Fort Worth barbecue joint cracks case on stolen smokers

Panther City BBQ teamed up with other business owners to track down the thief.

By Casey CheekJune 10, 2024 12:21 pm, ,

Sometimes there’s no justice. Something gets stolen, police are notified and we all know how likely it is we’ll ever see it again – 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 a taste of Texas justice, perhaps.

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

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

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

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

He had no idea what had happened to it. He thought maybe his partner, Ernest Morales, maybe moved it, but soon came to find out that someone had absconded with his dual smokers on his trailer.

So I guess they call 911. And, turns out a stolen smoker wasn’t high on the priority of Fort Worth police.

That’s right.

Well, the first thing they did was they had a GPS tracker on the trailer. So they followed the tracker to a mostly empty parking lot and found a couple of smokers underneath a tarp. That’s when they called the Fort Worth police to investigate.

So you say they found a couple of smokers? Presumably they were not their smokers.

No, they found theirs. Sorry.

They did find theirs?

Yeah, they followed that GPS tracker to a parking lot. They found a couple of smokers underneath a tarp. And, lo and behold, those were theirs.

So it was only, you know, a couple of hours after they learned that it was gone, that they had found it.

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

That’s right. They had called police. They hoped that they would do some investigation. Didn’t really get anywhere with that.

And so they sort of set up their own sting operation, found this suspicious white van coming back and forth, dropping off other equipment in the same parking lot where they had found their smokers and called police with that information. Tried to get them to help track down that white van and just didn’t really get anywhere with that.

Yeah, 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 be a serial smoker stealer?

The thing is that a lot of these barbecue joints, they store their smokers on trailers – they’re easy to move around. A lot of them work at festivals and off site – events and things like that.

But those smokers are a lot easier to steal. This white van was able to haul off with it, and the white van actually showed up in some other video footage from some other nearby businesses.

Now, you know, we’re often warned that you shouldn’t take the law into your own hands, which is solid advice, but it seems to me this could have gotten really ugly really fast. What did you hear on that score?

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

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

They were pretty certain they had the location of the thief, and they certainly had positive identification of the van.

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

Not of Panther City, but the other business owner, they ended up arresting the guy for stealing his electrical equipment. But still, to this day, no charges have been brought for the theft of the smokers or the theft of a food truck of another business owner that really was taken by the same guy with the same white van.

So it’s presumed that the barbecue smoker stealers are still at large. I mean, is it still happening? And by the way, I should ask, how much are these smokers worth that someone would be willing to risk the lock up to crack these locks on the smokers?

Well, the Panther City guys, they estimated that the smokers are worth about $30,000. Catering trailer was $35,000. So, I mean, we’re talking a sizable chunk of change.

But, yeah, the guy was caught. He was arrested. The folks at Panther City just wish that maybe he would suffer some consequences for the theft of their equipment as well.

I see, I see. Well, so how’s business back at Panther City BBQ?

Panther city is doing well. You know, they got their smokers back. They got their tools for their own livelihood back.

And they actually opened up another location in one of the oldest barbecue joints – or really in the oldest barbecue joint in Fort Worth: Bailey’s BBQ. They took over ownership of that a few months ago and have renamed it Fort Worth Barbecue Company. So you can get a taste of their barbecue in downtown Fort Worth as well.

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