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Turkeys and Tenacity: East Texas' Bear Creek Smokehouse Is 77 Years Strong

Third-generation owner Robbie Shoults keeps his family heritage in the limelight.

It all started in 1943, in the backyard of Hick and Nellie Shoults’ family farm. The couple started out raising cotton and corn, but was having a hard time putting food on the table as they were coming out of the Great Depression and feeling the effects of World War II. On the advice of his uncle, Hick turned his sights toward raising turkeys.

The rest, they say, is history.

The Shoults’ story is one of resilience and hope, grit and determination.

“My granddad always said ‘the only thing dumber than a turkey is the man trying to raise them,'” says Robbie Shoults, third-generation owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse. “But they were successful that first year even though they had never raised turkeys before.”

Hick and Nellie ordered about 600 turkeys that year, which immediately became a hit. “Ladies from the town would come out with their pan and say ‘I think that turkey would fit my roasting pan, I’ll take that one,'” says Robbie. Their processing plant hadn’t even been built yet—so for the first few years, the Shoults’ would hand-process their turkeys right in the back yard.

Hick and Nellie Shoults Bear Creek Smokehouse
Hick and Nellie Shoults. (©Bear Creek Smokehouse)

Fast-forward to 2020: the family business continues to thrive, recently opening a 43,000-square-foot facility with a processing plant, events center, retail space and pit room.

“We really have turned into a destination location,” says Robbie. “The store sits up on a high hill—it’s at a 45-degree angle from the highway so when you see it it’s beautiful, it makes people want to stop. We have people come from all over the country.”

Among the items the BCS store sells is Staub cook wear, ladies Charley 1 Horse hats, bridal gifts, and more. "It's stuff that you can't find just anywhere, it's as unique as our business is," says Robbie. 

One of the most exciting draws are the Saturday barbecues (11 am-3 pm or until sold out), which offer up a taste of BCS’s unforgettable smoked meats. One of the menu items is the smoked turkey, made from the very same recipe Hick and Nellie worked with Texas A&M University to perfect in the ’40s.

BCS’ turkeys have become Thanksgiving go-tos in East Texas and beyond—in addition to its healthy online and mail-order business, the smokehouse supplies meat to Walmart, Publix, Kroger, H-E-B and many more. What’s best, the turkeys (as well as hams, chickens and pork loin) come pre-cooked, cutting down on your time in the kitchen.

"We like to think of Bear Creek as being a boutique smokehouse because we take great pride in the things we produce," says Robbie. "We still hand-trim all of our meats, hand-rub, hand-season, everything. They carry our family name. We like to give a little extra care to the things we produce here."

One of Robbie's favorite pursuits is to greet the customers who come from far and wide to visit BCS. "My wife Tracy and I try to stay down on the floor as much as we can because we want to meet our customers," he said. "If somebody comes in and they’re from Utah or Colorado or New York, we want to be down there to meet ‘em and greet ‘em and try to treat them like family and help them feel at home at Bear Creek."

Bear Creek Smokehouse Marshall Texas Shoults
A sampling of the food items at Bear Creek Smokehouse. (©Bear Creek Smokehouse)