Award-Winning Butchers

When Jimmy Ryan returned home to Montana after serving in the Korean War, he was ready to celebrate with a Montana hand-cut steak…or two. This man’s affection for meat eventually turned into a career and an award-winning butcher shop, known as Ryan’s Grocery & Processing  in the tiny, remote town of Jordan in southeast Montana.

The Air Force veteran saw the need for butchers in Eastern Montana and began work in the trade, marking off several years in Billings at a packing plant. His early years also included cutting meat for the general store in Jordan, steeped in the tradition of serving the area’s pioneer families everything from nails and flour to pork chops.

Ryan's Processing Collage #1

TOP: Three generations of butchers: Jimmy Ryan (center) flanked by his grandson Reid Ryan (left) and son Ed Ryan. MIDDLE (left): Bone-in hams hang in the smoker about 12 hours. (right) Ed Ryan grinding sausage for brats. BOTTOM (left) Detail of brats. (right) Some of the Ryan’s Processing Crew in the cooler with their length of employment at Ryan’s Processing. L to R Casper Fitch(6 yrs), Ed Ryan, Casey Thomas(26 yrs), Kristy Harbaugh(7 yrs) and Reid Ryan.

In 1958, the doors swung open on Jimmy’s own grocery store, now known as Ryan’s Grocery & Processing. It is safe to say that the volume of brats, snack sticks, breakfast sausage, smoked turkeys and hams offered at the back of the store is enough to make any carnivore swoon (and any pig make a run for the barn). That doesn’t even begin to consider the five varieties of bacon lining the lower shelves; including peppered, cottage and, if you are lucky, cinnamon apple. The destination attracts meat connoisseurs willing to travel the off-beat path in the ingredient quest for the perfect meal, along with hunters wanting that deer or elk processed for them “just so.”

Ryan's Processing Collage #2

Photography by Lynn Donaldson

If you can pull your eyes away from the meat case for a moment and look up, you will see awards lining the walls just about head level…hanging from plaques, leaning on shelves and sharing space with the senior photos of the high school graduates of multiple decades. Every year, Ryan’s competes head-to-head with processing plants across Montana for division titles such as Grand Champion Smoked Turkey and Grand Champion Specialty Bacon. All awarded by the Montana Meat Processors Association, the holy grail of these is the Overall Grand Champion Plant award. If you would like to see what that looks like in person, the 2015 plaque is proudly displayed near the case, with several others from previous years hanging above. The craft is serious business, with a new smoker capable of holding 500 pounds of hams, turkeys and other cured products serving as the crown jewel of the modern stainless steel equipment.

Ryan's Processing Collage #3

As business grew, a full meat processing plant less than 5 minutes away was built to the family’s exact specifications in the early 80s, offering luxurious space to a dedicated dynasty of butchers. Now spanning three full generations, Jim’s son Ed and grandson Reid cut, smoke and wrap meat throughout the week alongside talented staff that seem more like extended family than employees.

Ryan's Processing Collage #4

Licensed as a Montana Custom-Exempt plant, the crew at Ryan’s is happy to process your own animal on the hoof (or one pre-purchased from a local rancher) into a wealth of cuts. If you are interested in buying individual finished products such as bacon, hams, prime rib, and other mouth-watering dishes, they are happy to oblige as well; all of them purchased raw via Federally-inspected locations and given the finishing touches in Jordan. If you would like to sample, but cannot point a car in the direction of Jordan, give the plant a call at (406) 557-2000 or the grocery at (406) 557-2744 to ship directly. And be sure to give your regards to Jimmy, who understands your hankering for a good steak.

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