The most memorable traditions are centered on simple things like gathering around the dinner table to enjoy a meal. It may be a simple thing, but it says a lot and means a lot; and Burgers’ Smokehouse (Burgers’) has been supporting family traditions, holidays and special occasions through wholesome, authentic specialty meats and award-winning food items since 1952.
Burgers’ now stands as one of the nation’s largest producers of country ham and specialty cured and smoked meat from ribs to bacon and sausage, city to country ham, beef to buffalo, turkey and even bacon steak. Yes that is correct, bacon steak – a thick slab of cured center-cut bacon seasoned with salt, pepper and brown sugar and hickory smoked to golden brown, creating a texture that is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
While Burgers’ is now one the largest of its kind, the fourth-generation, family-owned processor and retailer started small, as a means for founder E.M. Burger to make extra money when times were tight.
Farm to family legacy
E.M.’s mother, Hulda Burger, arrived in the U.S. in the late 19th century, bringing with her German meat curing recipes and techniques passed down from generation to generation. She passed these same recipes onto E.M. and he quickly learned that a meticulously cured ham could sell for much more than the hog itself.
Although 1952 is widely recognized as Burgers’ starting date, the company’s roots can be traced back to the late 1920s. In the rural Ozark region of central Missouri, E.M. cured hams in farm buildings on the Bueker farm – E.M.’s wife, Natalia’s, side of the family – where the operation began.
“Our roots can be traced back to 1927 when my grandfather began curing country hams in farm buildings,” explains Steven Burger, president and third-generation family member. “He sold six hams the first year.”
E.M. constructed the official Ham House in 1952 to distinguish it from other buildings on the property; the name stuck and it still stands today as part of what is now adjacent to a 300,000-square-foot meat processing facility. The same year E.M. hit a record, selling 1,000 country hams. “The year 1952 was the beginning of what would become a substantial business,” shares Steven.
In 1956, E.M. met with Dr. J.S. Stein of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the meeting, Burgers’ Ozark Country Cured Hams Inc., better known as Burgers’ in the Missouri Ozarks, became the first federally inspected country ham plant in the nation. “This was very important since federal inspection allowed us to sell product across state lines,” Steven explains.
Quality assurance still takes time and care
From six cured country hams in 1927 to nearly half a million today, many things in Burgers’ process have changed, but many things have stayed the same: care, pride and the time to cure, age, smoke and hand-prepare superior quality products remains.
“Because it’s not just our family tradition; it’s yours, too,” assures Steven. “My grandfather took great pride in every ham he produced and that’s still our tradition.”
Steven joined the family business in 1984 after college; however, he was raised in the industry. Steven became president in 2000 when his father, Morris, stepped away from day-to-day operations. “The first member of the fourth generation is now working in the company,” reveals Steven. “There are a total of 17 fourth generation family members.”
Burgers’ is now one of the nation’s largest providers of specialty smoked meats, most famous for its award-winning country and city sweet-cured hams. The company’s rich family history, time honored traditions and meticulous care in preparation have made Burgers’ what it is now.
“From our 300,000-square-foot facility in California, Missouri, we distribute across the country and even to some international customers,” notes Steven. “We sell through various channels; grocery stores, as well as food service and restaurant customers, also direct to consumer through our Factory Country Store, mail-order catalogues and online sales.”
A particular favorite through the holiday season, Steven says Burgers’ has also become popular in the corporate gift-giving scene. “Our customized packages and programs are perfect for companies that want to give gifts to customers or employees, or have incentive marketing programs,” he shares.
As artisans, scientists and perfectionists and overall lovers of great food, Burgers’ keeps up with such widespread demand with modern automation and time-tested techniques. “The curing process starts with hand-rubbing each ham with a unique seasoning blend – the same combination E.M.’s mother developed almost a century ago,” shares Steven. “Careful temperature controls have helped us perfect the aging process and high pressure processing [HPP] is a new technology we’ve implemented after packaging.”
“After the product has been packaged, HPP exerts high pressure to disable any pathogens or spoilage bacteria in the product,” he continues. “It’s a reasonably new method, but not widely utilized, but for us, it’s all about food safety.”
Knowing a food product has been safely packaged makes it all the more enjoyable. According to Steven, Burgers’ fastest-growing product category is dry cured bacon – original hickory smoked, Applewood, Cajun, maple and pepper-coated, you name it. From Canadian bacon to bacon-wrapped steaks and chicken breast and even thick-cut country bacon steaks cured with brown sugar, Burgers’ is literally bringing home the bacon.
However, the company continues to do so with exceptional care and a passion for its work; a notion that’s been unchanged since 1952. From the Burgers’ table to yours, whether it’s a holiday brunch or a tailgating party, Burgers’ Smokehouse has the meat to match and make the occasion a memorable one.