Fort Worth barbecue restaurant solves case involving stolen smokers

Sometimes there is no justice. Something is stolen, the police are notified and we all know it’s likely we’ll see him again one day – not very.

But the owners of Fort Worth’s Panther City BBQ discovered their smoker was missing, and they weren’t willing to take “gone” for an answer. What happened was perhaps a taste of Texas justice.

Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, joined the Standard to share the story. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas standard: Take us back to the scene of the crime. What happened?

Daniel Vaughn: Well, it was New Year’s Day 2024. Chris Magallanes, who was one of the owners of Panther City BBQ, received a call from his son telling him that the smoker they had just parked in front of their restaurant in Fort Worth was gone. The caravan, the smokers, all that is missing.

He had no idea what had happened to him. He thought his partner, Ernest Morales, might have moved him, but he soon discovered that someone had run off with his double smokers in his trailer.

So I guess they call 911. And it turns out a robbed smoker wasn’t a priority for the Fort Worth police.

That’s right.

Well, the first thing they did was have a GPS tracker on the trailer. So they followed the tracker to an almost empty parking lot and found a few smokers under a tarp. That’s when they called Fort Worth police to investigate.

So you’re saying they found a few smokers? Presumably they weren’t their smokers.

No, they found theirs. Sorry.

Did they find theirs?

Yeah, they followed that GPS tracker to a parking lot. They found a few smokers under a tarpaulin. And there it was, it was theirs.

So it was only, you know, a few hours after they found out he was missing, that they found him.

But the guys at Panther City BBQ discovered they weren’t the only ones losing their smoker.

That’s right. They had called the police. They hoped they would investigate. It didn’t really come to anything.

So they sort of set up their own sting operation, found this suspicious white van driving back and forth, dropping off other equipment in the same parking lot where they found their smokers, and called the police with this information. I tried to convince them to help us find this white van, but it really went nowhere.

Yep, it was that GPS tracker that won the day, at least for Panther City. Now I’m curious about this van. Why would anyone want to become a serial smoker thief?

The thing is, many of these grills store their smokers on trailers – they’re easy to move. A lot of them work at festivals and off-site – at events and that sort of thing.

But these smokers are much easier to steal. That white van was able to get away with her, and she appeared in other video footage from other nearby businesses.

Now, you know, we’re often warned not to take the law into your own hands, which is good advice, but it seems to me that this could have gotten really ugly really quickly. What have you heard about this?

Yeah, I mean, it definitely could have. You know, there was a recent story in the Houston area where a guy went after a thief who stole his barbecue, and he ended up getting shot and killed.

So the Panther City owners definitely had that in mind, but, you know, they wanted the guy to pay something for it, right? I mean, they knew where that van was. Another nearby business owner shared similar footage with them, and together they really tracked this guy to his house. He even took photos of his Air Jordans in front that matched the video they had.

They were almost certain they knew the location of the thief and they certainly had positive identification of the van.

And so the police reacted to what the Panther City guys were doing?

Not from Panther City, but from the other business owner, they ended up arresting the guy for stealing his electrical equipment. But to date, no charges have been filed for robbing the smokers or stealing another business owner’s food truck that was actually taken away by the same guy with the same white van.

So we assume the barbecue thieves are still at large. I mean, does this always happen? And by the way, I should ask: how much are these smokers worth that someone would be willing to risk prison to force these locks on smokers?

Well, the guys at Panther City estimated that the smokers are worth about $30,000. The catering trailer cost $35,000. So, I mean, we’re talking about a significant change.

But yes, the guy was caught. He was stopped. The people of Panther City just want him to suffer the consequences of stealing their equipment too.

I see I see. So how’s business at Panther City BBQ?

Panther City is doing well. You know, they got their smokers back. They recovered their tools to earn their living.

And they actually opened another location in one of the oldest barbecue places – or rather in THE Fort Worth’s oldest barbecue joint: Bailey’s BBQ. They took over ownership a few months ago and renamed it Fort Worth Barbecue Company. So you can also try their barbecue in downtown Fort Worth.

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