Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Peek Inside of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tennessee

Have you ever been inside a real, old fashion country smoke house? Well, neither had we and what a fun experience it was.

Last month we attended a get-together at Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings at Almost Heaven South on Tellico Lake in Tennessee. For breakfast the next day our hosts Larry and Bev prepared one of the best BLT’s we’ve ever eaten on Bev’s homemade bread. Right away we noticed that the hickory smoked bacon was something very special and raved about it. Larry encouraged us to stop by Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, where he purchased the bacon, on our way home.

Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams is located in an unassuming building on Highway 411 in the sleepy town of Madisonville, Tennessee. If you didn’t happen to catch the sign, you might miss it. We went inside with the intention of buying a couple of pounds of smoked bacon, and came out not only with some bacon but several packages of Tennessee prosciutto as well.

Owner Allan Benton has earned celebrity status among the chef-and-foodie crowd nationwide for his bacon, country hams, and Tennessee prosciutto. In fact his products are served at the prestigious Blackberry Farms, one of America’s most celebrated intimate luxury hotels located in the Smoky Mountains near Knoxville, Tennessee. Travel & Leisure magazine ranked Blackberry Farms as #1 in their “World’s Best Awards” in the continental United States & Canada.

Let’s go inside. Sammy of Benton's Country Hams has offered to show us around. You're in for a real treat. Vegetarians proceed with caution beyond this point. As Chef Emeril Lagasse would say, in this part of the country "pork fat rules."

Here's a close-up of raw, unprocessed hams as they look when they arrive fresh from the slaughterhouse.

Refrigerated aging room with raw, unprocessed hams from the slaughterhouse.

Sides of bacon hanging in the smokehouse.  Adjust your eyes. It's smoky in here.

From Benton’s website, “Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams are slow cured using salt, brown sugar, and sodium nitrite and typically aged 9-10 months, though hams are available 1 year and older. This time-honored practice dates back to the era of our forefathers, when the preparation and preservation of meat was a way of life and sustenance. Although the hands of time and technology have sculpted many aspects of our modern world, at Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams we have upheld the traditional dry-curing process and are striving to produce world class country hams and bacon.

Our business was started in 1947 by the late Albert H. Hicks, a dairy farmer who began curing and selling country hams out of a painted block building. Allan Benton and his employees have honed the dry-curing of hams and bacon into a culinary art and have catapulted the products from a simple breakfast mainstay into the world of gourmet cooking, where they have been praised for their characteristic flavor. Benton’s Country Hams and Bacon are available either un-smoked or hickory-smoked. Hickory smoking is performed in a small, wood stove smokehouse behind the business, imparting a distinct smoked flavor that many customers prefer”.

Here are slabs of smoked bacon and ham in Benton’s aging room.

Salt cured country hams hanging in the refrigerated aging room.

Tennessee Prosciutto on aging racks.

To help country hams keep their shape, they are placed in nets while they age.

Country hams in aging room coated with Benton’s “secret rub.”

Here are sides of already smoked bacon, ready to be cut up and packaged for consumers.

Three ladies work in the bacon packing room where they place the bacon into one pound packages for consumers. They turn out 800 to 1,000 packages a day.

We extend our very special thanks to Sammy of Benton’s Country Hams for showing us around their packing house and explaining the whole process. If you would like to order any of the things you've seen here from Benton's, click the link above.

You certainly can’t say I don’t take you to fun places can you? Please join me next time as we sample some of Benton’s fabulous aged Tennessee prosciutto served on an open-faced sandwich with juicy fresh plums, creamy goat cheese, and fig preserves.


  1. Oh, magnificent! What an awesome place. I love pork and smoked meat.



  2. What a fantastic post Sam! Loved that tour you just gave us; I've never been in a smoke house,but now I can understand what it's all about.
    Going to check out your salmon recipe; prepareing some for supper.

  3. Oh. My. Gosh. How far is this from my house???

  4. Thanks for sharing this with us, but no my mouth is watering....... Diane

  5. 800 - 1000 packages a day is alot! Thanks so much for this wonderful tour. I've never been inside a smoke house, very interesting.

  6. Thanks so much for taking us on this fun and informative tour of Smoky Mountain Country Hams. Their products sound fantastic, I would certainly love to try that prosciutto.

  7. This was a very interesting tour, Sam. It's amazing to think that this type of meat preservation has been handed down through many generations, which proves it makes the meat taste even more delicious! I am now craving some prosciutto!

  8. Oh my, what a wonderful place to visit. It is so good to see cured and smoked meats treated with such respect. If only New Zealand could be dragged closer for a shopping expedition to such a special place that so cares for it's charcuterie (then returning NZ back down here to the South Pacific, in the roaring 40s where it belongs).

    Thank you so very much for sharing your visit to wonderful Bentons, Michelle - downunder in Wellington, New Zealand

  9. I do love a smoked country ham. My uncle had his own smoke house and did the Virginia country hams there on his farm so we had one every year while I was growing up. One year, a skunk got into the smoke house. Oh my! My mother, not to be done out of her ham, brought it home and hung it in our attic for a very long time. Needless to say, my sisters and I did not allow one bite to pass our lips! It was a sorrowful year.

    Thanks for the memories.


  10. Sam, thank you so much for the "tour", I enjoyed every picture and description of it. What a great experience.
    Hope you are having a fantastic week :-)

  11. You do such neat things..Jacques would be in 7th heaven..!!

  12. That was quite a tour! I can't believe all of the hams.

  13. Now, that's a lot of pork!! Thanks for the tour--it was fascinating! And thanks for stopping by my blog to say hello.

    Love your blog!

