Dedham’s Famous Bologna Turns 100: Kitt Family Offers a Taste of Iowa History

There’s hardly anything in Dedham that hasn’t changed dramatically since 1914, yet one tradition stays the same in this small Carroll County town—its famous bologna.

“This recipe has been handed down for 100 years,” said Dave Kitt, who owns Kitt’s Meat Processing in Dedham with his wife, Shawn. “Every meat locker has a specialty, and ours is Dedham bologna.”

It’s such an important part of the business, in fact, that the company’s slogan is the “Home of Dedham Bologna.” While no one quite remembers who created the original recipe a century ago, the smoky, beefy rings reflect the area’s German heritage.

Dedham bologna is predominantly beef, with some pork included in the natural casings, which are all tied by hand. The mild rings are hickory smoked for three and a half hours, resulting in a meaty celebration for the senses that’s fully cooked and ready to serve.

Local history books note that people saved their ration stamps during World War II to buy Dedham bologna, which was enjoyed at home and mailed to servicemen from the area. In years past, the downtown Dedham Meat Market would open up after Sunday Mass so families from the St. Joseph parish could purchase Dedham bologna for Sunday brunch or dinner.

As the locals have known for generations, there are countless ways to enjoy Dedham bologna, which can be eaten hot or cold. At Kitt’s Meat Processing, an electric skillet makes it simple to serve the crew a fast, hearty lunch of Dedham bologna fried with butter, potatoes and onions.

Some people like to include Dedham bologna on meat and cheese trays, while other people grill it, serve it with scrambled eggs, pair it with sauerkraut, use it as a pizza topping or chop it up like ham salad, Shawn Kitt said. “Customers come up with all kinds of creative ways to use Dedham bologna.”

Dedham native Helen Wiskus, 94, has been enjoying this unique culinary tradition all her life. “Dedham bologna has always been big here,” said Wiskus, who keeps about four rings of this “really tasty” bologna in her freezer at any one time. “When the family gets together, the Dedham bologna comes out.”

 

Family-owned since 1964

The Kitt family has been the keeper of the Dedham bologna tradition for 50 years. When Dave Kitt’s father, Leonard, was in his early 20s, he worked at the local meat locker for the previous owner, John Werner, Jr., for five years. In April of 1964, Leonard and his wife, Theresa, purchased the business, which offered a good way to support their seven sons.
This was an era when Iowa boasted more than 550 small meat processing plants, compared to less than 200 today. “Those were also the days when there were about three to five farm families in every section, and everyone raised livestock,” said Leonard Kitt, who will turn 77 soon and still helps out with meat cutting and hand-tying Dedham bologna.
While times have changed, Kitt’s Meat Processing continues to stay busy. From the fall deer hunting season through the Christmas holidays, the 11-member crew expands to 16 or 17 employees to handle all the work. Last December alone, customers purchased 1,300 rings of Dedham bologna, along with countless orders for homemade hot dogs, jerky, beef sticks, bratwurst and more.

Throughout the year, customers from Des Moines to Omaha and beyond stop by Kitt’s Meat Processing to select their favorite items. The Kitts also make home deliveries around town, sometimes placing the meat right in their customers’ freezers and running simple errands for older customers.

“It’s fun to meet all the people we serve,” said Shawn Kitt, who added that some of the locals also hang out at the locker on Saturday mornings. “These connections are what small towns are all about.”

 

Growing for the future
While the hours can be long, with days starting at 6:30 a.m. and lasting until 10 p.m. during the busiest times, the Kitts look forward to expanding their business. They are adding a 16-foot by 20-foot area to produce more specialty meats, including Dedham bologna.

“I like to cook and experiment with various spices to see what works,” said Dave Kitt, who took over the family business with his wife in January of 2002. “That’s what specialty meats are all about.”

While the business is currently considered a custom retail and custom slaughter facility, the Kitts are working towards getting an official retail status. This will allow the company to sell its products in grocery stores, farmers markets and other places.

The couple is especially interested in offering their meat products at the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Des Moines. “We appreciate people’s support for our local business,” said Shawn Kitt, who is glad the couple’s three children have had the chance to work at the locker as they’ve grown up. “We’re proud to keep the Dedham bologna tradition going.”

 

If you go
Kitt’s Meat Processing is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a. m. to noon. For more information, log onto www.kittsmeat.com.

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