A Conversation with Kenley Redditt
Kenley Redditt, owner of The Country Smokehouse in Blairsville, Georgia, has spent his entire life around beef. His father was a cowboy in Central Florida during the 1930–40's. "Cowboys were self-sufficient and had all they needed if something got broken and needed to be fixed," said Redditt. "My dad got started helping with everything from doing repairs to slaughtering cows. And, that's where my legacy of meat cutting began. My father is still cutting meat today; not because he has to but because he loves it."
Redditt makes a distinction between butchers and meat cutters: "Butchers are the ones who work in the slaughter houses getting the beef, pork or chicken ready for the meat cutters. In the business meat cutters are the people like me who take carcasses and cut them into special cuts."
Redditt was dissatisfied with commercial beef jerky so he began experimenting with different recipes in his early twenties. Thirty years of trial and error later, he perfected the product he sells today. Although his recipe is a closely guarded secret, he was willing to share his process: "I start with a large chunk of top round or eye round of beef. Back then we weren't sophisticated in naming all the cuts. Whenever a meat cutter would throw the uncut piece of beef on the butcher block, whatever side landed face up was called the 'top round.' You can use any solid piece of meat and prices are directly proportionate to its tenderness. The meat is cut into thin slices and marinated with different spices to make different flavors. The mild flavor is most often requested, but we also make spicy, hot and a teriyaki. "The marinated slices are dried and smoked for about 18 hours. I have probably made and sold more than 20,000 pounds of jerky. Our product stands apart from the rest because we use good quality cuts of meats, no preservatives, no nitrates, 98% fat free and all natural ingredients." According to Redditt, beef jerky will keep for three to four months without refrigeration, "Round style sticks are not true jerky. The flat thin slices are the true beef jerky and they are all meat."
The Smokehouse also sells another little known food called "hard tack." This hard bread made with flour and salt was a staple of cowboys on the range. "You may remember seeing some cowboys in the old western movies eating what may have looked like jerky but it was hard tack. During the Civil War, the government operated bakeries to make military rations of hard tack in precisely 3-1/2" square pieces. They were put in barrels and sealed to preserve them. The barrels were marked 'MRE's' (meals ready to eat) and were put on trains and taken to different troop locations. This proved to be an efficient way to distribute to thousands of soldiers a bit of nourishment each man could carry and eat without worry of spoiling. After the war most of the bakeries closed and Nabisco (National Biscuit Company) purchased many of them and began to produce a 3-1/2" square of flour and salt known today as the saltine cracker."
The Country Smokehouse is a wholesale-only business. They no longer have a walk-in retail store, but you can purchase their beef jerky at Sunrise Grocery in Blairsville.
The Country Smokehouse Meat Market
Kenley Redditt, Owner
1161 Gainsville Hwy, Blairsville, GA 30512