Haythorn Ranch offers culinary experience straight from the Old West
When you step foot onto the Haythorn Ranch in western Nebraska, you might as well be stepping into the pages of a Louis L’Amour novel. This is a part of the world that seems to be frozen in a time when cowboys roamed as freely as the buffalo. It is here that the world seems to begin and end, all at the same time. In our modern world, there are no words to convey the vastness of a place that encompasses the wildness of the prairie and the enormity of the sky. You simply have to experience it for yourself.
The Haythorn family has owned and operated this ranch for five generations and even though they are known worldwide for their breeding and ranching, it was their culinary endeavors that sparked our interest. I must admit, I thought the only connection between ranching and food was the animal itself. After breeding and raising an animal and then sending it off to market, I assumed the role of a rancher came to an end. This is not the case when you are a Haythorn.
A dynasty in the making
The history of the Haythorns in rural Nebraska dates back to 1884 when Harry Haythornwaite (later changed to Haythorn) of Lancaster, England, along with his new bride Emma, filed a land grant section with the money they had saved as a result of their hard work and ingenuity. Harry and Emma both worked for P.A. Yeast, a local rancher, Harry as a wagon boss and Emma as a cook. This work not only set into motion the beginning of a ranching dynasty, but it also solidified the Haythorn’s commitment to raising livestock of excellent quality and preparing food of the same caliber.
We traveled five miles north of Lake McConaughy to the Haythorn Ranch to find out more about the smoked meats they produce and ship across the United States. Once there we realized the story was not only about quality meats but also about the grand hospitality being served up as well. Before our tour began, Craig and Jody Haythorn, along with one of their sons, Cord, and a gracious crew of cooks and cowboys, asked us to join them for lunch. Over a hearty meal of sirloins, baked sweet potatoes and deviled eggs, we discovered that inviting people to their family table is such a regular occurrence that they decided to make things official.
Room for the Cattlemen’s Ball and so much more
In 1999 they built a 7,200 sq. ft. event center to host the Cattlemen’s Ball and to have a permanent facility to rent out for weddings, receptions, meetings and retreats with full catering services available. Not only do the Haythorns serve up their smoked meats for these occasions but if you are in attendance you will often see Craig at the carving station and Jody greeting guests. Whether it’s mowing the sandhill grasses with horse-powered equipment or rolling up their sleeves to slice a brisket, there is no job too big or too small for the Haythorns.
Craig and Jody have built upon a family tradition to create a sort of western empire. Craig, the charismatic rancher, and Jody, the marketing guru, have rounded up many accolades to secure their brand. Even though they have maintained the original Haythorn homestead and are the largest breeder of American Quarter Horses in the U.S., it seems as if food brings everything together.
Sharing great food with others
The Haythorn Land & Cattle Smoke Shop started like most things at their ranch. They were already producing great food for themselves and realized people wanted that experience as well. Craig’s passion for cooking and the family’s generosity in feeding their workers and the community transformed into a business. They now offer a variety of smoked meats available for pick-up or shipment throughout the United States. A visit to their website or the general store located at the event center will give customers a selection of smoked brisket, ham, turkey, mesquite prime rib and racks of ribs.
I could have loaded the car with meat but instead we opted for the ham, brisket and ribs. After receiving a guided tour through the smoking process by Craig Haythorn himself, it’s easy to see why their products are one of a kind. They drive to Texas to select only the best mesquite wood for their smoking process and a secret blend of spices make up their custom rubs. A special building was erected to house their main smoker, and Craig has retrofitted the behemoth structure to cater to the specific needs of his meats.
He has also transformed a sheep trailer into a mobile kitchen that would put any hipster food truck to shame. This vehicle is utilized for community events and mostly serves as a modern day chuck wagon during branding season. When you step onto this trailer, the results are almost Pavlovian as the classic smell of mesquite and bbq permeate the walls.
When I returned home from my Haythorn Ranch experience, my purchases quickly went into thaw mode. By lunch the next day, I was heating up a rack of ribs seasoned so perfectly that they needed no sauce or side as an accompaniment. After one bite, I realized these ribs were different because of their complex spice profile and fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Plus, these ribs come with a good story.
When you get the chance to indulge in a product from the Haythorn Land & Cattle Smoke Shop, you can taste the rich history in every bite.