Meat artisan specializes in off-the-wall bratwurst flavors in remote South Dakota town

By Dirk Lammers
Hecla, South Dakota (AP) 3-08

When Jon Frohling started making sausage just over a decade ago, it was considered over-the-top just to mix a little cheese or jalapeno pepper into a bratwurst.

“Now it’s everything under the sun,” said Frohling, who operates Frohling Meats with his wife, Stephanie. “Everything sells. The more off-the-wall it is, the more they’ve got to try it. It’s impulse.”

Some of the bratwurst offerings in Frohling’s meat case are a testament to this trend: macaroni and cheese, pineapple, sauerkraut, dill pickle, spicy mozzarella, green onion, cheesy hash brown.

Frohling also produces jalapeno bacon, buffalo jerky and a summer sausage flavored with wild rice and cranberry. He has even created a breakfast brat with eggs mixed right into the casing.

“People’s tastes are changing, because you never used to be able to do that,” Frohling said.

His creations have won nearly 200 awards – many of them in national contests.

Frohling, a butcher’s son, took over the family business in 2000. It has grown into a processing plant and store in Hecla, a town of less than 300 residents just south of the North Dakota border, and a satellite store in nearby Aberdeen.

Making sausage is more art than science, Frohling said, and he’s had more than his share of trials and errors. But he’s reached a point where he can taste something and know what spice or ingredient would improve it.

“It’s a God-given talent because I was not a college student or anything,” he said. “I just have a knack for this.”

Mark Tilsen, president of Native American Natural Foods, chose Frohling to manufacture Tanka Bars, a 70-calorie energy bar made with South Dakota bison and Wisconsin cranberries. The bar is a modern-day spinoff of “wasna,” a food that sustained Lakota tribe members during long trips centuries ago.

“I’ve met a lot of guys who smoke meat, but Jon Frohling is a real artisan when it comes to the whole process,” Tilsen said. “And he not only understands the scientific part of it and the chemistry of what happens when you smoke meat, but when it comes to taste, texture, feel, his sense of quality and his production values and his overall values are just like the kind of guy you want to do business with.”

Other than the Tanka Bars, meat produced at the Frohling’s plant is sold under the family name.

Some of the more unusual concoctions of Frohling Meats – such as the macaroni and cheese brats – are the products of young minds. Each year, the Frohlings invite third-graders to tour their facility and participate in a competition to see who can come up with a new sausage flavor.

Kids are willing to take chances, mixing in everything from pizza and tacos to ice cream and marshmallows, Frohling said.

“And then they eat as much as they can possibly eat while they’re here, so it’s a good time,” he said.

Adding new products is the key to business growth, Frohling said.

“I don’t care how good one sausage was. The third year you went and got the same thing, you’re going to get sick of it eventually,” he said. “You’ve got to have some variety.”