Folks around Riverton, Wyoming, seem to flock into Clark’s Meat House for many products, but a great number of them come just for the award-winning bacon. Dave Haworth, owner and president, says earning that reputation has been a benefit of a long and deliberate plan of constantly improving their bacon.
“It’s just something we have learned to take our time in making,” Haworth relates. "We were using commercial bacon cures that called for a fixed amount. As we entered competitions, product judges were telling us that our bacon was too salty. We set about fixing that issue by reducing the amount of cure to get it more in line with the levels we were using for our hams.
“Since some of the pre-mixed cures were not always consistent, we decided to invest in a Salometer that enables us to provide greater consistency in our bacon. That change made a big difference.”
Another key improvement came when the small family-owned company began to use a more expensive and thicker "export" single-rib belly that includes more rib and flap meat, often up to two-inches thick before processing.
“We’ve learned to take our time with it and tumble it up to four times; with rest periods between tumbles, the flavor becomes richer with less cure,” Haworth says. “This is a small volume bacon product for us, but it’s what breaks down the door in customer satisfaction. We sell bacon made by some larger companies, yet have learned that patience in our processing pays off and commands a better price.
“It may actually take a few days to produce our special bacon, including six hours in the smokehouse (to 140 degrees) and rest periods between tumbling sessions. It’s only when a customer calls a few hours out and wants to come in and pick up 60 lbs. that we can get boxed in on our production. The introduction of a new smokehouse vastly improved our color and uniformity. Our finished product actually came out with a better taste and mouth feel, which one might call texture.”
Attesting to that improvement is the fact that Clark’s has won awards for its bacon in competitions held by the Wyoming Meat Processors Association/Colorado Association of Meat Processors and Montana Meat Processors Association. Awards began coming in 2010 for their bacon, but the frequency of their wins has jumped proportionate to their processing changes.
Clark’s Meat House produces its bacon using pellets that are oak-based but have real hickory wood included. They also make a Cajun-style, a pepper, and a cinnamon-apple bacon as well as a cottage bacon which is made from the pork shoulder. When a customer asked for ground jalapeno peppers to be rubbed on the outside of the pork belly, they made it to fulfill his wishes and learned that they had an instant new flavor hit for their bacon inventory.
Haworth says they have also been making a beef bacon using corned beef brisket flats that are left over from their St. Patrick’s Day sale. He has learned that if he makes it and sells it only at special times, the product sells better.
“It doesn’t freeze well and may tend to sour after a period of time,” he notes. “It benefits everyone to only make this product as demand builds and then sell it all in a short period of time.”
Clark’s also sells pork side meats and is contemplating adding venison bacon and a peppered cottage bacon to their list of offerings.