501 Life Magazine | Petit Jean Ham: A unique regional flavor
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Petit Jean Ham: A unique regional flavor

by Janna Virden

For many in Arkansas and especially in the 501, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Petit Jean Ham.  

The smoked hams are produced at the Morrilton Packing Company mostly known by the name Petit Jean Meats. The family-owned and operated business was started in the late 1920s by German immigrant Felix Schlosser and is now operated by David Ruff.  Ruff, who became chief executive officer and president in 1990 after his father Ed Ruff died, said it takes 24 hours for the hams to be seasoned and cured. Then they are smoked for another 18 hours to get the flavor known as a Petit Jean Ham. 

Although on Christmas Day ham is the traditional main dish, Ruff said he starts the season early with Christmas sausage. Ruff’s company only makes the sausage that has a blend of cloves, allspice and other seasonal ingredients during the Christmas season and doesn’t sell it any other time of the year. He said his favorite way to eat the sausage is “at breakfast with eggs.”

“The best way to cook the sausage is to steep it for 20 minutes in warm, not boiling water. This will plump them up and make them tender.”  

The recipe for the sausage is Wilfred Miller’s, according to Ruff. Miller was a sausage maker at the company for 50 years and is considered part of the original group of food artisans that helped shape Petit Jean Meats.

Ruff credits his father and uncle, who both started working at the company as boys, with coming up with the unique flavor that distinguishes his company’s hams from others. During the holidays, Petit Jean Meats sells between 80,000 and 90,000 hams. Ruff said the majority of hams and other products are sold in Arkansas, but they are also shipped by mail order all over the United States, which accounts for 4 percent of the company’s business. The company is now expanding into the Texas market. “You have to grow.”  

One way that Petit Jean Meats is introducing the product to Texans is by being a sponsor of the Dallas Cowboys football team. Ruff said Arkansas native and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones shared that for him one of the smells of Christmas is that of a Petit Jean Ham. Jones grew up eating the Arkansas ham as a kid and continues to do so.

Ruff said his hams are hand-trimmed with no water added to the meat, giving more value for the dollar spent because there is no waste. He said the hams are fully cooked and really just need to be heated through, and that the biggest mistake people make at Christmas is “over cooking!”

Morrilton Packing Company employs around 65. Most employees stay with the company and there is little turnover, according to Ruff. He said some have been with the company their entire lives.  

Ruff knows his people. He grew up in Morrilton, graduated from Sacred Heart School, goes to church at Sacred Heart and has raised his family in the small town. He is proud of the company his family built and is looking forward to continued growth.

“This is a part of your life. It is an extension of your personal life not just a place to go to work.”

Southern Ham and Cheese Biscuits 


2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons shortening

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon butter



4 slices Petit Jean EZ Carve Sliced Smoked Ham 

4 slices Petit Jean EZ Carve Sliced Peppered Ham 

12 slices cheddar cheese

1/2 stick butter

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Mix dry ingredients and cut in shortening and butter. 

Slowly stir in both milks and water to moisten as needed.

Pour dough onto a lightly floured service and work into a ½-inch thick round disc. Cut into 2 to 2 1/2 inch size. Place into hot oven and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Make filling mixture using melted butter, brown sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

Split biscuits and spread with the mustard mixture on top and bottom of biscuit. Cut ham into 2-inch pi
eces and place on biscuit. Split cheese into fourths and place cheese on top of ham. Serve. (Option – Reheat the biscuits to heat ham and melt cheese.) 

Chocolate Covered Bacon

Petit Jean Thick-Sliced Bacon

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cook bacon to desired crispness and pat away grease with a paper towel.

Melt chocolate chips in double boiler over low heat or in a microwave until just soft. Stir.

Dip bacon or spread chocolate on with a pastry brush.

Let dry on wax paper.

For an added effect, drizzle with white chocolate or crushed almonds.

Bacon-wrapped Cheese Grillers 

8 Petit Jean Jumbo Griller Hot Dogs (2 packs)

16 slices of Petit Jean Hickory Smoked Bacon

1/2 cup shredded cheese (monterey jack/colby mix)

8 hot dog buns

Petit Jean Chili – optional

Slice hot dogs horizontally down the middle and stuff with shredded cheese.

Cook bacon halfway through in the microwave (about 2 minutes). 

Carefully wrap two slices around each hot dog, securing with toothpicks. 

Try to secure evenly on sides of the hot dog so that it is easier to flip the dogs on the grill. 

Grill until bacon is cooked, cheese is melted and dogs are done and  serve.

(Pretty) Pigs in a Blanket

10 Petit Jean Hot Dogs or polish sausage 

Slices of American cheese (optional) – 1 per dog

4 1/2 teaspoons yeast

2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 cup canola oil

2 eggs, beaten

8 cups flour

In mixing bowl, let water and yeast set for a few minutes.Add, and whisk together sugar, salt, canola oil and eggs. Beat until foamy.

Add 4 cups of flour, one cup at a time and stir. Switch to bread hook and add the remaining 4 cups of flour. Allow bread hook to knead until smooth. Add flour as needed if sticky.

Allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Punch dough down and separate into 10 dough balls. Flatten with rolling pin.

Place hot dog or polish sausage in the center of each dough circle and slice slits on down the side. Add cheese if desired. Start from the top and wrap each side over the dog for a nice braided effect.

Let the wrapped piggies rise for another 20-30 minutes. Brush on an egg wash (whipped egg and water) to make them shiny.  Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. 

Ham Sliders

(2) 9×13 baking pans

Vegetable spray

1 1/2 pounds deli shaved Petit Jean Ham

12 slices cheddar cheese

24 Silver Dollar Rolls or 12 large buns*


2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour

8 tablespoons pineapple-apricot jam or preserves


1 stick butter

4 tablespoons brown sugar

4 teaspoons mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce


Begin with the filling. Melt butter and stir flour into the mixture then add jam and blend well.

Spray each 9×13 pan with vegetable spray. Cut the Silver Dollar Rolls in half. On one side only place 1/2 teaspoon of the filling, spreading. Lay a half slice of cheese and a nice amount of ham on each sandwich. 

At this stage, it is possible to cover the sandwiches tightly and refrigerate. Just before baking, prepare the topping. Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of each roll. Lastly sprinkle poppyseeds across the top of the rolls. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 20-25 minutes.

*Option – 24 Kings Hawaiian Savory Butter Rolls.

Pineapple Glazed Ham Balls

4 slices of bacon

1 pound ham

1 pound ground pork

Grind bacon and ham. Add ground pork. 

To this meat mixture add:

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons pineapple juice

2 teaspoons dry mustard

2 eggs (slightly beaten)

Mix well and shape into 3-inch balls. Brown ham bails in Dutch Oven, turning every 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.


1 cup pineapple juice

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons dry mustard

2 tablespoon pepper jelly

Mix sauce and pour over ham balls. Cook in sauce until ham balls have reached internal temperature of about 165 degrees.


1/2 cup pineapple juice

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons pepper jelly

1 can pineapple rings

Mix and heat until thickened.

Spoon glaze over ham balls and pineapple rings when ready to serve.

(Recipe by Calvin Taylor)

Spicy bacon-wrapped jalapenos 

20 slices Petit Jean bacon (peppered or hickory-smoked)

20 jalapeno peppers

8 oz. cream cheese (softened)

1 1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 1/2 teaspoons cajun seasoning

Cut jalapenos in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and remove center membrane. 

Mix together cheeses and cajun seasoning and scoop into the jalapenos. Cut bacon slices in half and wrap around each jalapeno. Secure with a toothpick. 

Place in shallow pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until bacon is crisp.

Serve immediately.