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St. Louis Wants the Government Out of Its BBQ

The city's backyard grillers—who are, apparently, very active Twitter users—have stormed the 'net to express their dissatisfaction with an EPA-funded study that aims to reduce emissions produced by charred meat.

Lauren Rothman

Photo via Flickr user ucitysoccer

There are certain inalienable privileges promised to each and every US citizen, including freedom of speech and the right to bear arms (and, if desired, cook bacon on them). In the (only slightly altered) words of the Geto Boys, damn, it feels good to be an American.

But while we Americans enjoy the comparatively liberal prerogatives afforded us by our Bill of Rights, we also, often, want the Government to get the fuck out of our way—even if we're a member of that government. Such is the case with Eric Schmitt, a Republican state senator from Missouri who has taken issue, this week, with an Environmental Protection Agency-funded study that proposes to examine the emissions produced when meat is grilled over propane, and to suggest how grills can be altered—with grease-catching drip trays and particulate-reducing filtration systems—to cut down on those emissions.

That all sounds pretty reasonable, especially when you consider the fact that the study isn't even directly EPA-led—rather, it will be conducted by University of California, Riverside college students who won the grant through an annual EPA-sponsored contest—and that the study is taking place in Southern California, about 2,000 miles away from Missouri's capital. And yet somehow—somehow—Senator Schmitt heard about the study, apparently took it to be a campaign to shut down backyard grilling in St. Louis, and took to Twitter, where on Saturday he launched the campaign #PorkSteakRebellion, urging his fellow St. Louis residents to take to their grills in protest.

After linking to a Washington Examiner article entitled "Backyard Burger and Wiener Roasts Targeted by EPA," Schmitt tweeted, "Fired up! Let's fight the #PorkSteakRebellion together." In short order, the Senator also introduced a resolution into the Missouri legislature discouraging any BBQ-altering measures, as well as started an online petition called "Tell the EPA to Back Off Our BBQs." The senator has been a busy man.

Kack Haslag, an administrative assistant who works in Schmitt's office, told MUNCHIES by email that the senator feels that the EPA-funded study is a "waste of taxpayer dollars" and that as an avid griller, he wasn't going to take the government agency's actions lying down. Schmitt was more expansive when speaking with local St. Louis news station Fox2 Now:

"The idea that the EPA wants to find their way into our backyards, where we're congregating with our neighbors, having a good time, on the 4th of July, barbecuing pork steak or hamburgers, is ridiculous and it's emblematic of agency that's sort of out of control," he said.

But before we turn to the Twitter world's response to Schmitt's campaign—which, by the by, has been mighty—let's take a moment to consider the "pork steak," a term that's likely wholly unfamiliar to anyone not dwelling within the Show-Me State's borders.

"In St. Louis, it's a famous cut," explained Joe LeGrand, owner of the city's venerable LeGrand's Market & Catering, when we reached him by phone yesterday. The family-owned store deals in both fresh butchered meat as well as many types of prepared St. Louis-style BBQ, and its online lists pork steak first and foremost. "It comes from a pork shoulder and is sliced thin on a saw, which means that every steak has a little piece of bone. Bone-in cuts tend to be moister, and this is a very tender cut," LeGrand said. The city's Riverfront Times, in its 2014 guide to St. Louis's best restaurant pork steaks, opines, "It's not a St. Louis summer without some pork steaks on the grill. Outsiders may not understand it, but boy, are they missing out." LeGrand, for his part, likes to season his pork steaks with a homemade dry rub, then grill them over hickory wood.

And as St. Louis Twitter users have demonstrated over the past few days, they, too, are passionate about their (again, not at all threatened) pig meat. Take a look at some of these #PorkSteakRebellion responses:

And so, the Midwestern city has taken up a new cause: fighting for its right to BBQ, a right that no one is challenging.

"I'm not sure how this came up," Rachel Feinstein of the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association told MUNCHIES. "They have almost nothing to worry about."

Feinstein explained that while most avid BBQers in the US and the rest of the developed world cook outdoors in well-ventilated areas, thus minimizing their exposure to any emissions produced by their propane-fired grills, cooks in developing nations typically aren't so lucky, instead grilling indoors in poorly ventilated areas. Any insight gained through the study would likely be applied far from St. Louis and the rest of the US. And backyard grillers certainly shouldn't be concerned about being forced to install new parts on their Webers.

"[The EPA] stated very clearly that they are not regulating cookstoves," Feinstein said.

Still, Feinstein said she could understand how the issue became so heated.

"I know a lot of people are very passionate about grilling and barbecuing," she said. "And that passion gets amplified if there's any threat of those activities being limited or taken away."

True enough. So, in the (tweeted) words of Senator Schmitt, "grill, baby, grill."