Give it back

Chris Shepherd's custom barbecue pit stolen from his Houston restaurant

Chris Shepherd's custom barbecue pit stolen from his Houston eatery

Southern Smoke 2018 Chris Shepherd Pitmaker smoker
Chris Shepherd's smoker has gone missing.  Photo by Catchlight Photography

If the worst thing a person could steal from a Texas used to be a man's cattle, is the modern equivalent a barbecue pit? 

That's the question chef Chris Shepherd is asking after thieves stole his custom-built Pitmaker smoker from behind One Fifth early on January 7. Based on video from the adjacent veterinary office, someone driving a pickup pulled up to One Fifth around 7 am, busted the locks on the trailer that kept it in place, and towed it away. Video also shows a black Mustang that may have been used as a lookout.

The pit is adorned with custom Southern Smoke graphics that make it instantly recognizable, although they're attached with magnets and could be removed. In the four years of Southern Smoke's existence, the barbecue-themed event has raised over $1.5 million for the National MS Society, Hurricane Harvey relief, and the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, a charity that provides financial assistance to people in the restaurant industry.

"I just don’t get why people do this but I sure would like to have it back so that we can continue to raise money for our organization and our industry," Shepherd wrote in a Facebook post. "Please help me spread this around. I would love nothing more than for them not to be able to sell this trailer."

UB Presev chef de cuisine Nick Wong had a slightly more lighthearted take on the theft. "Whatever you’re gonna cook on it is probably not gonna be as good as what he cooks on it anyway, so what’s the point," he wrote on Instagram.

Although the likely motive is to sell the smoker for some quick cash, the odds of the thieves finding a buyer who isn't aware of its pilfered origins would seem to be shrinking quickly. Shepherd's Facebook has been shared over 1,900 times, and the Houston Police Department is reviewing other video footage to try and determine the perpetrators' identities, according to a representative.   

Hopefully, the incident will have a good outcome. When chef Ronnie Killen had a smoker stolen in 2013, media attention caused it to appear in a field a couple of days later. 

At least some good will come out of the theft. On Wednesday, January 16, Shake Shack's newly-opened Montrose location will donate 25 percent of proceeds to the Southern Smoke Foundation. Simply mention Underbelly Hospitality or Southern Smoke when ordering to have it counted for the fundraiser.