Austin Loves Its Barbecue Too Much to Regulate the Smoke

If you happen to live in Austin, you may very well live downwind of a barbecue joint. And the sultry, mesquite embrace emitted from the meat equivalent of a forest fire? Well, it might just be driving you batshit crazy.

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Aug 4 2015, 7:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Atomic Hot Links

Austin, Texas, is famous for its barbecue, but being a city known for smoked meat stuff—brisket, pulled pork, ribs—comes at a high price. If you happen to live in Austin, you may very well live downwind of a barbecue joint. And the sultry, mesquite embrace emitted from the meat equivalent of a forest fire? Well, it might just be driving you batshit crazy. Or slowly transmogrifying you into Bobby Flay. Who can say for sure?

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What we can say is this: Being driven crazy by the smoke is exactly what happened to the people who live down the road from Terry Black's Barbecue and La Barbecue, both located in Austin. These neighbors have the good fortune of having some pretty kickass barbecue a stone's throw away, but they say that living next to a barbecue joint isn't all just roses and fat caps. They filed complaints with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, stating that the smoke was affecting their health—not in a good way, like unfettered meat perfume might—and they could no longer enjoy sitting outside in their backyards.

The complaints led Austin Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria to propose barbecue smoke regulations that would require food establishments—restaurants and food trucks—to install smoke-mitigating devices or to move equipment that emits smoke so it doesn't bother the neighbors. Massive, hovering Brita filters come to mind.

But Austin, being the pro-barbecue town that it is, shot the smoke-regulation proposal down: Two committees of the Austin Council considered the proposal, and neither went for it. The Health and Human Services Committee voted 4–0 on Thursday to not pursue a citywide policy that would mitigate barbecue smoke, as did the Economic Opportunity Committee in May.

So, instead of a citywide rule, complaints will be dealt with individually. Skeeter Miller, President of the Austin Restaurant Association, told the local NBC affiliate KXAN that, "To make all BBQ places put this in would crush the industry and put a lot of people out of work."

Meanwhile, Terry Black's Barbecue says they have made changes to cut down on fumes. And LeAnn Mueller of La Barbecue said the food trailer moved its barbecue pits so they are about 150 feet away from neighbors instead of 30 feet away.

"We're not here intentionally trying to ruin a neighborhood," Mueller said.

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Even Council Member Renteria, who proposed the regulations, says he has "no problem" with the outcome of his proposal: "Food establishments realized there are 'simple things' they can do to be good neighbors," he said. "My intention was never to go out and have any of this affect any of the businesses that have been in good standing with the community."

So, what have we learned?

If you want to retain the majority of your extremities, you probably shouldn't talk shit about barbecue in Austin. And some folk won't ever be content, no matter how much free meat perfume you smother them with.