhart Smokehouse while it’s the thick cut homemade pickles at Two Bros. that keep people coming back for seconds. I haven’t tried it, but a tip from Twitter noted the addictive pickled okra at Johnny T’s in Round Rock. You can almost make a meal of pickled freebies at the Slow Bone in Dallas. Sweet chow chow (pickled cabbage) along with pickled onions, jalapeños and house made dills fill up their pickle bar.
WE HAVE SPIRITS, YES WE DO
Every Saturday and Sunday, line-dwellers can pick up an iced-down can of Lone Star at John Mueller Meat Company—though heed the humorous written warning against self-service—and word is they’ll be switching to Fredericksburg-brewed Pedernales beer soon. Free Lone Star is also the choice of Killen’s BBQ in Pearland where the line can get as long as an hour, and la Barbecue taps a keg of Lone Star every day. This particular category of freebie has plenty to do with the lack of a liquor license, but those getting a pleasant buzz just before their brisket don’t really care.
At $1.75 a bottle, the beers at Taylor Café are almost free anyway. There’s no AC in this historic joint, so beers can warm up quickly. To combat this the wait staff will give you a koozie to use while you drink. You can’t take it home, but as long as you’re ordering the cheap beer, Vencil’s koozies will keep them cold.
FOR LEGUME LOVERS
The original Hard 8 in Stephenville once gave away small cups of draft beer, but they did away with the tradition when they got their liquor license. Thankfully you can still get a ladle full of their free beans with every order. All of the Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que locations also have a communal vat of beans that are well seasoned with generous chunks of jalapeno. The free pinto beans at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington are equally as good. You’ll get a cup of the “world famous” pinto bean soup almost immediately after you sit down at Longhorn Cattle Company in San Benito. Word is that Opie’s in Spicewood draws in little old ladies on the weekends, who come bearing empty Tupperware containers to fill up with the complimentary butter beans.
A BRILLIANT AMUSE-BOUCHE
Sadly, the list of Lone Star State lagniappe doesn’t include anything quite as cool as the pink limo that Marlowe’s in Memphis will send to your hotel if you need a ride to the restaurant, but Memphis doesn’t have the best amuse-bouche in the country. That title belongs to Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. Just as you step up to the counter to place your order, the cashier plops a fatty, glistening, pepper encrusted burnt end on your tray. After that bite there’s no doubt that more brisket is required in your order. Others like Franklin Barbecue and John Mueller Meat Company in Austin have borrowed the concept, and I’m personally holding out hope for Fargo’s in Bryan to start setting out their rib tips for sampling.
GOOD AMBIENCE COUNTS
Sometime it’s entertainment that comes at no charge. Friday night live music at the Cele Store just east of Pflugerville requires only an order of barbecue as the cover charge. The bands are good too. Stanley’s in Tyler also offers live music with no cover charge in their newly completed patio most nights. Friday and Saturday night at Miller’s BBQ in Belton also means free live music, and both John Mueller Meat Company and la Barbecue in Austin have live music most weekends.
Depending on your idea of entertainment, you might also enjoy free wi-fi at places like Longoria’s BBQ in Everman, Franklin Barbecue and la Barbecue in Austin, Baker’s Ribs in Dallas, and Double S BBQ in Garland. There are surely more out there where you can write your Yelp review while you eat.
To finish a meal it’s hard to beat Hutchins BBQ in McKinney. If you dine in you can choose from banana pudding, cobbler or even a free cup of coffee. It’s not the best cobbler, but it is free and so is the soft serve that you can add on top. Free soft serve is also a common occurrence at old school cafeteria style barbecue joints like Big Al’s and Mike Anderson’s in Dallas. Most of the Dickey’s chains have soft serve, too, a freebie that proved more sanitary than the communal wheel of cheese they used to have at the original location on Central and Henderson in Dallas. The samples at the Farmers Market in Dallas don’t come from Pecan Lodge, but other vendors in Shed #2 are happy to market to Pecan Lodge’s long line with free tastes of cakes and other sweets. If it’s pie you like, then head over to Marshall’s BBQ in Farmers Branch on Tuesday, which is free apple pie day or Sunday for a slice of cherry pie.
Well-smoked meat will always be the draw for barbecue die-hards, but it’s nice to know that your hard-earned money isn’t required for everything, especially beer.