Best known for its craft bacon sausage, Chicago’s Big Fork Brands is now in the meat snack business with a line of bacon-inspired craft pork jerky. Available in three flavors — maple, original and spicy three pepper — the jerky was designed to be meaty, smoky, sweet, savory and most importantly craveable. The company made clean-label formulating a priority in order to set itself apart in the meat snack space.

MEAT+POULTRY spoke with Lance Avery, who co-founded the company in 2011 with his wife Ann, to better learn about the company’s new snack line.

MEAT+POULTRY: What was your motivation to enter the meat snack category?

Lance Avery: We knew that it was a growing category and noticed that no one was really working with pork. Yes, there are a few bacon jerky flavors out there but that’s it. We wanted to dig deep into the pork snack space and since we had a great source for pork, we wanted to take a shot at entering a whole new category. 

M+P: What does clean label mean to you in terms of meat sourcing?

Avery: Big Fork supports small independent farmers in Iowa who raise heritage hogs outdoors. These hogs are not treated with antibiotics, so you know you are getting premium quality, handcrafted, delicious jerky. We slice the lean pork thin and marinate it overnight. Then it’s slow smoked naturally and dried in small batches to a perfect tender bite and texture.

These hogs live the good life with continuous access to the outside. Raising hogs with ample access to the outdoors is better for the environment, better for the community and better for the hogs. These hogs are considered “The 3 percent,” since 97 percent of the hogs raised in Iowa come from confined feedlots. Our goal is do very little to the glorious meat so you can taste the quality, taste the difference. Clean-label, great-tasting products, with a unique twist, that’s Big Fork.  

Ingredient pork jerky

M+P: What are the other ingredients in Big Fork jerky and how does this compare to ingredients found in similar products?

Avery: I think the biggest difference is that we do not use soy sauce. I’d say 90 percent of the jerky out there in the marketplace uses soy sauce; and it’s the second ingredient on most labels. Not us. We simply use sea salt. Why? Soy sauce is a dominating flavor that can often mask off notes. We don’t need to use it since our quality of pork is second to none. Also, by using sea salt, we have a blank canvas when it comes to flavor profiles. When you use soy sauce you’re basically trapped in the “Asian profile flavor box.” Finally, soy is one of the top allergens, so that is just another reason to not use it.  

M+P: Where is the jerky sold and for how much?

Avery: We sell it direct to consumers on our website and on Amazon. We also sell to various businesses — think office snacks — throughout the US. Right now, we’re focusing our efforts on alternative channels such as theaters, offices, bars, hotels, gyms, coffee shops, distilleries and breweries, basically wherever high-protein, clean-label snacks would be enjoyed. You’d typically pay around $5 for our bag of jerky. 

M+P: Big Fork jerky carries a “paleo friendly” description. Not all meat snacks can do this. What ingredient selections were critical for the paleo friendly designation?

Avery: We needed to keep the sugars in check. I only added a trace amount to balance out the salt.  You need the salt in there as the preservative to get the necessary shelf life. If I didn’t add any sugar it wouldn’t be balanced, but knowing that sugar is the new fat, we added only a tiny bit to keep it keto and paleo friendly.  

M+P: In addition to paleo-focused consumers, who else is your target customer?

Avery: We love working with breweries and distilleries. Their cliental gravitate to them for a reason; they appreciate the craft. So, we fit nicely within this same vein. Also, they serve the carbohydrates. We provide the protein. It’s a symbiotic relationship. 

M+P: With the words plant-based dominating food media and social media conversations, what does the future look like for meat snacks?

Avery: Big Fork is not here to chase trends. Our goal is to elevate the swine through innovative pork products. We feel like we’re doing that and we’re going to stick to our values and support those farmers that choose to raise heritage hogs the right way. I’m not suggesting that you only eat meat, though you can check out my 21-day jerky diet on our website to see how I lowered my cholesterol by 32 points. By all means, have a balanced diet with tons of fruit and veggies. It’s just when you choose to eat meat, make sure it’s been raised the right way and that those animals had a good life.