The nation’s largest producer of country ham and specialty smoked meats is right in the Midwest. Located a few miles south of California, Mo., Burgers’ Smoke House is still operating on the original site where founder E. M. Burger smoked the first ham he sold in the mid-1920s.
The nation’s largest producer of country ham and specialty smoked meats is right in the Midwest. Located a few miles south of California, Mo., Burgers’ Smoke House is still operating on the original site where founder E. M. Burger smoked the first ham he sold in the mid-1920s. Burgers’ Smokehouse is committed to producing quality meats, president Steven Burger said. “Our focus first and foremost is developing the best flavor that we can,” Burger said. E.M. Burger died in 1972 and left his son Morris to run the family business. In the late 1990s, the third generation of Burgers took over the responsibility of managing the company. According to Steven Burger, 1952 is generally referred to as the actual beginning of the company. E.M. Burger sold 1,000 hams that year. This prompted him to build the “Ham House,” a 1,500-square-foot structure. That first building is now part of the 283,859-square-foot complex. Burgers’ cures more than 750,000 hams annually. “We are a legacy business and feel we have been good stewards of the company by remaining true to the values of prior generations,” Burger said. Burgers’ Smokehouse keeps old traditions alive while embracing new technology. With the ability to have climate-controlled rooms, meats can be processed year-round. A water knife is used to precisely cut the meats. The ham steaks are fed in on a conveyor belt. They pass under a camera, then a computer determines the best way to cut each steak with two 40,000-psi water jets. One jet trims half of the steak and the second trims the other half, Burger said. Before venturing into the deli and retail area, people are encouraged to walk through the onsite indoor visitors center. Three dioramas depicting the seasons of the Ozarks are the main attractions. An old-fashioned water wheel pushes running water through all three of the realistic dioramas. Missouri’s four seasons played a major role in the curing process before electricity was available to create artificial temperatures. Butchering and curing meats were done in the wintertime to prevent spoilage. Light airy spring days dried the meats and the summer heat was necessary for aging. Family pictures, trophies won by family members in county ham competitions, letters from customers and other memorabilia are in the next section. A two-and-half story summertime diorama dominates the area. Pictures of the Burger family and other memorabilia highlighting the company’s history are proudly displayed. After touring the visitors center, people are directed into the main entrance of the facility were a cozy living room setting, complete with a fireplace, welcomes guests. The next section is a deli where visitors can treat themselves to one of Burgers’ fresh sandwiches. Beyond the deli and retail section is the Ole Days Theatre, where a documentary video is shown. The tour of the plant is narrated by family members. “We stopped doing tours inside the plant about 10 years ago because of liability issues,” Burger said. After stocking up on country ham and bacon, head into the city of California to the Cultural Heritage Center. The center has more than 24 displays, including hands-on attractions for children. “We have a little bit of everything. We principally cover the turn of the century,” museum chairman Richard Schroeder said. “It is very unique because it is colorful and artistically done in an entertaining manner.” The museum is closed until April. However, Schroeder will open the museum for groups of five or more with advance notice. Contact him at 573-796-2250. Burgers’ Smokehouse is located on Route 87, three miles south of the junction with Highway 50. Contact this reporter at email@example.com.