Barbecue and Beans
Heiskell (Knoxville), TN - Events of Monday, October 6 to Thursday, October 9, 2014
We had rain and cooler temperatures over the weekend as predicted. It was still cool and cloudy on Monday, so it wasn't very conducive to doing any sightseeing. However, we had several restaurants in the Knoxville area we wanted to try so we headed out to Dead End B-B-Q in the afternoon in spite of the weather.
Dead End B-B-Q is located west of downtown Knoxville a few doors up the street from the Holy Land Market where we went a few days prior. Dead End B-B-Q gets its name from a group of friends and neighbors who gathered at the end of their dead end street to barbecue.
Dead End B-B-Q has pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, sausage and ribs. Sandwiches are served with house-made potato chips and range in price from $7 for chicken to $9.50 for brisket. Plates with two sides are $10 for sausage to $16 for brisket. We both had pulled pork with slaw and waffle-cut sweet potato fries (they call them chips) for $11.
We weren't that impressed by Dead End Bar-B-Q. The pork was moist, but it was a little stringy and not too tender. It wasn't very smoky either. They had two sauces - hot and mild, and both were a little too sweet for our tastes. We liked the pork and the sauces at Archers far better than at Dead End. Although the sides at Dead End were good, we thought the sides at Archers were better, too.
We had more rain and clouds on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, the clouds started to break up a bit, and it started to warm up again. Therefore, we decided to take a drive about 45 minutes east of Knoxville to check out the Bush's Beans Visitor Center and Museum in Chestnut Hill, TN.
Bush's is best known for their baked beans. They have about 30 kinds of baked and "Grillin'" beans as well as about 20 kinds of regular canned beans such as black, kidney, garbanzo, navy, etc.
Bush's started an ad campaign in the 1990s featuring Jay Bush, great grandson of the company's founder, and his talking dog, Duke. There is a running gag in the commercials with Duke coming up with different schemes to sell the secret family recipe for the baked beans.
One of the company's canneries is located right across the road from the visitor center. Although there are no tours of the factory itself, there is an excellent movie in the visitor center with the history of the company and with scenes of the bean-making process.
Also across the road from the visitor center and adjacent to the factory is the homestead of A. J. and Sally Bush, founders of Bush's Beans. The home is still used for company gatherings.
We arrived just in time for the next showing of the movie. It started out with several of the cute commercials with Jay and Duke. The movie then continued with the family and company history.
In 1904, A. J. Bush was about to open a hosiery factory in Chestnut Hill, TN when he was approached by the Stokley family (of Stokley-Van Camp fame) to partner with them to open a tomato cannery instead. Bush's tomato cannery was so successful, he was able to buy out the Stokley interest within two years and begin operating the cannery independently as Bush Brothers & Company.
The company grew, but suffered set-backs following WWI. In the 1920s, Bush's began to prosper again, and they acquired a couple of other canneries and expanded their line of canned foods to include vegetables other than tomatoes as well as fruits.
In the 1930s, inexpensive canned foods helped struggling families survive the Depression. Pork and beans became a staple in the American diet.
The company continued to grow through WWII as it supplied canned goods to our troops overseas. The building of a hydro-electric dam in 1942 resulted in the loss of Bush Brothers farm land and a cannery, but the company used the money they were paid as compensation to further expand their operations elsewhere.
Although they had previously been producing pork and beans, Bush's introduced a new line of baked beans in the 1970s and 1980s that was a huge success. Today, beans are Bush's primary product, and they supply 80% of the canned baked beans sold in the United States. They process over 55 million pounds of beans a year.
The movie also shows how beans are prepared and canned. The beans are cleaned, soaked and cleaned again on one side of the factory, and the sauce is prepared on the other. The beans and sauce meet up with the cans in the middle. After filling, the cans are cooked in a retort and are then labeled, boxed and palletized for shipment.
After the movie, we walked through the museum, which has more information on the production of canned beans. They also have a fun demonstration of the canning process where you can turn various cranks to deliver beans (actually plastic balls) down a series of chutes.
There is also a scale that gives you your weight in beans. Of course, we know there are two things you should never ask a lady - her age and her weight; but because we have been able to maintain our weight loss of several years ago by sticking to a low-carb diet, Margery doesn't mind telling everyone she only weighs 125,184 beans.
The rest of the museum has more details on the history of the Bush family and of Bush's Beans.
Automated sealing of cans is done at the rate of hundreds of cans a minute, but it wasn't always that fast. The display in the photo below shows "hole and cap" cans. The cans were manufactured with the lids and bottoms already soldered on, but the lid had a hole about 1 inch in diameter through which the food was inserted. A cap with a small vent hole was then hand soldered over the 1-inch hole. After the can went through cooking in a retort, the vent hole was sealed (also by hand) with a drop of solder.
The museum exits through the gift shop, which is filled with country-themed merchandise. There are also shelves stocked with just about every product Bush's makes.
Seeing all those baked beans made us hungry. The visitor center has a café that serves southern specialties and various bean desserts including pinto bean pie, but we decided to pass and head back toward Knoxville because we had a different restaurant in mind. We'll tell you all about it in our next post.