Valdosta Daily Times

November 23, 2012

Lanier couple makes smokehouse memories a reality

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

LANIER COUNTY — Even with the first meats smoked, picked up and eaten as entrees in Thanksgiving dinners, the savory sweet smells of hams linger inside the Harrells’ smokehouse.

Leon and Annette Harrell’s first series of meats has proven their recently constructed smokehouse a success.

Completed several months ago, the Harrells’ smokehouse sat unused in the back yard of their property located on the swatch of Lanier County that juts between Lowndes and Berrien counties on Highway 125. Though he experimented with firing the pit in the hot months of summer and early fall, Leon Harrell waited until the recent spate of lower temperatures to fire the pit with meats hanging from the ceiling hooks and racks.

As many long-time South Georgians can recall, the Harrells remember an era when smokehouses were a regular part of the regional landscape.

Leon Harrell could recall childhood days, coming home, slipping into the smokehouse, and creating an after-school snack by using his Barlow knife to slice off a piece of ham for his biscuit. Annette Harrell can remember times when her mother would walk out to their family smokehouse, cutting off a few slabs of ham, then bringing them back into the house to fry in a skillet.

Leon Harrell’s father would fire up the smokehouse when it came time to butcher hogs.

“Every year, in the winter time, Daddy would pick the coldest day to kill hogs. The smokehouse was built out of boards and it had a dirt floor,” Leon Harrell said in a past interview. “There was a shallow hole in the floor to burn wood to smoke the meat. He would gather oak logs about two-feet long and burn them until he got a good smoke.”

From the woods, Harrell’s father found palmetto fans. He peeled away the outer skin from the stems and used these to hang the hams and shoulders. His father used tobacco sticks for sausages. The meat smoked for three to four days.

While many older residents can recall similar memories from their youths, the Harrells could no longer abide letting the experience, the smells and the tastes of the smokehouse remain only a part of their pasts.

Leon Harrell acted on his desire to bring back those days by building a smokehouse. He found the right type of wood in Berrien County and was able to acquire the materials. He prepared the wood and created an enclosed smokehouse.

Though ready since this past spring, he waited to smoke because the summer months’ heat can spoil meats. In smoking their first meats, the Harrells learned the smokehouse maintains a 200 to 225 degree cooking temperature, meaning, he says, that they can smoke meats throughout the year.

For the recent hams, Harrell smoked the meats for 29 hours, taking them out of the smokehouse with an inner temperature of 150 degrees to the bone. During the smoking session, Leon Harrell traveled from his home to the backyard smokehouse at least every three and a half hours, through day and night, to stoke the pit.

Harrell says he loved every minute of it and looks forward to smoking more meats.

“Annette says I’m like a kid with a new toy,” Leon Harrell says. Judging from the twinkle in his eye, she may be right.

 Anyone interested in having meats smoked may call the Harrells at (229) 455-4777.