Bacon has been around for hundreds of years, but it only recently has achieved super-star status in the food world.
Since the first Europeans set foot in North America, bacon has been humble breakfast fare. For generations it loyally served as a morning protein source relegated to a place on the plate between the eggs and toast, or cozied up next to pancakes.
After years of dutifully playing this supporting role at breakfast, bacon struggled during the 1980s and 1990s as “fat free” became the diner’s mantra. The Atkins diet and some other low-carb eating regimens came to the rescue, however, and consumers once again started bringing home the bacon, even during the recession of the early 2000s. And in the past decade bacon has shot to fame. It’s as if a lightbulb went off over consumers’ heads and they collectively said, “If this is good for breakfast, wouldn’t it be great for lunch and dinner, and for a mid-morning snack and a midnight snack and in lip balm?”
More than the B in BLT
At one time, bacon sales went up only when tomatoes were in season and people were making BLTs to utilize their garden bounty. Then the bacon buying would taper off again as the tomato vines withered. But in recent years, bacon sales have really gone up and up and up, independent of tomato harvests. While still the “B” in BLT and a breakfast staple, bacon has also found its way onto other sections of the menu, from appetizers, soups, and salads to sandwiches, entrees, and desserts. Fast food restaurants have added bacon to just about everything under the bun, while fine dining establishments make liberal use of “lardoons” which is just a culinary term for bacon tidbits.
The trend has also gone beyond the kitchen as bacon fans proclaim their love of all things bacon on quirky throw pillows, baseball caps, tee shirts, and neckties. People who can’t get enough bacon to eat can use bacon-flavored toothpaste. Those who just love the smell of bacon can light a bacon-scented candle or use bacon-scented shampoo, cologne, and massage oil. For those who want to drink in their bacon can pick from bacon-flavored soda, beer, and even vodka.
The love of bacon has also been combined with the love of sugar through bacon brittle, some chocolate-covered bacon, bacon ice cream, and bacon candy canes. A bacon-flavored latte can be whipped up by adding bacon-flavored syrup to your coffee drink.
But will people tire of this bacon madness? Will bacon eventually become passé?
Chicago-based chef, food blogger, and recipe developer, Billy Parisi doesn’t think so. “It’s been a huge culinary trend in the last five years,” he says. “But I remember thinking when I was 13 or 14 that if I had to choose one thing to eat for the rest of my life, it would be bacon.”
Parisi says bacon is a real treat that’s incredibly affordable. “It can enhance anything,” Parisi adds. “You can combine it with vegetables, put it in a soup or a sauce, and you can also utilize the fat in many ways.”
While it can be made from turkey, beef, or even duck, when most people think of bacon they think of pork; meat from a hog’s belly that’s been cured, smoked, and sliced. The type of wood used for smoking it can subtly change the flavor. Common smoke flavors come from apple, hickory, and maple.
There are big-name bacons like Oscar Mayer and Hormel and there are less expensive store-brand bacons. There are also pricy premium bacons that are cured and smoked in small batches.
“You can get expensive, perfectly cured, thick-cut bacon that cooks up tender and crisp at the same time,” Parisi says. “But you can also get bacon on sale for less than $3.99 a pound, and while it may be fatty and thin, it’s still bacon. That’s what’s great about bacon … even when it’s bad, it’s good.”
To fry or bake?
While the image of bacon frying a pan is iconic, Parisi says he prefers to make bacon in the oven. “If you just want strips of bacon, there’s no better way to cook it than on parchment paper on a sheet pan,” he says. “You get perfectly crispy, perfectly straight strips and you can keep the fat. Plus the house will smell like bacon for a long time.”
Parisi suggests cooking bacon in an oven heated to 350 or 375° F for about 20 minutes. “But watch it,” he cautions. “If you leave it sit in the fat too long it can get soggy, so take it out as soon as possible.”
This recipe allows you to get your bacon burger fix without going to a fast food restaurant.
Grilled Turkey Burger with Pineapple and Bourbon Brown Sugar Bacon
½ pound thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch-long pieces
¼ cup bourbon
¼ cup brown sugar
2 pounds ground turkey meat formed into 8-ounce patties
4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper to taste
4 slices mozzarella cheese
4 butter leaf lettuce pieces
4 fresh pineapple pieces, thickly sliced
Bacon: In a large sauté pan on medium-high heat add in the bacon and brown on one side (3 to 4 minutes). Flip bacon over and deglaze with bourbon and add in the brown sugar and gently stir. Finish the bacon in the oven on 350°F for 10 minutes.
Burger: Form and season burger patties, then coat burgers and pineapple slices on all sides with olive oil. Place the turkey patties on a hot grill (450 to 550°F) and cook on each side for 6 to 7 minutes or until they are browned on the outside and cooked thoroughly. After you flip the turkey burgers, place the pineapple on the grill to form grill marks. Place cheese on top of the burger patties. Once the burgers and pineapple slices are cooked, remove from the heat and let rest for 2 to 3 minutes.
To Plate: place burger on the bun and stack on the lettuce, pineapple, and bacon.
More bacon bits of wisdom from Chef Billy Parisi:
- Save your bacon fat and use it instead of lard or shortening when making pie crust.
- Wrap your Thanksgiving turkey in bacon and roast it upside down for maximum flavor and juiciness.
- Use your food dehydrator to dry some bacon, then grind it up in a food processor, mix it with salt and use it as popcorn seasoning or to make eggs taste like bacon and eggs.
Have a great recipe idea for bacon? Share yours with us here!
This story appears in its entirety in the digital version of the 2016 Farmers’ Almanac, Editor’s cut bonus material not available in the print edition!