Behind the Scenes at Benton's Country Hams

I've eaten Allan Benton's extraordinary pork products before—it's hard to eat dinner at a certain type of restaurant in New York (or Chicago, San Francisco, Charleston, or New Orleans, for that matter) without ordering something deepened by his smoky, silky, funky bacon. Nevertheless, it wasn't until I paid a visit to Benton's smokehouse and storefront in Madisonville, Tennessee—not too far of a drive on Highway 411 southwest of Knoxville—that the character of this meat really worked its way under my skin. I mean that figuratively as well as literally: for days afterward, my skin and hair bore the lingering aroma of the rich, beautifully greasy smoke that permeates this small operation. The experience was overwhelmingly olfactory, but the visual compoment of a visit to Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams is no less remarkable. —Helen Rosner
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About 45 minutes southeast of Knoxville on Highway 411, Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams is an unassuming, green-painted building just slightly set back from the road.Helen Rosner
Hams in the aging room.Helen Rosner
Helen Rosner
Helen Rosner
Sliced bellies ready for sorting.Helen Rosner
Bellies dry-curing; soon to be made into bacon.Helen Rosner
Allan Benton opens the doors to the smokehouse.Helen Rosner
Allan Benton in front of his smokehouse.Helen Rosner
Another wondrous experience at Benton's: You can get a Mello-Yello for just thirty cents.Helen Rosner
Helen Rosner