Burgers' Smokehouse: Bursting with bellies

by Bob Sims
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Burger's Smokehouse bacon in a cure room
Pressed pork bellies are ready for slicing at Burgers' Smokehouse.
 

The wild popularity of bacon continues to permeate American culture. Flavored bacon, specialty bacon retailers, bacon clubs, mail order bacon, bacon festivals, bacon clothing and apparel, bacon topped donuts and cupcakes, bacon liquors, and bacon anything else you can think of has sprung up in the marketplace.

Processors ride the wave of bacon’s popularity however they can and California, Missouri-based Burgers’ Smokehouse has found its own unique way to capitalize.

Burgers’ is a medium-sized company with sales of approximately $50 million a year, with bacon representing about $10 million of its annual sales. Burgers’ has been in business for over 60 years and is now bringing in a fourth generation to take over in the future. The company offers dry-cured, country bacon, in Hickory Smoked, Applewood Smoked, Peppered, Maple and Cajun flavors with a ¼-in. thick cut product in most of those flavors. However, Burgers’ size and flexibility have created their place in the bacon world.

“What’s unique about our bacon is it’s dry-cured. It’s not injected bacon like virtually all the bacon on the market,” says Steven Burger, president of Burgers’ Smokehouse.

“Where our niche has been is in taking craft bacon mainstream,” Burger says. “Nobody else that I know of is doing dry-cured country bacon for the grocery market to the degree we are.” In the past few years bacon has been one of Burgers’ fastest growing products, and it’s due to a consumer demand for good, high-quality bacon. Another factor the drives Burgers’ bacon business revolves around its size and processes.

“You have a lot of craftsman, dry-cured bacons out there, and a lot of those folks are small and they haven’t been able to achieve any kind of scale,” Burger says. “We fit a good middle market position to take craftsman quality bacon mainstream.”

A worker prepares a pork belly for curing at Burger's Smokehouse.
Burgers’ is also widely known for its hand-cured, country hams.
 

But what is it that has made bacon so popular? Why all the festivals and clothing and, until today, non-conventional culinary uses? I had a chance to ask Steven Burger his thoughts and opinions on the surge in bacon’s popularity.

“It’s kind of an enigma when you think about the way bacon exploded at a time when, in general, there was more concern over health and healthy eating,” Burger says. “So bacon was kind of a sub-trend, so to speak. I think maybe as people gave up some things in order to get healthy, bacon became an indulgence.”

Burgers’ co-packs bacon and supplies to foodservice, as well. This is interesting because Burger believes foodservice was the where the spark for the bacon inferno in American culture began.

“If you go back to the very beginning of the trend it was driven by foodservice. At the time, foodservice almost turned bacon into a condiment and put bacon on sandwiches, particularly,” Burger says.

“That feeds back to the indulgence thing. As people had this desire to eat healthier, in order to get the flavor into the product, you put bacon on the chicken sandwich or the turkey sandwich as a way to deliver more flavor. That really became, I think, the genesis of the bacon boom. And at the time, bacon was cheap. They were looking for ways to sell more bacon and it found a home in foodservice.”

Burgers’ recently invested in Thurne bacon line to keep up with growing bacon demand. The line has two levels. One level allows on-weight drafts to move on to packaging, the second level re-routes drafts that aren’t on-weight back to be re-worked. The new line allows Burgers’ to efficiently produce its craft bacon on a large scale relative to the plant’s size. Burgers’ will process between 60,000 lbs. and 80,000 lbs. of fresh bellies per week.

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