Taking a stab at sticks
Sept. 21, 2016
by Bernard Shire
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Western’s Smokehouse, in Greentop, Missouri, is well known for its bacon meat snacks.
Western’s Smokehouse is a small meat processing business based in Greentop, Missouri, and like a lot of other small meat processors, it’s been getting into the bacon business in a big way. Founded by Sam Western in 1978, his son Kevin has been with Western’s since 1992, and now a third-generation, grandson Leighton, is working for the company.
Small meat processing companies, while making a lot of different kinds of products, often have a stellar reputation for one in particular, and that’s certainly true of Western’s Smokehouse. The company is known far and wide for its snack sticks. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to learn that Sam Western is adding bacon to his snack stick portfolio. In fact, Western’s makes three kinds of bacon snack sticks — hickory smoked bacon, sweet maple bacon, and peppered bacon.
“We create our bacon flavored snack stick by using bacon flavored seasoning, and by adding actual bacon to our snack stick recipe,” Sam Western explains. With the immense interest and popularity of bacon, the decision to add bacon to the company’s lineup of snack sticks was an easy one. “Bacon’s taken off, it’s become a very big deal, so we thought right away, people are going to love bacon snack sticks,” he says. “There’s bacon ice cream, bacon jerky, bacon jam. So why not in snack sticks, a very successful product we’re known for making anyway?”
Western knows why bacon has become so popular – it’s the flavor. “I think it’s one of the most flavorful meat products there is – bacon comes from the belly, which is the most flavorful part of the animal.” He adds: “The other thing is bacon is used in such a wide variety of meals and dishes that a lot of people eat anyway: BLT sandwiches, cheeseburgers. You can use bacon in 50 different dishes or types of food. And since we’re in the snack stick business anyway, it just made sense,” Western says.
Western’s Smokehouse makes a variety of bacon products, including dry-cured country bacon.
But Western’s Smokehouse also makes a number of bacon varieties in the form most people are used to seeing it; dry-cured country bacon that’s not tumbled or injected, and “city” bacon, which is tumbled and injected. He cures his country bacon between seven and 12 days. The taste differences? “We feel the dry-cured bacon is saltier because you can’t control how much cure seasoning is absorbed, because it’s just rubbed on the outside. We believe the tumbled “city” bacon is milder and can be prepared more consistently because you can start with a certain poundage and figure the cure/seasoning exactly that needs to be added. Then you tumble it until the cure is absorbed completely and more evenly,” he notes.
Western’s also makes “cottage” bacon. “Cottage” is an English term. “We use a Boston butt or pork butt. That’s the difference,” he explains. “And we prepare it just like our hickory bacon.” Cottage bacon is quite lean and fries up more like ham, although it tastes like bacon. Western’s also makes pepper bacon, jalapeno bacon and beef bacon. “Our number one bacon is a mild cured bacon, using hickory smoke. Our beef bacon is made from beef brisket, a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of beef or veal. “Our beef brisket is very lean, that’s why people like it,” he says.
Western’s Smokehouse makes very good bacon, and the competitions it has won prove it. Western’s hickory smoked bacon was grand champion in the American Cured Meat Championships, the AAMP national competition, in 2000 and 2002. He’s won 10 awards in the Missouri Association of Meat Processors competition, most recently as last year, and dating back to 1988. “Those competitions mean a lot to us, but when we display the awards in our store, our customers know they’re getting a very high-quality product.
Western is also quite proud of the raw materials he uses to create his bacon products. “We only buy Number One bellies here in the Midwest,” he says. “You can buy a lightweight belly, but then there’s a big difference in your finished bacon. We like to buy heavier bellies, 11 to 14 lbs., from our local packers in the Midwest. By getting the best meat materials to work with, we know our finished bacon will also be the very best.”