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Fires in Recent Texas BBQ History

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Last week a fire at Hinze’s BBQ in Wharton shut the restaurant down indefinitely. The fire began as a grease fire in the pit, but quickly spread. The building was a total loss, but the owners have vowed to rebuild.

That’s not always the case. A fire can be emotionally and financially devastating to a small business, and many never recover. Here’s a look at some recent fires at Texas barbecue joints along with their current status since the tragic event. With an active fire required to cook barbecue, it’s a wonder so many of these are caused by electrical issues. You’ll also notice that two of these businesses closed for good after fires on the same day.

Bert’s BBQ in Austin
When: January 18, 2007
Cause: Electrical, and 911 operator error
Status: Reopened in a new location August 15, 2012

Fire Bert's BBQ

Photo from the restaurant’s website

Williams Smokehouse in Houston
When: December 18, 2007
Cause: An electrical short
Status: Never reopened

Fire Williams SmokehousePhoto from DallasFood.org

Thelma’s BBQ in Houston
When: January 30, 2009
Cause: Fire in the pit chimney
Status: Reopened in a new location that is now closed

Fire Thelma's BBQ

Photo from the Houston Press

Joe Cotten’s BBQ in Robstown
When: March 2, 2011
Cause: Not determined, but electrical suspected
Status: Never reopened

Fire Joe Cotten's BBQ

Photo from the Caller Times

Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in San Angelo
When: March 2, 2011
Cause: Pit fire
Status: Never Reopened

Fire Old Time BBQ

Photo from Go San Angelo 

Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse in Dallas
When: September 27, 2011
Cause: Fire in the pit chimney
Status: Reopened October 7, 2011

Fire Sonny Bryans

Ramage Farms in Hooks
When: October 7, 2011
Cause: Pit fire
Status: Never reopened

30 Ramage

Joseph’s Riverport Barbecue in Jefferson
When: January 15, 2012
Cause: Electrical short
Status: Reopened June 28, 2012

Fire Riverport

Hutchins BBQ in McKinney
When: June 17, 2012
Cause: Not determined
Status: Reopened November 15, 2012

Fire Hutchins bbq

Photo from the Dallas Morning News

Cooper’s Old Time Pit BBQ in Fort Worth
When: January 7, 2013
Cause: Pit fire
Status: Reopened January 25, 2013

Coopers FW

Central Texas Style Bar-B-Q in Pearland
When: January 15, 2013
Cause: Pit fire
Status: Reopened January 17, 2013

Fire Central Texas BBQ

Photo from Central Texas Style Bar-B-Q

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor
When: February 23, 2013
Cause: Grease fire in the pit
Status: Reopened March 2, 2013

Fire Louie Mueller

Photo from Louie Mueller Barbecue

Hinze’s BBQ in Wharton
When: August 4, 2014
Cause: Grease fire in the pit
Status: Plans to reopen

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Let’s hope that the story for Hinze’s ends like so many other successful turnarounds. As they say on their website, “We will be back in full operation, bigger and better!”

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  • Ken Goldenberg

    This article mays your wonder how well these pits are being maintained and how often they are shut down for cleaning. I recall an episode of “Dirty Jobs” when he went out to a BBQ place (forget where) to see how they clean their pits. He actually got inside the huge pits and scraped away the grease and debris and then power washed it. Are these pitmasters taking the time to do this on a regular basis? Is it a cost or time issue? Are they afraid that by cleaning the pits they will lose the “flavor or seasoning” of the pit?
    This might make a good topic for an article, maybe interview a few noted pitmasters on how they maintain their smokers.

    • eric

      That’s an excellent idea, I’d love to see an article like that!

  • Richard A.F. Nelson

    It’s more than anecdotal. If I were an insurance agent, the actuarial table I’d use for a bbq joint would look more like the odds table for a narc at a biker rally.

  • John Raven

    Fires in barbecue joints are expected.
    After all, fire is required to make barbecue.

    The villain here is an unplanned
    fire. A fire is a mean little kid, you
    have to have someone watch him all the time.

    Fires of electrical origin cannot be
    blamed on the cooking process. Everyone
    knows electrical fires are caused by rats gnawing the insulation off the wires.

    Barbecue pits that get a lot of
    use require regular cleaning. The grease and tar build-up will ignite when it
    reaches a certain temperature. The
    residue also has an awful taste so if it begins to contaminate the product
    quality goes down.

    The pits should be burned out
    (cleaned) on a regular basis. Procedure
    is to build really hot fire in the pit and burn and crisp the grease and
    tar. Once the grease is gone and the pit
    cools down, the residue can be removed with stiff brush .

    With the inane popularity of barbecue,
    the pits seldom get time down for cleaning.
    In a hyperbusiness the pit could have an eternal flame lasting several

    A properly constructed pit presents no
    fire hazard to the building. The
    buildings burn down when inflammable stuffs are piled on and around the hot

    If you look at the photo of the Louie
    Mueller fire you see the pit is away from anything that could catch fire. The fire was confined to the pit. The fire could have been controlled by
    closing the doors and drafts and depriving the flames of oxygen needed to
    produce hot fire. The major mess here
    was whatever the firemen squirted in the pit to quench the flames.

    One more thing needs to be brought to
    everyone’s attention. Research shows
    that in the case of every fire here, in the same city or town nearby, there is
    a Dairy Queen. Do not the local
    barbecue and DQ compete for the bucks?

    My thoughts are there would not be so
    many barbecue fires if folks knew how to start floods.

    Raven Ph.B.

    of Barbecue