12back roads/MD tks
LEWISTON — Customers of Pete’s Meats in downtown Lewiston have great tastes, grand champion tastes to be exact.
Judges at the annual convention of the Minnesota Association of Meat Processors said so. They awarded the grand champion ribbon for bone-in ham to Mark Lewis, who seasoned, tumbled, cured and smoked the top ham at Pete’s. He won second place for boneless ham in the mid-March competition.
In turn, Lewis, who owns the shop with his wife, Judy, said the secret to his success was listening to his customers. He found over the years what they liked in seasonings and put them into the ham. "Here, they like a fairly sweet ham, with low salt," he said.
But he also said, with some humility, that "I picked the right ham." When he takes one to the competition, he can’t cut it open to see if it has blemishes. When they are cut in half, a blemish can ruin a ham’s chances of victory. He needed every point he could get because his ham scored 964 out of 1,000, only three points ahead of the second-place ham.
And in another bout of humility, Lewis added: "It’s just plain luck of the draw, it’s just pure luck." He’s entered other great hams in the past, but didn’t get any ribbon because for some reason, the judges liked a different taste or there was a blemish.
Lewis said he grew up near Theilman in Wabasha County and his uncle, Stanley Wilson, had a little butcher shop so Lewis got interested there. He worked at butcher shops in Eyota and Chatfield before buying Pete’s Meats 14 years ago. The business was named for Al Peterson, and Lewis just kept the name, even though he’s not named Pete. He takes care of butchering, with the help of several employees, and his wife takes care of the books.
To make a good ham, he mixes up the cure and puts it on the ham. Then he puts it in a tumbler, which sort of looks like a horizontal clothes dryer that tenderizes the meat. He lets the ham rest for a few days and smokes it.
Everyone uses the same basic system, Lewis said. The trick is in the details. "We tweak things a little bit different," he said. "When I cure, I add different things."
His tweaking involves using a brown sugar base and smoking the hams with smoke from maple and hickory sawdust.
While the grand championship also honors his customers, the whole town benefits, he said. He smokes hams and bacon about once a week, and everyone downwind knows it.
The reaction is "Oh, it smells so good outside today," Judy Lewis said.
Staff writer John Weiss travels the region’s back roads looking for people, places and things of interest for this column. Call him at (507) 285-7749 or e-mail him at email@example.com.