Ed Woods, president and owner of Woods Smoked Meats, has won more than 650 awards for his cured and smoked meat products, perhaps more than anyone in the US. But the vast majority of those honors were earned by his home-style bacon.
Not many people know that Woods, a Univ. of Missouri graduate in food science and nutrition with a major in meat science, decided to go to work for his father in 1971 after two years at Wilson Certified Foods in Kansas City, Missouri, as bacon product manager. His rejoining the family business came after his dad agreed to build a smokehouse and curing cooler and let him begin making bacon and hams.
A year later, he drove to Minneapolis to enter a ham in the National Ham, Bacon & Sausage Show (now the American Cured Meat Championships). Barely able to cover the costs of travel, he planned to sleep in his car. Then after the judging, he was hit by the news that his ham came in with the last place score.
Woods, who turns 70 this summer, took that disappointment to heart and began asking questions of other competitors on how to make his products better.
“This was a family business that started in 1947 and we did things the old way,” he explains, “but we never started curing and smoking until 1971. Our bacon was the country style. It was dry rubbed, aged for two weeks and then hung and smoked. I had a degree but basically knew nothing. I had worked in the family business and was moving into the role of production manager. I listened to what other processors were telling me and we started to win awards.”
Woods says he knew about the potential benefits of tumbling products, and in the mid-1980s began to use that process to obtain better yield and product uniformity in both hams and bacon. He says it also cut the time by a week for turning around the finished product for his customers demanding custom processing.
“They liked the bacon and were pleased that I got it back to them sooner,” he confides. “I liked it as well because I got paid sooner.”