Austin looks to regulate barbecue smoke

AUSTIN (KXAN) — 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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