Allan Benton, owner
Allan Benton’s grandparents arose long before daylight every Thanksgiving Day on their farm in the England Valley community of Scott County, Virginia. While the women crumbled cornbread for sage dressing inside the farmhouse, the men laid out ammunition, sharpened knives, and hauled out tackle for hog killing.
Allan Benton never forgot childhood slices of salt-cured ham, flavored by Virginia winter chill and summer heat. The pull of pork eventually brought the former schoolteacher full circle. Now he’s the proprietor of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, between Vonore and Madisonville, Tennessee, in a building that houses sometimes as many as 8,000 hams.
Allan describes it as “a hole-in-the wall business.” Grain-fed hams are rubbed down with salt and brown sugar in a 25-year-old maple saltbox made by Allan and his father. The hams are cured for as long as 16 months.
Allan’s preferred cooking method is pan-frying the ham in a black iron skillet. He recommends pouring half a cup of coffee into the skillet and stirring in “a big old pinch of brown sugar.” He lays the slices of ham on top of the sugary liquid and steams them, with a lid on, then removes the lid and browns the meat lightly on both sides.