The small, local meat market that makes its own sausage is becoming a rare commodity.
Years ago, there were more than 300 meat companies in Kansas, but Gary Bichelmeyer, Tonganoxie, suspects there are probably less than 100 such small businesses now.
"Sausage making is getting to be a lost art, and that's too bad," he said. "It's gotten smaller as the big companies have taken over."
In Douglas County, the only business that still makes sausages is Pyle Meat Co. in downtown Eudora.
Last month, Bichelmeyer lost his meat market, Bichelmeyer's Grocery, to an arson fire in Basehor, about 24 miles northeast of Lawrence. He is looking for a new location in the Kansas City area and hopes to reopen later this year.
At the store, Bichelmeyer and his brother, Mark, made salami, summer sausage, bratwurst and flavored sausages, including cajun and smoked.
"The sausage business was really good because it was so hard to find anyone that does it anymore," he said.
The Bichelmeyers have strong German roots and come from a line of family members who have been in the meat business for nearly 100 years.
"When the Depression came, my grandfather, George Bichelmeyer, started a little meat market on the farm (south of Eudora)," Gary Bichelmeyer said. "They butchered pork and beef right there on the farm."
His father, Leo, owned a meat shop in DeSoto for seven years, and cousins Jim and Joe currently own Bichelmeyer Meats in downtown Kansas City, Kan.
In Eudora, Tom Pyle took over a closed meat company in 1959. Over the years, he has butchered his own meat but now focuses on making beef and deer jerky as well as smoked and cajun sausages.
He said the trick to making good sausage is to use the best ingredients. He buys boneless pork shoulder a leaner cut of meat and dry spices in bulk.
"The meat and the spices are very important," Pyle said. "If you buy cheap spices, it's going to taste cheap. Also, if you make it yourself and don't load it down with fat like some of the big companies do, it's pretty healthy."
In the store, Pyle and his employees grind the meat, add seasonings and process the skinless sausages. All the sausages are precooked and vacuum-sealed in packages.
"When we smoke our stuff, we use hickory sawdust or chips," he said. "Some people use liquid smoke, but we don't because that can leave an aftertaste."
Right now, Pyle's store is the only place people can buy his homemade sausage. However, the popularity of his products has him considering the wholesale market.
"We sometimes get people in here from Kansas City and Topeka and they'll buy a case to take home with them," he said.
Pyle and Gary Bichelmeyer both enjoy home-cooked meals featuring the sausage they make.
"I think the flavor is just out of this world," Pyle said.
Gary Bichelmeyer said he'll grill, saut or simmer the sausage in a little water and then eat it with eggs or fried potatoes.
Pyle's daughter, Rose Pyle House, Eudora, enjoys cooking the sausage for her husband, Dave House, and their children, Julie, 16, and Michael, 11. She manages sales accounts for Pyle's Hombre Beef Jerky, which is sold at 130 convenience and grocery stores in the Lawrence area.
"Even though we've been making sausage for years, we all still like to eat it," she said.
Most often, Pyle House said she will make a simple skillet meal with the sausage or use the meat in a prepackaged mix of red beans and rice. However, one of her specialties is to use the smoked sausage in baked beans.
"It is so much less fat than using bacon," she said. "A lot of times I'll cook the smoked sausage on the grill and throw them in the freezer so they're already grilled when I want to use them."
Her baked beans often are requested when the Pyle family of 47, including all the children and grandchildren, gets together.
"I am always the one who has to bring baked beans to the family gatherings," she said. "I usually make up to one and a half gallons then."
Sausage Skillet Meal
5 to 6 new potatoes, diced (can substitute 16-ounce package frozen shredded hash browns)
1 medium onion, diced
1 green or red pepper, diced
3 to 6 sausages, sliced
salt and pepper
Saut potatoes in a little oil in a large skillet. When nearly tender, add the onions and peppers.
After a few minutes, add the sausage and cook until mixture is done. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a lettuce salad and bread.
2 16-ounce cans pork and beans
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon mustard
1 onion, diced
2 packages Pyle's smoked sausage, diced (6 links per package)
Combine all ingredients. Bake mixture in a 9-inch by 9-inch or other casserole dish at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Beans also can be cooked in a slow cooker on low temperature for several hours or until flavors are mixed.
Recipes by Rose Pyle House