Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tain't no ham like Benton's country ham

If you've never had country ham from Benton's in East Tennessee, you have most certainly missed out. The current Nashville City Paper has a story 'bout Benton's. A sample:

Every week [Alan] Benton will get 400 to 600 hams trucked in, and a similar amount of bacon bellies. "We want our hogs as quick as possible after slaughter," Benton said, for quality’s sake.

The meats are smoked with a blend of hickory and applewood. About 75 percent of the blend is hickory.

From there the meats are cured: bacon for five to six weeks, and hams from 14 to 23 months.

A variation of the old Benton family recipe — a mixture of salt, brown sugar, black and red pepper — is heaped on to the hams and bacon bellies to cure. After a couple of weeks in a cooler with this mix seeping into the meat, the hams are hung in a sock to form them into the familiar shape you see at your butcher. Meanwhile, the bacon hangs from a rack. A few weeks more, and the socks are removed and the ham is in its final, but long, stretch of racking until it reaches the desired age.

"It’s like making whiskey," Benton said. "Anybody can tweak it, but it takes time, perseverance and patience. There are no secrets."

Benton's was featured on Chattanooga's public television station, WTCI, a few months back. You can see the video here. Why Nashville's WNPT doesn't show this excellent program is beyond me.

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