  14. Look at all that BACON!!! This is like the coolest foodie trip ever :)

  15. I’ve never been inside an actual smokehouse, but there’s an old-fashioned smoked meats purveyor/butcher in Columbus, OH called Thurn’s that I adore. They make a German version of prosciutto called schenken that is to die for. Thanks so much for showing us around Benton’s! I may have to try to work it into a trip to Knoxville sometime. Can't wait for your follow-up post, Sam!

  16. Sounds like blt party to me!

    My father used to do the AC for a smokehouse and he traded them hams for work...I grew up on these and love them! Love bacon too...thanks for sharing this Sam :)

  17. What fun! This is my kind of field trip! Thanks for the great photos and narrative, Sam. Of course, now I'm craving smoked ham!

  18. Surfing through the blogs, I ended up here.
    What good are your recipes and photos.
    Offer some interesting points, congratulations.
    I addition to your supporters so you do not lose sight of.
    If you like, go and see, you're welcome.
    Excuse my English

  19. I could almost smell the smoke in that one photo, Sam! This was a great post; I'd never heard of Benton's. Bet that bacon is/was delicious. :)
    I've been to a fish smokehouse....it was so thick with smoke you could hardly see, but the smoked whitefish was fabulous.

  20. Oh how cool! I felt I was on the food network show behind the scenes or something. I love seeing where and how things are done in the food industry. Great pictures

  21. just found your blog! I'm in NC- central- I traveled out to Murphy/Hayesville/Cherokee/Asheville etc. quite a bit this year!

    How did you become part of the NC Writers Network?

    Love the detailed post on Country Ham- so interesting!

  22. I think my NC rooted other half is going to drool over this post!

  23. Wow, I've never seen anything like that, Sam. I can imagine those hams and bacon are amazingly delicious. I don't know of anything similar in my area.

  24. My wife and I went to the Chattanooga Aquarium last month and decided to return home to Knoxville via Route 411 so we could stop in at Benton's Country Ham store in Madisonville to buy some bacon. We picked up a few packages at $6.00 per lb. (we were told that in Knoxville, stores charge $12.00 per lb.) and my wife informally asked if we could just look around a bit in the back. The gentleman at the counter said sure, just go in that cooler over there and ask for Sammy. So we open the cooler door and sure enough Sammy is there preparing a ham. I felt a little hesitant about asking about what they do here, as we were rather surprised that they even let us in the back at all. To my surprise, Sammy not only was quite gracious about explaining what he was doing, but proceeded to give us the grand tour of the entire operation. He took us from room to room, showing how the hams were processed, how bacon was made, etc. as well as the history of Benton's. I kept looking at my wife and smiling, thinking to myself, how cool is this! Finally after seeing everything, Sammy brought us back to the front of the store and showed us the only soda vending machine (probably in the country) where you could still get a Coke for $.30 cents!

    Needless to say, I was blown away by Sammy's hospitality and the friendliness of Benton's employees. One of the real treasures of East Tennessee!

    P.S. My house still smells like hickory smoke!

  25. What a great write up Sam. I've probably mentioned Benton's 25 times in my blog but never considered doing this, so I'm glad you did. We don't have ready access to gulf shrimp, pacific salmon, other seafood, but I can drive 15 minutes for great ham and bacon and it's always on hand here. They also have a meat case were they sell premium bologna and cheese and outstanding choice strip and rib eye steaks for $7.99 a pound. When I post about smoked prime rib, they always come from Benton's.

  26. Bonjour Sam

    I'm imagining the smell of all those smoked goods - especially the prosciutto -umm!
    Thank you for giving us an insight to the workings of a real smoke-house - it's so good to see the behind the scenes shots.

    Keep safe

  27. Wonderful tour, Sam! I adore the thought of Tennessee prosciutto!

  28. What a fun experience, Sam. I never knew about Benten's, but when we head that way again I will look for them. I'd love to try all their goodies, but the Tennessee prosciutto is intriguing me.

  29. I love these tours of yours, Sam!... I've never seen a real old fashioned smoke house, thank you! ... and.. YUM.

  30. Benton's meats are sold down the street from our office. One of the very few places that is sold locally besides his store in Madisonville. Very cool that they let you go back of house to meet the employees and take pictures!

    We have been saying we're going to take a ride there, now I'm going to strongly urge A.J. a lot more!

    Thanks Sam!

  31. Holy Smokes! :)
    I loooove country ham. LOVE country ham. Cool post!

  32. Tennessee prosciutto! Made the old-fashioned way. Fascinating and yes, I'd take some. I think I could get in the car now and be there in two days.

  33. Man what a great establishment! I only wish that we had a place like that around here......oh wait! ha ha

    Benton's is participating as part of Baconfest in Knoxville this year (http://www.knoxbaconfest.com/schedule/)

    Excellent post, Sam! Also, what is Meakin's email address?

  34. What a find! I love shops like this. I'll wager the hams are wonderful. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  35. Wow, great post, Sam. I feel like I was there with you. Wish I had some of the bacon this morning!

  36. I read saw/read this post the other day and then got side tracked by the kids. Anyway, I just made my husband look at this post and I swear I think he's going to leave me tonight so he can move to Tennessee and work at this place! Awesome post! Jealous!

  37. OK, Sam, I've got to google the location of this little smokehouse and stop there on my drive to and from Knoxville. What a treat that you were given this opportunity to see the whole process. It must be quite something to be served on the tables of Blackberry Farm. I've got to try some of their American-made prosciutto!

  38. Wonderful place it seems I love country ham and like to try different locations for it. I also recommend trying G&W Country hams in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. They also have delicious country ham.

  39. Great to know sounds wonderful might take a trip there since I am addicted to ham. You should try another fabulous location for country ham also located in Tennessee its G & W Country Hams in Murfreesboro, Tennessee they have wonderful country ham!!


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