Ron Buechele may be stepping away from the pit, but he is still a barbecue authority.
Ron Buechele knows the exact moment he decided to close Capitalist Pig (2727 S. 12th Street, 314-772-1180) and rejoin the St. Louis County Police Department after a twelve-year hiatus. He had gone down to headquarters to take care of some personal business, but the second he walked through the door, he felt like he had come home.
"I went down there, and the place was filled with people I knew from when I worked for the department," Buechele recalls. "It was right at that moment that I realized I wanted to apply to come back."
Buechele hadn't necessarily planned on leaving the police force; he was simply looking for a creative outlet when he found himself being led to art school. There, he heard from friends that the old Third District Police Station in Soulard was for sale, so he bought it, sensing an opportunity even though he didn't have a clear idea of what he would do with the space.
Buechele would go on to convert the spot into Mad Art Gallery, a unique events space he ran even while still working as a police officer. Necessity forced him to expand the concept. After discovering that a longtime employee had been stealing from him, he was left in dire financial straits and needed an additional revenue stream. He saw the city's exploding barbecue scene and decided to jump into the fire with his own restaurant, teaching himself everything he needed to know about smoking meat. It was a trade that appealed to him instantly. (Eventually, when he realized he could longer maintain both jobs, he left the department to focus on his restaurant dreams.)
"There is a lot of science involved in barbecue, and I took to that quickly," Buechele explains. "There are also myths and a lot of b.s. out there about barbecue. I took it upon myself to unearth the truth by applying scientific techniques to smoking meat."
Buechele opened Capitalist Pig in 2012 and had a good run, garnering a stellar reputation for his use of locally sourced proteins and thoughtful side dishes. However, after thinking about his future and realizing how much police work was a part of him, he decided to hang up his apron; he'll be closing Capitalist Pig by the end of September. Though he will continue to handle events at Mad Art Gallery and do private dinners and catering events, police work will again become his full-time gig.
Getting out of the barbecue business has Buechele giving some serious thought to the city's barbecue scene, a community that he has been proud to be a part of for the past six years. One of the things that eases his transition away from the smoker is knowing that the area is filled with some wonderful smokehouses that meet his exacting standards. He's sharing a few of his favorites and the essential dishes to eat — if we can no longer eat at Capitalist Pig, at least we can still eat good.
Brisket at Big Baby Q
11658 Dorsett Road, Maryland Heights; 314-801-8888
"It's just done right at Big Baby Q, and it's consistently good," Buechele says about Ben Welch's acclaimed Maryland Heights smokehouse. "It's so easy to abuse protein or put so much crap in rubs that you can't even taste the meat. This is just a well-done piece of protein that has all you want — flavor, tenderness, cooked well and properly smoked. I like the balance of it all."
Snoots at Smoki O's
1545 North Broadway, 314-621-8180
"There aren't a lot of people that do snoots, and I always wonder what the industry is doing with them because there sure have to be a lot of them," says Buechele. "I like that someone is using an often discarded part of the hog. They aren't at all gristly; they are tender and soft. If you haven't had a snoot before, this would be the place to go give it a try."
Beef Ribs at Nubby's
11133 Lindbergh Industrial court; 314-200-9123
"You don't see beef ribs that often in St. Louis, which usually means that when you do see them, the person making them doesn't have any idea how to cook them," Buechele explains. "You can't think of them like a pork rib; they are more like a short rib. You can't do a slow braise on pork or it will turn to mush, but that's what a beef rib needs. That two-step process is work, and the fact that [Matt Hines] is doing that is commendable."
Texas Pork Belly at BEAST Craft BBQ
20 South Belt West, Belleville, Illinois; 618-257-9000
"Dave [Sandusky] does a lot of things well, but I am a huge fan of his Texas pork belly," says Buechele. "A lot of people aren't playing around with it the way he does, and I think that is because most barbecue guys don't know how to. Dave has a fine-dining background, and it shows in what he does."
Smoked Duck Breast at the Shaved Duck
2900 Virginia Avenue; 314-776-1407
"I'm one of those people that, if I see duck on a menu, I will order it and just hope they cook it right," says Buechele. "In the barbecue world, you don't see it done a lot because it is easy to ruin since it doesn't have the durability of turkey or chicken. You have to be very attentive with duck, and they do it well."
Pulled Chicken at Gobble Stop Smokehouse
1227 Castillon Arcade Plaza, Creve Coeur; 314-878-5586
"Chicken is one of those things that you see everywhere, but it's not hard to make it really good if you just take a little extra time with it," says Buechele. "I don't know why people think they have to push it up to 180 degrees. It's not as forgiving as people think. Here, they don't abuse it and treat it delicately, and it shows."
Mac and Cheese at Salt + Smoke
Multiple locations including 6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-0200
"At the RFT
's Mac & Cheese Throwdown, I made the best mac and cheese I have ever made in my life and we still came in second to them," Buechele laughs. "They really embody the fact that barbecue restaurants are finally taking care with their sides and not just opening up cans. They're thinking about how they can do things differently and better."
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