Tracy Shoults, left, and her husband Robbie Shoults, co-owners of Bear Creek Smokehouse, hold up Bacon Bark — a new chocolate product with bacon inside — and a pan of Tiger Butter Fudge this past week in Marshall
It may seem like an odd combination — rich chocolate and bacon — but Robbie Shoults said the relatively new offering at Bear Creek Smokehouse keeps customers wanting more.
“It’s been a hit,” he said. While the Harrison County landmark has been known for its smoked meats since it was founded in 1943, by Hick and Nellis Shoults, Robbie Shoults said the addition of fudges and other sweet treats made on the premises have taken off in their own right.
Those early years in the 1940s for W.H. “Hick” Shoults and his wife, Nellie, were lean ones. They were looking for something to do on their farmland between Harleton and Marshall to replace cotton, which was not paying the bills.
Turkeys gobbled their way into the the Shoults’ backyard smokehouse and after years of hard work and fine tuning their recipes while adding lines, the business took off.
Now operated by the fourth generation of the Shoults family, including company vice president Robbie Shoults and his wife, Tracy Shoults, the long tradition of smoking and curing meats has been expanded to other gourmet treats — like a variety of fudges and sweets that include bacon bark.
In addition to growing the selections from smoked and cured hams, turkeys, brisket and bacon, the couple and their staff also put some miles on the Bear Creek fleet by doing holiday shows in places like Kansas City, Jackson, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; Houston and Austin.
The firm’s first customers were local grocers and orders placed at the local Agricultural Extension office, but now, their customers number in the thousands for mail order, fax, Internet, and phone orders.
Bear Creek Smokehouse earlier this year received an economic incentive from Marshall Economic Development Corp. of $48,000, which will go toward expansion of the family’s Bear Creek Smokehouse and the addition of 19 full-time jobs.
At least part of the family’s hope is that bacon bark will help fuel future growth.
Bacon bark is combination of the savory and the sweet; tiny bits of Bear Creek bacon covered in chocolate.
Another part of Bear Creek’s expansion was encouraged by an agreement with Red Rock foods, which has a license to make Nolan Ryan sandwiches, which will now feature meat from Bear Creek Smokehouse.
“We’ve secured a contract with Red Rock Foods, an Arlington-based company, to smoke meats for their Nolan Ryan brand sandwich products,” said Robbie Shoults. “They don’t have the capabilities at their current plant. So, they’re bringing their cooking operations here. The sandwiches will then be assembled in Dallas.”
According to Shoults, the product is a pre-made, microwavable sandwich generally sold at convenience stores and truck stops.
Bear Creek Smokehouse now sends its product to stores across the nation. Robbie Shoults said some 2 million pounds of cured salt pork are sold to Walmart, Publix, Kroger and other food chains.
To help propel growth, Bear Creek Smokehouse moved into new food lines — they now sell candies, barbecue sauce, soups, spice mixes and other desserts. Many of their products are marketed as gourmet foods.
The firm still specializes in smoked meat products, such as ham, bacon, chicken and turkey, and produces a number of private label products for HEB Foods of Texas.
“We produce holiday gift boxes and that sort of thing, but our biggest year-round seller is cured salt-pork,” Shoults said. “We produce roughly 2 million pounds per year and ship nationally.”
While the Bear Creek Smokehouse recipe for bacon bark has been fine-tuned and customized, the Food Network offered this general recipe for a similar product that can be made at home.
Servings: 4 to 6
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To prepare the nuts: In a small bowl, add the pecans, walnuts, brown sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, paprika, a pinch of salt and a grind or 2 of pepper. Stir until everything is coated and set aside.
To prepare the bacon: In another small bowl, add the brown sugar, paprika, bacon, lemon zest, a pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Spread out on a nonstick baking sheet and cook until the bacon is almost done and the sugars are bubbling, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the nut mixture on to the sheet. Stir and fold with a spatula and spread everything out on the sheet again. Place back in the oven for 15 more minutes, stirring and spreading again halfway through. Serve warm, or allow to cool and break apart.
— Recipe courtesy of Food Network.com
Bacon Bark is prepared for packaging this past week at Bear Creek Smokehouse in Marshall.
Left to right-Vanilla pecan, tiger butter and chewy prealine fudge Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, at Bear Creek Smokehouse in Marshall. (Kevin Green/News-Journal Photo)