Best Places to Eat in Smithfield, NC
PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Curcio
Smithfield and the surrounding Johnston County area have a diverse and delicious food culture – and even if you don't live here, you can get a taste. A number of local entrepreneurs manufacture food products that are distributed and sold nationwide.
The Pound Cake Co.
It took Jan Matthews-Hodges 12 years to develop the perfect pound cake recipe‚ but her efforts were worth the wait. Today her Pound Cake Co., located in Benson, has been featured in magazines including Southern Living and turns out thousands of “true pound cakes‚” made with only four ingredients: butter‚ eggs‚ sugar and flour. The business grew quickly from a retail business into a wholesaler.
"When you bite into our pound cake‚ you get a very clear taste of butter and sugar,” says Matthews-Hodges. “In this industry‚ there’s very little handmade left. But ours truly is.”
The Pound Cake Co. is housed in the former Benson Elementary School cafeteria and employs about 20 full- and part-time bakers. Together‚ they turn out between 5‚000 and 6‚000 pound cakes for Valentine’s Day and Easter orders and more than 10‚000 during the holidays.
Johnston County Hams
Smithfield's Johnston County Hams produces mouth-watering country hams‚ spiral-sliced honey hams‚ smoked turkey‚ prosciutto‚ and dry-cured and hickory-smoked bacon.
“Our country hams are aged more than most. We use a longer curing process‚” says Rufus Brown‚ “Cure Master” and plant manager at Johnston County Hams.
Johnston County Hams was started in 1946 by Smithfield resident Richard Edmonson‚ who owned a commercial freezer locker business. But it wasn’t until 1967‚ when Brown’s father‚ Jesse‚ joined the business that the hams started flying off store shelves.
“They brought my dad down from Virginia to be the plant manager‚ and he changed the curing process‚” Brown explains. “That really got things turned around.”
Jesse Brown died in 1996‚ but Rufus has continued his legacy of producing flavorful hams.
“A lot of ham companies have faded out‚ so it’s an artisan trade now‚” he says. “Curing is a unique process.”
Johnston County Hams have been featured in publications such as Esquire and Southern Living‚ and Men’s Journal has named them among their “100 Best Things to Eat in America.”
The hams are sold online as well as in specialty markets‚ delis and catalogs. The company also operates a retail store called Smithfield’s Ham Shop that sells hams and gourmet food items such as jams‚ jellies‚ peanuts‚ chocolates‚ cheese straws and coffee.
Ginny O’s Cheese Rings
In the 1850s, Ginny Johnson’s great-grandmother made extraordinarily delicious cheese rings from simple ingredients – flour, cheddar cheese, margarine and spices.
So when Johnson’s friend was looking for homemade cheese straws to sell in her Raleigh gift shop, Johnson dug out her family’s 150-year-old recipe and whipped up several batches. Soon she was making enough of them that she took an early retirement from her job at a Raleigh airport to launch her business, Ginny O’s Cheese Rings Inc., in Selma in 2003.
“I was working on airplanes during the day and baking the cheese rings when I got home at 2 a.m.,” she says.
Today the Oprah-approved snacks are still makde fresh to order, though a machine allows her to turn out between 25,000 and 30,000 rings a day.
Carolina Packers Inc.
In Smithfield, Carolina Packers Inc. makes high-quality Bright Leaf brand hot dogs, bologna, smoked sausage and spicy Red Hots - shorter and thicker than a hot dog, with a touch of heat.
“The hot dogs are what we’re best known for,” says Jimmy Butler, sales manager for Carolina Packers Inc. “It’s a unique blend of herbs and spices that makes our hot dogs special, and they have half the fat of other hot dogs on the market.”
Read about more local food in Smithfield, NC.