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A Meat Heaven at Tinker's BBQ
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A Meat Heaven at Tinker's BBQ

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When you step into the parking lot, you can smell and see the smoke wafting from the screened-in area behind Tinker’s BBQ, and you wonder what kind of meat is getting the business under the hood of that smoker.

Whatever it is … it smells like meat heaven.

Tinker's BBQ, located in the former, longtime liquor store at 812 E Chestnut St. in Desloge, is owned by Bill and Donna Tinker, both of whom grew up in the area, Farmington and Bonne Terre, respectively. Bill and Donna bought Hoosier Daddy liquor store a few years ago, but recently decided to parlay Bill’s love of barbecue into a full-time endeavor.

“It’s always been a passion of mine, everything we serve is smoked here,” Bill said. “And I said, ‘There’s nowhere in Desloge to get barbecue and have a cold beer.’ The city needed a place like this.”

It was a barbecue void he was seeking to fill, but the question was, how to go about it.

“I was going to buy another building, open up a bar and a little barbecue restaurant, and my wife said, ‘Why are you doing that?’ when we already owned this,” he said, gesturing around the 1925-built brick building. “I was going to sell the liquor store and then thought, she’s right, that doesn’t make much sense. We would’ve had to completely remodel another place anyway, this just made more sense.”

They started ripping everything out in June. They found a few artifacts from the building’s 94-year history: a 1958 December wall calendar page that had fallen behind something, a few tins of shoe polish, and — treasure in the wall — an unopened, 1934 bottle of Gordon’s Gin when it was still made in America. Bill traced the liquor control number to figure out its provenance.

“The bottle’s never been opened, the seal’s intact and the alcohol’s still in it,” he said. “And I’m never going to open it. It was so cool to find.”

He built the bar with a friend, dropped the ceilings, knocked out the center wall, ripped out the 30-foot walk-in cooler, and installed a commercial kitchen. After construction dust had settled on the renovation of both the liquor store and storage sides — explains the two doors on the front of the building — the couple was set to welcome hungry customers on Oct. 21 — with a smoker fire and a broken fryer, just to make life a bit more interesting. They opened up to rave reviews the next day.

Bill said the five-star ratings he’s garnered so far are partly due to the rub recipe he invented.

“I hadn’t found barbecue that I really liked. I like Kansas City-style, something sweeter with a touch of heat,” he said. “I like hot and spicy, but my mother-in-law —  anything spicy, it burns her face off. So I had to come up with a rub that would please me and her.”

Bill said they were all “guinea pigs” for a few years.

“I’d try a quarter-teaspoon of this and a quarter-teaspoon of that, until I came up with enough sugars to take the heat out of the spice but leave the flavor,” he said. “I’m the only one who knows the ingredients. I’ve had a competitor come out here and try to pose as a family member to one of my employees and ask for the rub recipe. It’s happened about five times.

“My sons don’t even know the recipe. The easiest way to keep a secret is not to tell anybody.”

Since then, Bill and Donna have churned out thousands of plates of mouthwatering barbecue, which adults can wash down with a tasty beverage from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m.-midnight on Friday and Saturday. The barbecue shop takes the day off on Sunday.

Bill said carry-out is always available, and they still make good use of the drive-through window. “I’d say 50% of our business is carry-out,” he said.

If you decide to get the full Tinker’s experience in the dining room, you’ll see the 1958 calendar page on the wall, alongside a gallery of “Old Downtown Desloge” photos curated by his wife Donna and staff at Desloge Public Library. One framed photo is of the 1925 liquor store when it first opened.

Bill pointed to it: “See? I’m not the first one to have put a bar in here,” he said. Peering closely, you can almost make out the tin ceiling that’s still above the dropped ceilings, and which is still visible in the maintenance closet ceiling in the corner of the dining room.

Turning to the menu, the requisite sides are all there: baked beans, slaw, potato salad, green beans. Full and half-racks of ribs, pulled pork and pork steaks are crowd pleasers, as well as the smoked BBQ hamburger.

But the loaded fries?

“Everyone just goes crazy,” Bill said. “We have a base of fries with our seasoning on it, then we’ll put pulled pork all over it, cheese, jalapenos if they want, and sour cream. They go crazy over it!”

The pork chops are also in demand. “We do a 10-ounce, brown sugar-cured pork chop that’s nice and thick and has a lollipop handle on it,” he said. “Looks like a cowboy ribeye, and everything we cook sits in my rub for 24 hours and then we’ll put it on the smoker and it’ll penetrate the meat, it’s got to be at a certain temperature for that to happen.

“It brings out the sweetness of the pork, and that’s the key to why we get 5-star ratings on everything.”

If you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, the Tinker Tater is available. “It’s about a 12-ounce potato that’s smoked on the smoker, we split that, put butter and sour cream on it, and then we pile it full with about a half-pound of pulled pork over it and a little bit of barbecue sauce,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

All in all, he’s living the barbecue dream, greeting customers, smoking meat and mixing rubs, he said.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a real blessing.”

Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at shaas@dailyjournalonline.com.

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