Country Rope Sausage

A few years ago, Carol’s folks gave us a gift pack of ham and sausages from Burgers’ Smokehouse. Good stuff. We’ve ordered from them a few times… always ham – oddly, it’s hard to find good country ham in San Francisco – and something we haven’t tried. This time it was Country Rope Sausage.

b_sausage_n_oil

The rope sausage comes in three flavors, mild, medium and hot… I chose the mild to start with and followed the package directions to cook.

“Preheat skillet to 300 degrees. Add 1/4 cup oil and 1 lb. Burgers Rope Sausage. Cover and brown for approximately 8 minutes. Turn and brown an additional 8 minutes. Reduce heat to 250 degrees. Add 1 cup water. Cover and cook for approximately 8 minutes. Turn and cook for an additional 8 minutes or until done. Use meat drippings for milk gravy or fried eggs.”

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I figured medium heat would be about 300 degrees for my cast iron skillet, and my oil of choice was olive oil since I would be using the drippings for a vegetable saute.

b_rope_steams

For my vegetable saute, I peeled and sliced one green pepper, one onion and half a large bulb of fennel. I added thyme to the mix and when the vegetables were almost tender, added some white wine to finish.

b_vegetablesb_veg_cook

The sausage is a medium fine grind and turned out perfectly browned, moist and tasty. The vegetable saute was a superb accompaniment.

b_rope_served

Damn fine brunch, but I got to thinking I ought to be feeling a twinge of guilt.

That morning, I attended a talk by Michael Pollan on his book Food Rules. I’m a big fan and have read most of his other books. One of the basic tenants of his philosophy is knowing where your food comes from. Well, this sausage came from Burgers’ Smokehouse in California, Missouri. But where do they get their meat? Their web site is all about their smokehouse and marketing… no mention of where and how their pork is raised.

They do say,

“By 1956 Mr. Burger was producing around 5,000 hams annually so he curtailed his farming activities to devote more time to the ham business. An expansion program was outlined. On July 23, 1956, the company became the first country cured meat company in the United States to receive Federal Inspection.

The family-owned corporation now comprises more than 305,545 square feet and is still located on the original site. Interestingly enough, that first little 1952 building remains a part of the existing plant complex. At the present time, the company produces 750,000 hams, bacon, sausage and a dozen other specialty meats.”

With trepidation, I sent them an email and asked the question.

Subject: a question about your products
From: Marcus Rector
Date: January 25, 2010 10:43:42 AM PST
To: service@smokehouse.com

A few years ago, we were given a gift pack of ham and sausage from Burgers’ Smokehouse. Good stuff. We’ve ordered from you two or three times a year since then. Oddly, it’s hard to find good smoked ham in San Francisco.

I buy nearly all my meat at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco, so I know where it comes from and how it is raised. Where does the pork that you process in your smokehouse come from and how it is raised?

Sincerely,
Marcus Rector

From: service@smokehouse.com
Subject: Re: [Bulk] a question about your products
Date: January 25, 2010 1:38:57 PM PST
To: Marcus Rector

Our pork come from commercial producers in our state or from surrounding
states such as Iowa and Kansas.  All our meat products are USDA inspected
and first quality.
Thank you for the inquiry,
Edwena Shock
Customer Service for the Smokehouse

I have to reason that if their pork was free range, grass fed, heritage breed or any of that, they would say so. By buying from them I am indirectly supporting industrial feed lots. But their pork products are so good… they really know how to handle their spices and curing. Their ingredients are certainly straightforward: pork (including hams, loins and tenderloins), water, salt, seasoning (spices), sugar, monosodium glutamate.

So a nice brunch turns into a moral dilemma. I buy mostly local, and foods that are in season locally, but I’m not a fanatic. And is buying from Burgers’ Smokehouse any different than buying meat from Safeway?

Good sausages are certainly available at the Farmers Market, but not like these. And as I said, I haven’t found good country ham in San Francisco. So I will continue looking for that stuff at the market, continue to support the meat merchants at the market and rationalize my paltry one or two purchases a year from Burgers.

3 thoughts on “Country Rope Sausage

  1. Michael,

    I was at the same Pollan talk and also thought about the number of food purchases I regularly make that don’t fall into the “less than 6 ingredients rule” and are more processed or less humane than I would like. Regarding your trepidation in writing to Burgers’ Smokehouse, I just wanted to thank you for summing the gumption to ask the hard questions. Even if the answers don’t change your purchasing habits, the more their fans hear that customers want to know this information, and care about it, the more apt they are to change.

    Christine

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  2. Hey Marcus,

    What about telling the local producers you know what you like about the Burgers’ sausage, and seeing if they’ll make something like it? I doubt they’d want to include the msg though.

    Personally, I don’t think food choices are ever a black or white thing. Sometimes you gotta buy something anyway, even if it doesn’t meet your definition of sustainable, because it’s special to you.

    It couldn’t hurt to write back and tell Burgers you’d love to see a range raised, sustainable pork product! 🙂

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  3. I hope you had some good mustard to go along with that sausage… 😉

    Good explication of a dilemma we all face whether we want to think about it or not. As Pollan and others have described, the methods used to raise the pork in those sausages are demeaning to the animal, and to the people who raise and process the animal and its feed. The goal is to make pork at the lowest cost, period. Until the larger market places a priority on flavor, sustainability, and good labor practices we will continue to be flooded with cheap (in every sense of the word) meat.

    You’re right that Burger’s Smokehouse has the skill to turn cheap meat into quality sausages and ham; it’s just a shame they don’t offer us the choice to take advantage of those skills when they start with quality meat. I would ask you to write back and ask if they would consider adding a small amount of Niman Ranch (or the equivalent) meats to their product line, price it accordingly, and offer them as an option…unless we have a choice (which you don’t if you can’t get an equivalent processed product from a local producer…) we will be forced to support cheap meat.

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