Regulating BBQ smoke gets early approval from city council

Black's BBQ smokes its meats in Lockhart and delivers them to their Austin location.

Did Austin’s city council really ban BBQ and BBQ smoke? No.

The city council did give preliminary approval to an ordinance but strong opposition prompted the council member who proposed the change to the city code pulled it from the meeting agenda. The measure will not move forward unless it is refiled by a council member.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin City Council members debated a plan Thursday to put restrictions on smoke from barbecue restaurants.

Council member Pio Renteria asked council to amend city code and regulate the amount of smoke that comes from food trucks and restaurants within 100 feet of residential areas.

Renteria said residents complained to him that smoke coming from BBQ joints caused them to not be able to open their windows or enjoy their backyards. People living near the La Barbeque trailer in East Austin told their stories before council.

“They smoke several days a week, generally five days a week for 17 hours,” said Bruce Hughes. “I can no longer open windows, the smoke seeps in from the attic.”

Restaurant owners also went before council asking for flexibility, especially for places that have not faced complaints.

“My concern is that that if we have an ordinance that paints all of us into one group of folk that may not be good neighbors,” said Hoover Alexander, board member of the Greater Austin Restaurant Association. “We’re going to be penalized without considerations of other solutions.”

Council members ultimately gave preliminary approval to the smoke restrictions, but recommended making amendments before approving up a final version of the ordinance. The proposed ordinance was removed from the table and the council is no longer perusing it.


Earlier Report:

Austin barbecue lovers, new city rules could force changes to the cooking process. Smoke coming from the pits has some residents fired up. Right now, the city does not have any regulations that state how much smoke can be emitted from restaurants and mobile food venders. And because food trailer parks are moving next to neighborhoods, some residents have complained to their city council members.

Pio Renteria, who represents District 3 in East Austin, is now spearheading an amendment to the city code to require any restaurant or food truck that burns wood or charcoal, located within 100 feet of residential properties, to find a way to mitigate the smoke. He is suggesting that businesses either buy expensive smoke scrubbers or use gas-operated pits with wood chips. Renteria said other states use that method to limit the smoke.

At Black’s BBQ on Guadalupe Street, they have been smoking meats for 82 years in Lockhart. Pitmaster Kent Black thinks if the city is going to take action, he hopes the rules don’t apply to every business.

“Just make it a little more specifically aimed at where the problem is and hopefully not burden all of the other restaurants — where it’s not a problem,” said Kent Black, third-generation pitmaster at Black’s BBQ.

Some BBQ joint owners believe changing the way they smoke the meats will change the flavor and say that won’t help business. But Renteria said the complaints he’s received show it’s time to look at this issue.

“The smoke is just overwhelming,” said Renteria. “It goes into the neighborhood and lingers there. And the people are getting upset and saying, ‘We can’t sit in our backyards. We can’t open up our windows; the smoke comes in there.'”

The city manager has until May 21 to gather feedback from the public and business owners. Then, the Planning Commission will consider changes before sending recommendations back to council. City Council is expected to take public comment during their meeting Thursday.

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