Nearly 500 turkeys, sausages, hams and other specialty cured meat products were brought to Mobile, Ala., last week, as part of the annual Association of American Meat Processors (AAMP) Convention. The American Cured Meat Championships, a highlight of the show, is the largest national cured meats competition in the country and brings award-winning and top-selling products from across the country.

There were a total of 484 products submitted for this year’s competition by 51 participating plants. The event, which takes place over several days of the AAMP Convention, requires numerous volunteers to help register and prepare items, judges to scrutinize the exterior, interior and taste of each product, and meat science students to assist judges. All-total, three were 625 man- and woman-hours spent on the 2019 ACMC.

This year’s ACMC featured 29 categories, including a specialty category, liver & loaf product, for this year. Depending on the number of entries per category, there were anywhere from two to four awards presented in each category. The top prize awarded in each category is Grand Champion, followed by Reserve Grand Champion, Champion and Reserve Champion. When the judging was complete, the Grand Champions are gathered together, and the judges determine which product wins the Clarence Knebel Best of Show Award.

The Grand Champions in each category are as follows:

  • Andouille Sausage: Country Meat Shop, Moberly, Mo.
  • Bacon (Heavyweight): Sailer’s Food Market, Elmwood, Wis.
  • Bacon (Lightweight): Country Meat Shop
  • Braunschweiger: Dewig Meats, Haubstadt, Ind.
  • Country Bacon — Dry-Cured: Leiding’s Meat & Catering, Danville, Ill.
  • Cured Specialty Meat Products: Country Meat Shop (French Butterflied Smoked Pork Loin)
  • Dried Beef: Cured by Visconti, Leavenworth, Wash.
  • Frankfurters/Weiners — Coarse-Ground: Dehmer’s Meats, St. Michael, Minn.
  • Frankfurters/Weiners — Emulsified: Ralph’s Packing Co., Perkins, Okla.
  • Ham — Bone-In (Heavyweight): Eickman’s Processing Co., Seward, Ill.
  • Ham — Bone-In (Lightweight): Westby Locker & Meats, Westby, Wis.
  • Ham — Boneless (Commercial): Merkley & Sons Packing Co., Jasper, Ind.
  • Ham — Boneless (Traditional): Dewig Meats
  • Ham — Semi-Boneless: Louie’s Finer Meats, Cumberland, Wis.
  • Jerky — Restructured: Dehmer’s Meats
  • Jerky — Whole-Muscle: Cured by Visconti
  • Luncheon Meat — Large Diameter: Karl’s Country Market, Menomenee Falls, Wis (Hungarian Sausage)
  • Meat Snack Sticks: Country Fresh Meats Inc., Weston, Wis.
  • Meat Snack Sticks — Flavored: Tulare Meat Locker & Sausage Co., Tulare Calif. (Pizza Stick)
  • Old World Dried Fermented Sausage: Louie’s Finer Meats (Dried Mushroom & Romano)
  • Ring Bologna: Steve’s Meat Market, Ellendale, Minn.
  • Semi-Dried Sausage (Cooked, Non-Fermented): Leiding’s Meats & Catering (Summer Sausage)
  • Small-Diameter Hot Link Sausage: Northwoods Locker LLC, Clayton Wis.
  • Small-Diameter Cooked & Smoked Sausage: Chico Locker & Sausage Co., Chico Calif. (Polish Sausage)
  • Smoked Turkey: Dewig Meats
  • Specialty Flavor Small Diameter Smoked & Cooked Sausage: McDonald’s Meats Inc., Clear Lake Minn. (Smoked Blueberry Wildrice Brat)
  • Specialty Game Meats: Ralph’s Packing Co. (Bison Hot Dogs)
  • Summer Sausage — Cooked: Dewig Meats
  • (2019 Featured Class) Specialty Liver & Loaf Product: Louie’s Finer Meats (Blood & Tongue Loaf)

The Cured Meat Excellence Award is presented each year to the company that has the best overall performance at the ACMC. This year’s winner was Dewig Meats of Haubstadt, Ind. The company won four Grand Champion Awards, two Reserve Grand Champion Awards, three Champion Awards and one Reserve Champion Awards.

Strong performances were also shown by Dehmer’s Meats, Country Meat Shop, Sailer’s Food Market and Louie’s Finer Meats.

The Clarence Knebel Best of Show took the 15 judges more than an hour to determine. After multiple taste testings and votes, the winner was the Hungarian Sausage from Karl’s Country Market, in the Large-Diameter Luncheon Meat category.

“It’s a spicy summer sausage, basically,” says Paul Koslowski, owner/operator of Karl’s Country Market. “It’s a coarse-ground sausage with paprika and red pepper.”

Koslowski’s father, Karl, started the business in 1965. Karl’s Country Market offers close to 100 types of sausage, many of which are European in origin.

“We’re basically a suburb of Milwaukee,” he says of Menomonee Falls, “so there are a fair number of Europeans who shop at our market. We gear a lot of our offerings toward European products, not only meats but also imported foods.”

Koslowski’s trip to Mobile was not without its drama. He missed a connecting flight from Mlwaukee to Mobile and was afraid that he would arrive too late to register any of his products in the ACMC. Fortunately, he made it in time and ended up winning three different awards. Karl’s Country Market also won a Reserve Grand Champion Award in the Bacon (Heavyweight) class and a Champion Award in the Country Bacon — Dry Cured class. 

Given the distance he had to travel, Koslowski limited his entries this year to products that have traditionally been strong contenders. Typically, though, he says that he likes to bring some of his top-selling products.

“I want to see how they stack up and how they’re evaluated; that’s why I bring them,” he adds. “When you travel this far, it is nice to bring home an award and to be recognized. We’ve had good success with our summer sausage, our wieners and our bacon.”