MEATLIFTING. It’s nothing new. The 2010 arrest of Austin’s Ronnie Allen Brock provided Texas Monthly with one of our trademark never-ending punny Bum Steer headlines (as if “Bum Steer” itself wasn’t enough). But meat fencing? With an undercover sting called “Operation Meat Locker” to catch local restaurants buying cowntraband? (Sorry.) It sounds like something out of Adult Swim’s new procedural parody NTSF:SD:SUV. But it happened yesterday in Austin, with East Side institution Sam’s Bar-B-Que getting nailed. Also charged was Willie’s Bar-B-Que and the Mexican restaurant La Morenita. KUT appears to have been first to post the story:

Austin police say it began “Operation Meat Locker” in late April when H-E-B reported that fresh meat was being stolen from the grocer on a large scale. Police say their three month investigation revealed that more than $5,000 in stolen merchandise was sold between the three locations. An APD spokesman says people caught shoplifting told officers they were selling meat to those three restaurants. Undercover officers posing as meat thieves approached the proprietors and, police allege, sold the restaurants what the officers claimed was stolen meat. The undercover cops approached 20 to 25 other restaurants, all of which declined to buy the meat.

However, KUT’s headline also makes it sound like Sam’s will close forever (“Sam’s Bar-B-Cue to Be Shut Down”), which is not necessarily the case. What really happened here are two completely separate issues: the criminal charges, which will now go through the usual due process, and the apparent health code violations. Which is to say that when you buy meat from a store or restaurant, it’s supposed to have been handled by a series of food safety-trained employees. And food safety-trained employees generally don’t stuff briskets down their pants (at least, not on the job). Or let raw meat leave refrigeration outside of a time-restricted food prep context. That’s bad – but also likely not a “closed-forever” violation. The Austin American-Statesman‘s full story is more clear on this:

Each establishment must remain closed until it gets its health permit reinstated following an appeal, said Shannon Jones, acting director of the Austin/Travis County’s Health and Human Services Department.

Willie’s, btw, is not yet in our BBQ Finder app or BBQ web site. Any volunteers? – JASON COHEN