Dewig Meats came home from the American Cured Meat Championship last month with a fistful of awards, including one the Dewigs are particularly proud of: the Cured Meats Excellence Award, on honor they said might be once-in-a-lifetime.
“This competition rotates all over the U.S., and this year it was in Charleston, S.C., “Dewig scion Darla Kiesel said. “These meat packers from all over the U.S. and Canada enter their products. There’s hundreds and hundreds of products here. There are about 20 or more categories you can enter, and this year we won three of them and placed second in another three.”
The Dewigs won the bologna, hotdog, and bone-in ham categories, bringing their German bologna for the bologna contest.
“A first place means you are the best maker of that product in the U.S., and we’re really tickled about the products we won,” Kiesel said. “Our German bologna is one of our biggest sellers, the hotdogs are used a lot at the ballparks, and the hams are big around Easter and Christmas.”
The Dewig’s second-place entries were dried beef, Braunschweiger, and boneless ham. Their high performance across so many categories was what sealed the Cured Meats Excellence Award for Dewig Meats. According to Darla Kiesel, one thing that made winning extra special for her and her husband, Aaron was Aaron made most of the entries himself.
“When we won this award, we were holding back tears,” she said. “It means so much to us. We put so much work into babying these products. Aaron was going out at night checking on the smokehouse, adjusting this or that – we did a lot of work after hours making these products.”
“It takes time – about a month – to get the products perfect,” Aaron said. “Not only is it the preparation, but there’s certain blocks of meat you want to make them out of. I was kind of proud that all the ham we brought to the competition came from Haubstadt pigs. It took about four weeks on the hams to develop the color and flavor, and that was a lot of early mornings and late nights. It takes time to get that stuff right. The guys that come to this are from all over the country, and you’ve got to bring the good stuff.”
The Dewigs are certainly not the only family business to show up to the American Cured Meat Championship – in fact, Darla said, about 90 percent of the contestants are families of meat people.
“Part of why it’s so exciting for us is, mom and dad are both in the business, we married two people who are both in the business, and now the children are growing up in the business,” she said. “A lot of the meat packers are family businesses just like us, so at any given time, there’s lots of children around. It’s a very down-to-earth group of individuals.”
Darla and Aaron went to the competition with Darla’s parents, Janet and Tom Dewig, and of course, the three kids, Jarrett, Addison, and Heidi.
“Dean (my brother) couldn’t go, nor his wife, because we can’t all leave the plant at the same time,” Darla said. “We got to sight-see a little bit, and by us having three kids, it was a little complicated to do much of anything, but we did some sightseeing and some educational seminars. Basically we spent almost all our time at the convention.”
While the Dewigs said they will return to the American Cured Meat Championship, and of course, they plan to win again, the Cured Meats Excellence Award is such a big accomplishment, they might not be able to defend their title.
“It was really something, and I hope it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime award, but it quite possible could be,” Darla said.