Kuby’s Does It All
photos by Richard Adams
When a hunter climbs onto the receiving dock to unload game at Kuby’s Sausage House factory in Dallas, it’s likely that an eager youngster will scramble to beat him or her to the buzzer. The prize for getting there first? The thrill of pushing the button squarely lodged in the business end of a stuffed White Tail deer’s behind. “The children really like putting their finger in the deer’s ass,” says David Norman with a smile.
The Kuby’s are an extended German family that owns the Snider Plaza butcher shop and restaurant as well as this factory and whose family history as butchers dates to the 1600s. Norman is not a Kuby, but he did go to Southern Methodist University with Karl Jr., and after 17 years, he might as well be family. He’s the company’s chief financial officer and runs the wild game processing operation. “You have seen the horniest room in Texas,” he teases, referring to the 300-plus racks that line the ceiling and walls of the dock.
However, there is nothing cavalier about Kuby’s game processing—most of it White Tail and Mule deer with a smattering of wild pigs and elk—that goes on in a building indistinguishable from its gritty industrial park neighbors. Attention to detail borders on obsessive. For example, once an animal is processed, the sausage is bagged with precise, color-coded twist ties that tell the hunter what it is and how to cook it: white for bratwurst, tan for chipotle/jack cheese smoked links, yellow for uncooked mild Italian links and so on.
This same factory produces the sausage and wieners for which Kuby’s is famous year round, but come Sept. 1, when the first hunting season opens, the factory pace picks up. “We run two, five-man crews, eleven-hour shifts, seven days a week, with an hour in between for clean-up,” says Norman. “I only know of four other facilities in the country that can handle 12,000 deer in an 11-week period.”
Norman and Karl Jr., who started the game-processing division, have worked hard to give hunters reasons to come. “First, for me, it’s the convenience,” says Jay Kirby, a Dallas mortgage banker and frat brother of Karl Jr. But what keeps hunters like him returning goes beyond the plant being an in-town processor. It’s how the crews, which are headed by Kuby’s two German metzgermeisters, or master butchers, transform the carcasses into steaks, ground meat and the all-important sausage. “We wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t have quality meats,” says Norman.
“I’ve been to other processors,” says longtime customer Anthony Massey, who makes mosquito-misting systems and lives in Mesquite, “and there’s blood on the doors, blood on the scales, blood on everything. It makes you question how they treat [the game]. … Here, I’m incredibly convinced I’m getting a well-treated product.” He touts the quality of the steaks and sausage, which have been consistently superior over the years. “There’s just a real pride in what they are doing.” And he adds that taste alone would bring him back.
“We make over 200 unique sausage products, all family recipes from the Kubys,” says Norman, all with different requirements. “The difference between making a bratwurst and a leberkase is night and day: different preparation, different ingredients, different cooking styles, different presentations.” He’s talking about the sausage that gets made every day at the factory to be sold at the store, but the same standards apply to the wild game, including the part about family recipes. They’ve been adapted for regional tastes – hence, flavors like jalapeno-cheese – but they’re based on red deer recipes from the Old World, where the Kuby family still runs a meat market in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Patriarch Karl Kuby Sr., 77, is one in a long, proud line of Kuby metzgermeisters. “It’s a master culinary degree specializing in meat,” says Norman. “Germany, Italy, Sweden, France – a handful of Western European countries offer this training.” There is nothing comparable in the United States, he says, and the factory’s current metzgermeisters, Heinrich Katzenberger and Georg Kanter, were recruited from Germany.
Karl Sr. planted the family flag in Texas when in 1952, he took advantage of a program offered by the U.S. Army whereby young Germans could enlist for six years and earn their American citizenship. Kuby, his wife and infant son traveled by slow boat to Galveston, and for two years, Kuby ran the kitchen at Fort Hood, near Killeen in Central Texas. After that, the Army put him in charge of all the slaughtering operations contracted to provide beef to Fort Hood. “He convinced them that instead of ground meat, they could make more money on sausage,” says Norman. “He basically introduced German sausage to South Texas ”
By the time his six-year hitch was up, Kuby had attracted the interest of Dallas businessman Eblen Malouf, who wanted to set him up in business. “In 1960, Eblen bought the corner in Snider Plaza,” says Norman. “Kuby bought it 15 years later,” and eventually expanded into the space next door. By then the Kuby family had expanded, too,
to include Tessa, Elke and Claudia.
