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In barbecue smoke dispute, experts say true crime is entirely culinary

This home in south St. Petersburg has been the target of more than a dozen complaints this year about smoke and odor from an open barbecue grill. [Pinellas County Air Quality]
Published Jul. 29, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — For a week, the Internet has been seething in debate over whether Pinellas County's regulations on barbecue smoke are completely logical or a gross government overreach.

But grill-snatching conspiracy theories aren't what have local meat smoking experts concerned. The true crime here, they say, is entirely culinary.

"If he was cooking properly, he wouldn't have the smoke and it would smell good, and she wouldn't be that mad at him," said Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe, a national grilling expert who lives in St. Petersburg.

The "she" Lampe referenced is Sue Godfirnon, who for months has been complaining to the county about what she considered profuse and dangerous amounts of smoke billowing from the back yard of her neighbors, Dwayne and Chris Matt, on Alcola Way South. Their feud exploded on social media last week when a county official visited the brothers and warned them about the smoke. They recorded the interaction, and the video quickly went viral.

A photo from the county shows plumes of white smoke billowing above the Matts' white privacy fence.

After a look at the cloud, Lampe said it's just bad form.

"White smoke is your enemy," he said. "Thin, blue smoke is desired. That's the holy grail."

There are several ways to navigate the land of barbecue meats: traditional grilling where the cuts are placed directly above a flame, or smoking them, a slower, more flavorful method.

More smoke, however, doesn't mean more flavor, Lampe said. He reckons the Matts have been making a culinary faux pas in their cooking endeavors, feeding too much wood into their fire and choking out the oxygen. This creates the excess smoke.

"The only addition the smoke brings to the party is flavor," Lampe said. But too much smoke just makes the meat taste ashy, a myth Dr. BBQ said he often combats while teaching classes on smoking meats.

Andy Salyards, owner Urban Brew and BBQ in St. Petersburg, agreed.

"If he was doing it right, he should only have visible smoke for a half hour," Salyards said. "Their fire is out of balance."

Both grillers agreed the trick is to take it slow.

Lampe said excess smoke can be prevented by avoiding wet wood and catching any fat drippings in a pan rather than letting them fall into the fire.

Why not just use leaner meats?

Lampe said: "That goes against everything I'm about!"

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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