Bear Creek Smokehouse: A Thanksgiving Turkey Go-To For 77 Years

A rafter of about 600 turkeys put the Shoults’ Bear Bottom farm (now Bear Creek Smokehouse) on the map in 1943.

Always remember, everything you make is going to be reduced down to a single bite.

—Bobby Shoults, second-generation owner, Bear Creek Smokehouse

By Jennifer McKee

It all started in 1943, in the backyard of Hick and Nellie Shoults’ family farm. The couple started out raising cotton and corn, but was having a hard time putting food on the table as they were coming out of the Great Depression and feeling the effects of World War II. On the advice of his uncle, Hick turned his sights toward raising turkeys.

The rest, they say, is history.

The Shoults’ story is one of resilience and hope, grit and determination.

“My granddad always said ‘the only thing dumber than a turkey is the man trying to raise them,'” says Robbie Shoults, third-generation owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse. “But they were successful that first year even though they had never raised turkeys before.”

Hick and Nellie Shoults

Hick and Nellie ordered about 600 turkeys that year, which immediately became a hit. “Ladies from the town would come out with their pan and say ‘I think that turkey would fit my roasting pan, I’ll take that one,'” says Robbie. Their processing plant hadn’t even been built yet—so for the first few years, the Shoults’ would hand-process their turkeys right in the back yard.

Fast-forward to 2020: the family business continues to thrive, recently opening a 43,000-square-foot facility with a processing plant, events center, retail space and pit room.

“We really have turned into a destination location,” says Robbie. “The store sits up on a high hill—it’s at a 45-degree angle from the highway so when you see it it’s beautiful, it makes people want to stop. We have people come from all over the country.”

One of the most exciting draws are the Saturday barbecues (11 am-3 pm or until sold out), which offer up a taste of BCS’s unforgettable smoked meats. One of the menu items is the smoked turkey, made from the very same recipe Hick and Nellie worked on with Texas A&M University to perfect in the ’40s.

Robbie Shoults at the original Bear Creek Smokehouse

BCS’ turkeys have become Thanksgiving go-tos in East Texas and beyond—in addition to its healthy online and mail-order business, the smokehouse supplies meat to Walmart, Publix, Kroger, H-E-B and many more retailers. What’s best, the turkeys (as well as hams, chickens and pork loin) come pre-cooked, cutting down on your time in the kitchen.

Pair with something “off the wall,” as Robbie puts it, for your side: Red Beans & Rice—the recipe can be found in the Bear Bottom Bliss cookbook and feeds 10-12. See the recipe below.

And if you’re in the area—or looking for a fun road trip—don’t forget to check out BCS’ great collection of merchandise that includes everything from Staub cookware to ladies’ Charley 1 Horse hats, items you can’t find in the big-box stores.

Red Beans & Rice

1 lb. dried red beans
0.5 lb. Bear Creek Smokehouse Salt Pork, cut into one-inch cubes
3 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped parsley leaves
1 tbsp. garlic salt
0.25 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes or cayenne
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1.5 tsp. hot sauce
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 lb. Bear Creek Smoked Sausage or Cajun-style sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
Long grain white rice cooked according to package directions

The day before serving, sort and wash beans. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring water two inches above beans. Cover pot and soak overnight. The next day, drain soaked water. Add water and Bear Creek Smokehouse Salt Pork to the pot. Bring to a simmer. Cook and cover for 45 minutes. Add onions, parsley, garlic salt, oregano, red pepper flakes or cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, hot sauce and tomato sauce. While the bean mixture simmers, brown sausage in a skillet. Add Bear Creek Smokehouse Smoked Sausage to beans. Cook beans for another 30-45 minutes. Add water to beans if needed.

To serve, place large spoon of cooked rice in serving dish. Top rice with beans.

The Bear Creek Smokehouse family today. Robbie Shoults is at far right.

All photos ©Bear Creek Smokehouse

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