Allan Benton is the king of pork. Never heard of him? Ask top chefs like David Chang, Sean Brock, or Hugh Acheson where they get their bacon. The answer is Benton, an unassuming 66-year old with a ramshackle smokehouse in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
A high school teacher turned smoked meat master, Benton has dedicated his life to the pursuit of making the perfect pork. His salt and brown sugar–cured country hams and extra-smoky hickory bacon are the stuff of legend, and his name appears on the hottest menus in the country.
In NYC, the nouveau dim-sum parlor RedFarm serves a dish of Benton’s bacon-and-egg fried rice, and the Benton’s Old-Fashioned—made with bacon-infused bourbon—has become one of PDT’s most iconic cocktails.
But despite the his reputation, Benton is one of the most humble and hardworking men in the business. “I count my blessings every day that these chefs like what I do,” he says. “We owe all our success to the incredible creative talents of the chefs who use my pork.”
Beneath the humility, Benton is driven by a ceaseless desire to make the best-quality pork products in the world. “I can tell you I’ve never gotten tired of cured pork in my life. I still am fascinated by it. I love the complicated flavors you get from a piece of well-cured pork. I love it,” he says.
Here, Benton talks about his Appalachian roots, working with celebrity chefs, and why he won’t sell to Whole Foods.
Special thanks to photographer and multimedia storyteller Jennifer Davick for contributing still frames for this story from her beautiful documentary, “Benton Family Cure.”