The land Robbie Shoults and his family live on in Harrison County, affectionately called "Bear Bottom" after a creek that runs through it, was purchased by his great grandfather in 1917. The family business, Bear Creek Smokehouse, founded on that land in 1943, has been built on a foundation of determination and hard work, a combination that seems to be working well for them.
Shoults said his great grandfather offered to leave the land to his son back then, telling him if he would work the land, it would be his someday. So he did; Hick Shoults frequently rode 15 miles on horseback from the Hallsville area to help his father clear cut the land, which was followed by years of helping to grow cotton, raise turkeys, and more.
In fact, the turkeys were brought in around 1943, Shoults said, which is when the business, Bear Creek Smokehouse, was born. The family bought 600 turkeys, selling them around the area on foot, after removing the feathers in a big black washpot in the back yard. Later, they'd go on to raise hogs, hens, and even dairy cows. They built a plant to further expand their business, and they had a delivery truck, seen in the attached images, with the company's four-digit phone number emblazoned on the side door. It's the same four digits that end their phone number today.
By the time 1972 rolled around, the company slaughtered their very last batch of self-raised turkeys. Ordering from large providers further north was much less labor-intensive than dealing with fighting off predators and the other difficulties that arise when raising, by that time, around 20,000 birds, Shoults said.
Bear Creek Smokehouse continues to order thousands of freshly-dressed turkeys, which they smoke and package in their now over 40,000+ foot facility, but they do a lot more than that, now, too. The Shoults family employs around 40 people in their plant, and the environment when we visited was cheerful, clean, and honestly, just smelled fantastic, with the lovely scent of hickory smoke filling the air in every part of the building.
The hard work the whole family has invested for all these years has resulted in success. If you've looked in your local Walmart meat case lately, for example, you've likely noticed Bear Creek Smokehouse cured salt pork on the shelves. The product is in 700 Walmart stores in 12 states, Shoults says, and they're in over 1,100 Publix supermarkets on the east coast.
Robbie's son Hunter said that HEB is another large customer, having commissioned Bear Creek to help produce their special, secret recipe "Bacon Jam." It's such a popular product that HEB even created a Super Bowl commercial about it, Hunter said, featuring former Dallas Cowboy legend Troy Aikman. (You can see it above, or if you're a mobile user, click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DN3Pvx8U58)
We tasted the amazing condiment, and Robbie's wife Tracy, who also works in the business, gave us a great idea: Pour the sweet-salty concoction over a baked sweet potato, or use it as a glaze for meats you are going to roast or grill. It's only available at HEB stores, so if that sounds good to you, check them out.
When it comes to stirring up the vats of things like Bacon Jam, Hunter is the man in charge. He oversees the plant's operations, and proudly gave me a tour, showing off the giant freezers full of products, the programmable smokehouses where hickory smoke is used to cure the bacon, hams, pork tenderloins, salt pork, and turkeys, and the large room where gift items like layered soup bottles and chili mixes are packaged.
Whether you are looking for salt pork to cook up a pot of greens, corporate gifts for the holidays, or a fat, juicy, smoked turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas, remember to check out East Texas' own Bear Creek Smokehouse. You'll be supporting a local heritage of family and food when you do.
You can visit Bear Creek Smokehouse on their website, as well as on their Facebook page. Also, watch Robbie as he joins us on KLTV for In the Kitchen during the 5 p.m. news on July 24, 2015.
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