Just recently, my husband and I cruised across the country to visit our daughter and her family. We traveled by car all the way from California to New Jersey. It was a wonderful trip. The best part about going by car was that we were able to stop off in Morrilton, Arkansas, and take a tour of Petit Jean Meats. Petit Jean Meats is home to real Ozark style hard-wood smoked hams and bacon, with a plethora of other meats.
It really was exciting for me to take a tour of a meat packing factory since I remember so well the times I spent in my grandfather's butcher shop when I was growing up. Petit Jean Meats is quite an step up from that little local butcher shop; it's a full-functioning meat packing plant that caters to the whole United States. In fact, Petit Jean Meats is the official Ham and Bacon of the Dallas Cowboys!
Our official tour began when we were greeted by Charles. He's one of the sons of the current owner, David Ruff. He knows the Petit Jean Meats Factory inside and out, and was the perfect host. After we donned on the coats and head coverings, we entered the main workings of the factory. One of the first things we noticed was the cleanliness. As with all companies that work with food, Petit Jean Meats makes sure that no contaminants reach where food is worked with.
Charles took us around the factory starting out with the big refrigerated area of finished products. He prefers to show people around starting with the finished products then find out the process that they are made. Racks and racks of almost ready-to-go products we there before us.
These finished products are just waiting to be packed in their vacuumed sealed wrappings then labeled to be sent to their final destinations. Literally, it was a feast before our eyes.
The next stop on the tour, Charles took us into the room where they cut the meats. Here's one of their machines to spiral slice a ham. I always wondered what the machine looked like that did this chore.
In another part of the room, was the huge vacuum sealer. Meats are first put into the bags, put under a machine that slightly shrinks the bags and will crimp them sealed, then sent down to the main vacuum seal machine.
This machine, above, uses the power of steam to get the bags super tight around the finished product. They had just gotten done with vacuum sealing fresh smoked hams. They are then on their way to get labeled.
Our next stop was the labeling and shipping area. Here employees were busy adding labels and boxing items. There were boxes of items all ready to be shipped to suppliers, or to be added to cold storage.
We both thought that the labeling area was quite busy until we reached the bacon room. Bacon is Petit Jean Meats biggest seller - well, it is the best tasting bacon we have ever had - and slicing up sides of bacon to package is a full-time operation at Petit Jean Meats.
I must admit that the bacon room was my favorite. Once the bacon is sliced, there are two woman who know just how much to grab to make a pound, and readily know how much of the ends to slice off to fit in a package. My husband and I were very much impressed.
When the bacon enters this room, it is hanging from the racks that they were smoked on.
Once removed from the racks, they are laid on a large cart ready to be sliced up.
Since bacon is Petit Jean's biggest business, we found in another refrigerated area all the sides of bacon just ready to be sliced and packaged. Let me tell you, all this bacon...it smelled so succulent!
It was time to move onward. Our next stop was where they did their smoking! There were huge ovens that can hold many racks of products to smoke. One such oven was just done smoking juicy boneless hams.
Above, you'll see the secret to Petit Jean Meats delicious flavor - real hardwood chips. Charles started a little up so that we could see and smell the richness for ourselves.
To be sure that every item is smoked precisely the same way, Petit Jean has everything computerized. It's all just a press of a button. The ovens start up, the smoker gets smoking, and the products are done precisely on time.
We were next escorted into a room where they prepare sausage, hot dogs, and bologna. Here they were making bologna. It was interesting to say the least. They put the meat mixture, which is made with fresh pork and cut-offs from their bacon, into a machine that squirts it into long tubes. These long tubes filled with bologna were then off to be cooked in large hot water vats.
Next we entered a room where workers were diligently making boneless hams to be smoked. Here's a rack almost about ready to be put into one of their big smoking ovens.
Did you know that Petit Jean Meats has over 100 different products? We didn't either until Charles led us into the label room. So many labels for all of there delicious products.
The tour was just about complete as Charles led us into the freezers. These were huge walk-in freezer rooms just full of boxes ready for shipping. You can order any item from Petit Jean Meats online, but their biggest customers are stores.
It was just about time to take our leave from the factory. We had such a delightful time on our tour. Charles sent us on our way with two of Petit Jean's venison summer sausages to take with us - Deer Summer Sausage plus Jalapeno and Cheese Deer Summer Sausage. Both of these sausages were delicious, but the jalapeno and cheese was my personal favorite!
My husband and I enjoyed our visit to the Petit Jean Meats Factory so much. Charles was a terrific host and was very patient to answer our many questions.
If you are looking for the best tasting real hard wood smoked hams and bacon, especially with Thanksgiving approaching, Petit Jean Meats will meet and exceed your expectations. Look for a big giveaway for Christmas as Petit Jean Meats is again one of Royalegacy's Holiday Gift Guide Sponsors.
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Disclosure: The summer sausage was a gift from Petit Jeans Meats as a token of appreciation for blogging about the tour. No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.