Typically during hunting season, says Norman, the deer arrive at his dock field dressed, which means the hunter has removed the entrails and cut the animal into small enough pieces to fit in a cooler. At the factory, the animals’ hooves, hide, antlers, bones and other nonmeat parts are removed. “I get a good yield, about 50 percent of the
animal’s total weight, if it’s a head shot,” says Norman. “But most deer are hit in the shoulder, and you lose that shoulder.” Fifty-five to 60 pounds field-dressed weight per deer is typical, he says, and the products are pooled; it would be too complicated to process single animals. Nothing is wasted, he adds. Those deerskin gloves you love to touch? Kuby’s sells its skins to a leather company. Other parts are rendered and find their way into products such as cosmetics.
Once the portion for steaks is cut and ground meat is readied, the work of making the sausage begins. In a room containing a grinder and a stuffer, the metzgermeisters and their assistants prepare the ingredients that go into the sausage. The onions, chilies, pork and other meats are mixed in a 50/50 ratio with the deer. The Swiss grinder
holds 80 liters of meat, or about 21 fluid gallons and Norman is in the process of replacing it with a larger one. It looks like nothing so much as a low, flat, donut-shaped bowl with a cluster of six, Ninjastar- shaped steel blades perpendicular to the bowl. It takes less than 60 seconds, says Norman, to blend the ingredients into an emulsion.
From there, the slurry of meat and seasonings goes into the oversized, rotating funnel or hopper which is made in Italy. It churns the meat through and spits it out under pressure into pork, beef, sheep, artificial or collagen casings, depending on the product. There’s also a spice room filled with ingredients ranging from fennel and caraway seeds to Inglenook Burgundy in a box, for those who want a custom-seasoned batch of sausage. Most hunters go for standard blends with the favorites being jalapeno-cheese smoked links and jalapeno-cheese summer sausage.
The process requires diverse skills and much of the equipment is computer- driven. Because different cuts of meat are required for different kinds of sausage, “You have to know which parts of deer work better for fine emulsified sausage, such as the smoked links,” says Norman. “Other parts work better for a larger grind with larger surface presentation.” That’s the look of sausage when you slice it. “Not only must it taste good – your goal has to be five-star and consistent – it has to look good.” The only time Norman gets testy with customers is when they bring him meat they say is “clean,” only to find it contains hair, bone fragments or buckshot. “I bear the responsibility,” he says, “if someone gets sick, or chips a tooth, or gets lead poisoning.” No product leaves the factory, he says, that the Kubys would not feed their own families.
Once the links are made, they go into the smokehouses, which look like stainless steel closets in a nearby room. Each unit can accommodate 99 cooking programs, depending on whether the need is for smoke, steam or heat. Some sausages use all three. “We smoke with sawdust,” says Norman, “because it burns clean and quick.” It is the Kuby philosophy, he adds, to flavor sausages with spices, not smoke. “We treat smoke like another type of spice.”
Finally, the sausages are ready for the chill room, set at 32 F. From this point, they will be bagged with the color-coded ties and reunited with the customers’ steaks and ground meat, then distributed to walk-in holding coolers where they await pick-up by the hunters or, more likely, the hunters’ wives.
Norman grew up in a hunting family, but doesn’t hunt much anymore. “Now, I work during deer season,” he says, “and the last thing I want to do on my day off is go out and kill a deer. But I do get ample opportunity to go fishing in the spring.”
Kuby’s Wild Game Processing, 7901 Soverign Row; 214.951.7441.
Kuby’s Sausage House, 6601 Snider Plaza; 214.363.2231
Leer en español en edibledfw.com/espanol • Translation by Tanit LLC
KIM PIERCE is a Dallas freelance writer and editor who’s covered farmers markets and the locavore scene for some 30 years, including continuing coverage at The Dallas Morning News. She came by this passion writing about food, health, nutrition and wine. She and her partner nurture a backyard garden (no chickens – yet) and support local producers and those who grow foods sustainably. Back in the day, she co-authored The Phytopia Cookbook and more recently helped a team of writers win a 2014 International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award for The Oxford Encyclopedia for Food and Drink in America.