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August 17th, 2017

Insight

When the Barbecue Police come knocking

John Kass

By John Kass

Published July 30, 2015

In a country where government keeps busybodying its way into every corner of our lives, I suppose this one was inevitable:

Meet the Barbecue Police.

If the smoke from your backyard barbecue blows over your property line, they'll come knocking at your door, with their clipboards and officious ways, to tell you that your backyard barbecue is fouling the air.

"That's unheard of," said Chris Matt of St. Petersburg, Fla., a backyard barbecue guy, in a video shot the other day that has gone viral.

"That's horse (bleep)," said his friend Scotty Jordan, the one shooting the video.

Horse bleep it is, my BBQ friends. Government horse bleep.

If you watch the video, as have millions since it was posted just days ago, you'll see Matt talking to Pinellas County, Fla., environmental specialist Joe Graham.

A neighbor across the street complained about Matt's barbecue. In fact, she'd complained at least a dozen times before.

So there was the Barbecue Police following up on a neighbor's beef.

"I can smell barbecue on the street," says Graham, aka the Barbecue Police.

"Everybody can cook out except me," says Matt. "Come on, man. Come on, man. Every time I barbecue she calls the police."

Yes, it's shocking, but it happens sometimes when you light charcoal and cook meat and the wind blows.

And here is where the Founding Fathers -- if we still care about them in this country where bureaucrats are the new heroes -- start rolling over in their graves.

After the Founders roll around some, I hope they'll climb out of their tombs, take their canes and give the entire Pinellas County government a few hard thwacks. Maybe kick them in the behind too.

In the video, Graham says it's OK if the smoke stayed on Matt's property, but it had crossed the property line.

"You're allowed to have it smell on your property, so that doesn't count, but when I'm on the street, that's when it counts," he tells Matt.

If you're just coming to this story, you might think this is a joke. It's not. It's true.

A few years ago, when Americans of good common sense put the words "environmental" and "wacko" together, this was what we feared.

Next came all that talk about carbon footprints.

Now it's come down to this.

As a man who likes to barbecue myself -- with two Weber Smokey Mountain cookers and two Weber Kettles in my backyard -- I will stipulate that yes, sometimes smoke comes out.

That's the odd thing about barbecue. You use carbon-based charcoal to slow-cook a brisket, sometimes for up to 15 hours, if you do it right.

A good solid pork shoulder can take some eight to 10 hours. Ribs will require burning charcoal for some four hours. Then you've got chicken and steaks. Don't get me started on whole lambs or pork.

The only proper heat source is good lump charcoal and some dry, flavorful wood, some pecan or apple, cherry and the like.

Not briquettes. Not gas. And most definitely not electricity. Some progressives insist that the heat source doesn't count, that electricity does just fine.

Well, then you eat it. Because I won't. And I won't call it barbecue either.

The Barbecue Police must have been thinking of "envirofriendly" smokers when he suggested to Matt that he purchase a different kind of smoker.

"They do sell smokers that keep all but a very small ...," Barbecue Police said, before Jordan invoked the horse apples.

The complaining neighbor put out a statement saying her health was at risk, that the smoke bothered her asthma and that Matt uses a "commercial cooker."

According to news reports, he uses an old 55-gallon drum, which some reporters referred to as a "commercial cooker."

But offset smokers like that are common everywhere. They don't look like the tiny gas grills some journalists might use to cook a skinless chicken breast on an apartment balcony.


Grown-ups know that common sense gets lost when neighbors start squabbling.

You wouldn't put your barbecue under a neighbor's nursery window. But if you live across the street and down a ways, don't call the Barbecue Police.

When we called, Pinellas County officials were in full panic mode, saying they never intended that anyone think barbecue was illegal.

"We saw posts over the weekend from the U.K.," Pinellas County spokesman Tim Closterman said Monday. "We've been getting other alerts from other Florida outlets and a few national news outlets. Like you."

Officials said they never issued any fines or citations, and they're trying to work things out between the neighbors.

The county's air quality boss, Ajaya Satyal, said they get about 150 complaints a year and they investigate each one.

"All over the country, there has been a false perception that Pinellas County is going after the BBQ and that is not the case," Satyal said.

False perception? I don't think so.

You send the Barbecue Police to tell a man that smoke has left his property line. And now you're worried that you look like just another officious bureaucratic wacko?

Of all the ills of modern society, there is perhaps nothing more odious than a clerk, armed with a writ, sent on a bureaucrat's errand, to tell American barbecue men that he can smell their smoke.

Barbecue Police?

You can have my smokers, but only when you pry them from my cold dead fingers.

Now git.

It's still summer, America. And we've got barbecue to make.

Comment by clicking here.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM.

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