It’s savory. It’s smoky goodness. It’s relatively healthy. It’s flexible. Its quality has stood the test of time. And it’s a product recognized far and wide, from sea to shining sea.
It’s the perfect lunch meat. But the best thing about Lebanon bologna is its place of origin.
They’ve been making Lebanon bologna in these parts for nearly 120 years. But while times have changed – right down to the smoked meat industry itself – the secret to Lebanon bologna’s success is that it hasn’t.
Lebanon bologna has never been broken, so no one’s ever fixed it.
Read More: The history of Lebanon’s Bologna Drop
“Lebanon bologna is a quality lunch meat,” said Perry Smith, who’s worked at Seltzer’s Smokehouse Meats for 44 years. “It’s all beef. There are no fillers, no additives, no pork, no chicken, no water, no filler. Ours is all protein, made from 87 to 90 percent lean beef. The only negative might be the added salt, but now people are saying that isn’t even bad for you… It’s not just another meat item. It’s totally unique. The closest thing that might come to it would be a summer sausage. It’s not bologney. It’s bologna.”
Seltzer’s Smokehouse Meats, located at 230 North College Street in Palmyra, may be the only company currently making Lebanon bologna in Lebanon County. According to its website, Godshall’s Quality Meats, at 1415 Weavertown Road in Lebanon, still sells Weaver’s Lebanon bologna, but it is not known whether or not that product is manufactured in the county.
But S. Clyde Weaver in East Petersburg, Lancaster County, still produces Lebanon bologna, as does Alderfer’s in the Lehigh Valley.
“We’ve been in business since 1902,” said Smith. “The fourth generation of the Seltzer’s family just took over the business. We’re the only true manufacturer of Lebanon sweet bologna. It’s (bologna) all we do. We manufacture about 6 million pounds of Lebanon sweet bologna a year.”
“The business was founded at the same place we are today,” Smith continued. “In the exact same location, and the product hasn’t changed. The recipe hasn’t changed, and that’s a good thing. Do you know anything else that hasn’t changed in 119 years?”
At one time or another, Lebanon bologna was made by nearly a dozen smoked meat producers. But over the years, such brand names as Baum’s, Bomberger’s, Brooks’, Gerhart’s and Eby’s either went out of business, relocated or were absorbed by larger Lebanon bologna manufacturers.
“We buy 87-90 percent lean beef that comes in 2000-pound combos,” said Smith, a 65-year-old resident of North Annville. “It goes to our Lebanon plant on Willow Street, they grind it and the salt, sugar and spices are added there. It’s shipped to our Palmyra plant and then it goes to a fine grind and its stuffed into casings of different sizes. The bolognas are hung in outdoor wooden smoke houses for two to three days.”
“The houses are emptied after the product is finished,” added Smith. “Some of it is sliced, and then it’s packaged and trucked out to all the different grocery chains. We service all the major grocery chains up and down the East Coast.”
Seltzer’s Smokehouse Meats was founded in Palmyra in 1902 by Harvey Seltzer. Since, the business has been passed down to Seltzer’s son Jack Seltzer, Jack’s son Craig Seltzer and most recently Craig’s nephew Austin Wagoner.
“The original owner, Harvey Seltzer, was a German immigrant who came to Lebanon County,” said Smith. “That’s where the name came from, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. We still use the original recipe that he brought over here.”
“Years ago, 65-70 percent of our sales was Lebanon bologna and 30 percent of our sales was Lebanon sweet bologna,” Smith added. “Now, the totals have switched around. Lebanon bologna is more of a taste for older people. It has more of a tangy taste, more of a bite to it. But the trend’s going away from the original Lebanon bologna.”
Simply different bites for different likes. While the wholesomeness of it appeals to many, there is a certain acquired taste associated with Lebanon bologna.
“I like sweet bologna,” said Smith. “We make a double-smoked sweet bologna that is absolutely delicious. I like to slice a piece of it the size of a quarter-pound hamburger, put it on the grill, put a slice of cheese on top of it and eat with a toasted pretzel bun. It’s killer. Some people will eat it with a couple slices of American cheese and some mustard on white bread. Coal miners used to pack it in their lunches. It’s cured, so it doesn’t spoil… I am proud to work for Seltzer’s. I’ve made a career out of it. They’ve been a great family to work for. You don’t have people staying that long at a job and not being proud of the product. The longevity of the people here tells its own story.”
Unquestionably a source of local pride, Lebanon has become synonymous with bologna, and bologna has become synonymous with Lebanon. But while Lebanon bologna is well known throughout the United States, there still remains pockets within the country that have never tasted Lebanon, PA’s claim to fame.
“People do associate bologna with Lebanon,” said Smith. “We sell our products in every state on the east coast, as well as Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado and sporadically in Utah. But 70 percent of our sales is within 120 miles of central Pennsylvania. Some places have never heard of Lebanon bologna. It’s a market that could be opened up. I think the fourth generation of ownership is looking to expand, but it’s more into the snack market. It’s all protein, with just a little bit of fat.”
“In the last 15-20 years, the country’s highway structure allowed snowbirds from Pennsylvania to move to states like Florida and Arizona,” continued Smith. “When people from this area moved, they spread the word about Lebanon bologna, and gave it to their new neighbors to try. We do about ten to 15 food trade shows a year, so we’re out there getting known.”
That type of aggressive marketing approach certainly bodes well for the future of Lebanon bologna. In that way, more and more people are learning what Lebanon residents have known for decades.
“Lebanon bologna is a good-quality, long-standing product,” said Smith. “Lebanon County should be proud of it. For 119 years, we’ve been making the same product, so we must be doing something right. It means the same buyers are coming back week after week. Our job is to get more people to try it, because if they do, they’ll like it.”
In the world of business, that’s known as brand loyalty.
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