Bacon creativity can come from many sources, but the venue for bacon dreaming that stands out at Claremore, Okla.-based Walke Meat Co., is the break-room table.
“We’ve come up with some of our best ideas at that table,” said Lyndon Walke, son of owner John Walke, and the driving force behind this meat company’s push into new frontiers with its bacon producing prowess.
The bacon master at Walke’s came on board after a stint in the Air Force. It was 2008, and Lyndon noticed that the family-owned and operated former locker plant was doing a booming business in custom processing for livestock owners and was turning out a mighty tasty bacon for those customers.
“But we weren’t making any for the customers in our small retail sales area,” Walke said. “After Dad agreed that we should pursue bacon for our own retail shop, we went into it full tilt. There were times when we came up with as many as 16 different styles of bacon but didn’t offer all of them at once. Now we produce nine flavors of bacon regularly. Bacon is king around here.”
Among the bacon tastes offered: regular, jalapeño, coffee, beef, apple cinnamon, honey bourbon and raspberry chipotle.
“There are some items that we make like beef bacon and cottage bacon,” Walke explained, but the thrust is on hickory-wood smoked, thick-sliced bacon. “We went from about 50 lbs of that a week for retail to over 700 lbs.”
Walke said the company buys large pork bellies on the commodity market. That way they can square them to their standards and use the fat trim for summer sausage, smoked sausage and ground meat patties and still have a ready market for bacon ends and pieces for use in baked beans and other side items. Walke Meats, which operates under federal inspection, also produces, smokes and slices bacon for two custom plants in the area.
A testimony to the flavor of the company’s bacon is the stack of 15 plaques that the firm has won in cured meats competition at the Oklahoma-Texas Meat Processors Association events, and that’s just for their bacon.
Walke said he learned from his dad that you have to keep experimenting and dabbling with something until you get it as perfect as it can be...meaning it meets Walke family standards.
The company, which expects to complete its plant expansion to 12,000 square feet this March, has grown to 22 employees, with four of them, including Walke, assigned to bacon production. That close-knit bacon crew is the group who conjured up their popular coffee bacon, a tasty treat that combines coffee grounds, brown sugar and paprika into a pork belly rub that you won’t find in most specialty meat shops. Still, everything must be right before bacon hits the sales counter at Walke Meat Company.
“We tried a honey bourbon bacon flavor that tasted great,” he said. “It looked great sliced and on the tray in the counter. However, when it was packaged it just didn’t pop in appearance. We’ve got a new Rollstock machine that gives us extremely faster and more durable packaging. It’s a new tool to make sure our bacons have the presentation to match their quality and taste.”