Award-winning Bardine's Country Smokehouse sells only the best
The meat is cut with precision.
Each piece trimmed of fat to the liking of the customer, leaving only the finest pork, beef, chicken, ham …. you name it.
“The best meat makes the best meals,” says Gary Bardine, owner of Bardine's Country Smokehouse in Crabtree, as he stands in front of the shelves filled with a huge selection of items for that next delicious dinner. “Every piece of meat is cut fresh, and it's of the highest quality.”
That's certainly evident by the more than 200 awards Bardine's has won displayed on the walls. Bardine's has garnered nine Best of Show honors from the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors and American Association of Meat Processors. In July, Bardine's won the Cured Meat Excellence Award, which it also won two years ago, at the American Cured Meat Championship in Lexington, Ky., and won nine individual product awards.
Bardine, 48, started the business in 1992. He says he takes the awards as compliments, but also understands they are “someone's opinion.” He must be doing something right, having been recognized on so many occasions.
“What makes Gary such a successful meat processor is the fact that he is a student of his business and his work ethic,” says Jonathan A. Campbell, extension meat specialist and assistant professor at Penn State University. “Gary takes the time to learn the details of what it takes to make award-winning products.
“He is never satisfied with ‘good enough,' and is mindful of long-term impacts. Gary took the time to travel to visit other meat processors and create relationships with other successful butchers. ... When a student gains practical knowledge and applies it with the work ethic that Gary has, awards happen. The small items make the difference.”
Bardine, who is a former president of the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors, says he pays attention to detail and often attends seminars so he can continue to learn and get better. He also buys the top-of-the-line equipment and hires employees who share his passion for good food. It's all about doing the little things right, Bardine says.
“What I am selling you here is nowhere near what you would get at a grocery store,” Bardine says. “I have really good people who work here. And the customers are wonderful. They come from everywhere, and we definitely appreciate their business.”
Bardine credits dedicated workers and loyal customers to his success. Chef Kristin Matthews from Hempfield says she likes learning this side of the food industry. She makes a lot of the prepared foods as well as cuts meat to order.
“I like the variety, and the fact everything is made here,” says Matthews, whose roasted-garlic-stuffed meatballs are a customer favorite. “I have freedom to make what I want.”
“I like everything about working here,” says meat cutter Allen Reynolds, of Trafford. “I have been to lots of butcher shops … and this one puts the highest quality out there. This is like the mom and pop store where I started. I dreamed about finding another place to work at like the one I started in and I found Bardine's. It's a quality place to work.”
The meat is top-of-the-line, says Sister Benjamin Merlotti, of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from Clelian Heights School for Exceptional Children, in Delmont.
“This is a family-owned community store catering to the locals,” she says. “Everything is fresh, and it's so clean in here. They offer the highest quality, and it's consistent.”
Bardine grew up on a 90 acre farm — where some of the meat still comes from — and his dad Robert gave him 10 acres to build the store. Robert Bardine and his late father, Albert “Stagno” Bardine, both owned slaughter houses, so Gary Bardine grew up knowing good cattle. His brother Steve, who lives in Michigan and is an engineer, helped design the store, which includes 50 feet of meat cases and shelves of jerky, snack sticks and cheese.
Hot Italian sausage links are $4.49 a pound, center cut pork chops are $3.69 a pound and sirloin steaks go for $9.99 a pound.
“I know customers who come from far away to buy meat here, because it's exceptionally fresh,” says Greensburg resident Carol DeMico. “Once you buy meat here, you won't buy it anywhere else. It just doesn't compare to a grocery store. If you want something cut special they will do it for you.”
Holidays are a busy time with Bardine's selling 1,100 to 1,200 hams at Christmas, 800 hams at Easter and 500 fresh turkeys at Thanksgiving. They have three smokehouses that run pretty much every day, non-stop during the holidays.
There is a six-week wait for a side of beef because they are dry-aged for 21 days, but it's worth it, customers say.
They don't sell venison and won't skin or cut any deer, but will process it into snack sticks, smoked sausages, jerky or fresh sausage for customers.
“Butchers are a dying art,” Bardine says. “I would be happy to train anyone who would like to learn how to be a butcher. I really like to do it. I have a passion for it. I am literally obsessed with it.”
He takes what he's learned and puts that to use to help others by giving seminars.
“When people ask me about the success of the store, I was thinking about a statement my brother made,” Bardine says. “We are an alternative to factory-made food, with all wholesome ingredients produced in small batches, hand crafted by artisans using old world recipes.”