Bissonette sums up bacon’s ineffable appeal in the simplest way he knows: “People like the flavor. People grow up on it. As a kid, one of the first things people remember for breakfast is bacon and eggs.”
For a chef, it’s a dream. “It’s versatile,” notes Bissonette. “Bacon and pork fat are very flavorful, but also very neutral. You can use bacon in a lobster terrine and it will accent the flavor of the lobster but won’t dominate the dish. You can use it with chicken; you can use it with mushrooms; you can use it with pretty much anything and it’s going to add a flavor but not detract from other flavors.
“It’s a mild salt, which you need when you cook, and it’s got a nice little sourness, which is a flavor that your mouth craves. You think of that sweet/salty flavor. When you eat [a piece] you want to eat more.”
Simple fact: bacon, the so-called candy bar of meats, tastes good. Really, really good. As the comedian Jim Gaffigan puts it: “You wanna know how good bacon is? To improve other food, they wrap it in bacon.”
Seeing past its faults
The catch — and there’s always a catch — is that bacon is not particularly good for you. But the good news — and it is good news — is that it might not be as bad for you as you think.
As we learn from The Bacon Cookbook, bacon has no trans fat. In fact, eating several slices of bacon is healthier — in terms of calories, salt, fat, and cholesterol — than eating a hot dog or a hamburger. (Granted, that’s a relative victory, but one Baconians will gladly take.)
“Bacon has a lot of sodium,” says Bissonette. “But as far as caloric intake goes, if you cook most of the fat off of it, if you end up with the brown and crispy strips, you’re going to end up with a leaner product.” (Observes Gaffigan: “It’s amazing the shrinkage that occurs with bacon. You start with a pound; you end up with a bookmark.”)
Even the more health-conscious clientele at KO Prime still flock to bacon, says Bissonette. “We have a classic blue-cheese salad with bacon. People go nuts for it.”
But bacon’s biggest fans care little for their favorite food’s health hazards. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to shake the feeling that bacon imparts strength. Surely, that’s why one can buy bacon Live Strong–style rubber wristbands, streaked with faux fat.
On Saturday, March 1, hungry challengers at Atwood’s Second Annual Bacon Eating Contest will have their work cut out for them. This past year, the bacon bar was set high: six-and-three-quarter ounces of thick, Applewood-smoked bacon, scarfed down in five minutes. That’s about 28 slices. (If you’re up for the challenge, sign up at the bar or at atwoodstavern.com.)
Despite the frenzied gluttony inherent in the contest, Atwood’s co-owner Patrick McGee suspects the uptick in bacon’s stock comes from a new epicurean approach to what was once a humble breakfast meat.
“I think people are able to appreciate nice bacon now,” he says. “I think for a while, any old bacon did. Now, people comment on our bacon. People definitely appreciate good bacon when they get it.”