Coursey’s house-smoked hams still hang ready for slicing as they have for more than 60 years.

 

Where There's Smoke

Coursey’s Smoked Meats is an Arkansas tradition

Story and Photography by: Kat Robinson

For many Arkansas travelers, a trip to the Buffalo National River or a journey along U.S. Highway 65 in northern Arkansas is simply not complete without a visit to Coursey’s Smoked Meats. The small collection of buildings on the west side of the highway may not look like much from the road, but the heavenly scent that emanates from the cured hams and turkey breasts is enough to make even drivers who aren’t hungry hit the brakes.

Coursey’s was opened in 1945 by Lynn Coursey, a gourmet chef who moved back to St. Joe around the end of World War II. The classically trained culinarian could have made his mark in fancy restaurants, but instead set up shop on an unpaved road in the heart of Searcy County. As his grandchildren tell it today, Coursey wanted to spend his life engaged in something that would allow him to talk with folks—and to him, a good way to do that was to bring in customers traveling through the Ozarks.

When he first started curing his famous hams, Lynn hung them in an old log smokehouse with a dirt floor that still stands today. He would tie each ham to a nail in the wall, then place an old dry-goods box around it, smoking the meat with hickory for hours. Once the ham was cured, he’d pull it down, take off the box and hang the meat by the string inside his little shop—cutting each down as it was either sold or appropriated for slicing a pound or two at a time.

Today, the smoking is done in a concrete block building, but that wafting essense of salt brine and wood remains. Some days, you can even catch a whiff all the way down on the Buffalo River at Grinder’s Ferry. 

Clockwise from top: Succulent smoked bacon is available from Coursey’s by the pound. The smokehouse is also used to smoke a variety of cheeses like this sliced cheddar. The simple storefront is filled with the wonderful smell of smoked meats. Hams are available in whole, half or sliced quantities.

These days, there is more than just ham on offer at Coursey’s. Turkey breasts also appear hanging, as do big ropes of summer sausage. There are also big hunks of smoked bacon redolent with the lush, salty flavor imparted by the smoke. Coursey’s gets its meat from Petit Jean Meats, so there’s already a significant level of excellence involved even before the meats are hung for the smoking.

Coursey’s Smoked Meats is managed today by John and Mary Lu Coursey Neal, Lynn Coursey’s grandson-in-law and granddaughter. The great-grandkids and great-great-grandkids are also involved in the business—smoking hams and bacon, turkey and summer sausage, Swiss and cheddar cheeses. The store also sells jams and jellies, honey and jerky, and you can pick up a beverage out of the cooler if you like. You can order a whole ham or a half, a turkey or just some sliced meats, wrapped in white wax paper taped on the open end. Occasionally shrink-wrapped bags of ham and bacon ends are available, and they are perfect for making ham salad or throwing in a pot with beans.

For travelers, sandwiches are always an option, and you can have any of the meats and cheeses in combinations lovingly sliced, slapped onto bread and wrapped in white paper to take with you.

Here’s a hint for you—if there are ziptop bags full of bits of turkey or ham or cheese, get this for your travels home. These little $2 snack bags are a bargain and they’ll keep you from breaking into your paper-wrapped package before you get home. Because when it comes to Coursey’s, it’s hard to resist that old-time artisan taste.

Coursey’s has no website, but if you want a ham, bacon, turkey or cheese shipped to you, call 870-438-2503.