Everything's better with bacon
BY KIM BROWN World Scene Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010
1/24/10 at 6:22 AM
Bacon never needed a comeback. But during the last few years, the public seems to be even more fascinated with the fatty, salty treat no matter what their doctors say about it.
Bacon has become something of a pop culture symbol. Have you seen any "Got bacon?" T-shirts or tasted any bacon chocolate bars lately?
A quick search on the Facebook social networking site finds more than 500 pages devoted to bacon — one page, simply called Bacon, has more than 400,000 fans.
And it seems no one will forget 2009's most widely discussed novelty item at the Tulsa State Fair — chocolate-covered bacon.
"I think bacon is popular for the same reasons bacon has always been popular — it's salt and fat," said William Hart, associate professor of human nutrition at Rogers State University.
Some scholars go as far to argue that the instinctive hunters and gatherers in us seek foods high in fat because they have so many calories, he said. "You want fat so you don't starve for the week," Hart said of that theory.
He said bacon in moderation is fine, so long as you don't eat it every day with breakfast. Cassie Wrich, a registered dietitian for Hillcrest Exercise and Lifestyle Program, tells her patients to avoid bacon due to its high saturated-fat content.
"They generally know it's bad for you," she said, "but they don't really care."
Fun with bacon
No matter what experts and health professionals say, the common argument usually wins: Bacon just tastes good.
And bacon is finding a home in unusual foods, such as chocolate. LaDonna's Fancy Foods, 1615 E. 15th St., has carried Vosges Mo's Bacon Bar for about two years. With small flecks of bacon enveloped in either milk or dark chocolate, the bars have an unusual, salty flavor.
"I think it's popular because it's not an overwhelming taste. It's subtle," said owner Ladonna Cullinan. "If you didn't know bacon was in it, you might not know bacon was in it. It's salt and chocolate, and they taste great together. It's delicious."
Justin Esch's decision to join the bacon craze a few years ago was lucrative to say the least. He and partner Dave Lefkow took $5,000 and turned it into a high-profile business — Seattle-based J&D's Foods — selling nothing but bacon-flavored foods and items with a catch: They're entirely vegetarian and kosher. It started with their best-seller, Bacon Salt, then moved on to Baconnaise, a bacon-flavored mayonnaise launched in 2007.
"We started it with the idea that everything should taste like bacon," Esch said in a phone interview. "Bacon was always there — we didn't start the trend."
His company soon created other pop culture sensations with bacon-flavored lip balm (which helped get them an interview, via Skype, on Oprah), bacon-flavored envelopes called MMMvelopes (when you lick them, they taste like bacon), and it recently debuted bacon-flavored popcorn.
"Bacon is a superfood," Esch said.
"You can literally put it in everything."
Star of the menu
Bacon continues to be a best-seller at restaurants, and customers keep gobbling it up.
According to a recent study by food industry market researchers the NPD Group/CREST (Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends), Americans consumed 1 billion servings of bacon at restaurants for the year ending in September.
The quintessential bacon cheeseburger is always a hit at Baxter's Interurban Grill, 717 S. Houston Ave. — but the beef nearly takes a backseat to the bacon, said owner Craig Baxter.
"We have a honey pepper bacon cheeseburger that does real well," he said. "It's a recipe from the old Tulsa Brewing Co."
The secret is the almost-candied flavor the bacon has after they smoke it, then cover it with a rub, including brown sugar and honey.
"When the sugar melts, it almost turns into a candy," he said. "Then we put it on a burger with smoked cheddar. It's not really considered healthy, but it's by far our No. 1 selling item."
Baxter credits the thick-sliced bacon that "holds all the seasonings" to the burger's success. That way, customers can indulge at a r
estaurant without the lingering shame of bacon aroma in their kitchens.
"(Bacon's) just so good," he said. "It's kind of a mess to cook at home with all that splatter and grease."
Picky about their pig
Bud Isom, an owner of Perry's Food Store, 1005 S. Lewis Ave., said his family's store is very selective when it comes to the bacon they sell. For nearly 40 years, he said they've carried a double-smoked bacon from Hormel.
"Their bacon is not salty. By mistake, we got this Old Smokehouse, double-smoked bacon. It's not really that salty, so you're able to really taste the smoke flavor of the bacon," Isom said. "It comes to me pre-sliced. This is the best bacon I've ever tasted in my life."
Since the bacon debuted in the store, which has been operated by Isom's family for 70 years, it has remained a customer favorite.
"It's about 85 cents to $1 higher (than other bacon), but you have no resistance to price if you've ever tasted it," he said.
Isom said bacon sales at his store usually pick up around the holidays and during the summer. "Bacon sales pick up tremendously when we have home-grown tomatoes."
It seems that bacon has nowhere to go but up in terms of kitsch factor. Hart said he brought back some chocolate-covered bacon from the fair for his students last fall.
"It's always a fascinating reaction — some loved it, some wanted nothing to do with it," he said. "My own personal opinion is that the chocolate-covered bacon was far better than the chocolate-covered pickles."
Cullinan said her bacon chocolate bars are top sellers, costing $2.50 for a small bar, and $7.50 for a large bar.
"They sell very well. Over the holidays I think we sold more bacon bars than the others this year."
The fat on bacon
Bacon is meat taken from the sides,
back and belly of a pig. In America,
it is usually cured then smoked.
“Green” bacon has been cured but
The most common bacon found in
America is referred to as “streaky”
bacon, which comes from the belly
and has its signature long streaks of
Pancetta is Italian streaky bacon,
that is usually cured with peppercorns,
herbs and spices, then dried
usually for three months. It often is
Canadian bacon is actually back bacon
— which comes from the middle
of the back of the pig. It’s a lean and
Pork belly is popular with chefs and
is simply the meat and fat from the
pig’s belly. It can be cured for bacon
or served in larger quantities and
often is braised or roasted.
How much is too much?
If you do indulge in bacon, you
should know when to say when, said
Cassie Wrich, registered dietitian
for Hillcrest Exercise and Lifestyle
She said one ounce of standard bacon,
usually about three pieces, has
140 calories and 10 grams of fat, 4 of
which are saturated fat. “The American
Heart Association recommends
less than 15 grams of saturated fat
So if you eat bacon, that’s nearly a
third of your daily intake.
Turkey bacon is a popular alternative,
but Wrich said it still has “quite
a bit of total fat, just quite a few less
An ounce of turkey bacon, generally
two slices, has 70 calories and 6
grams of fat, 2 of which are saturated
“Bacon is bacon,” Wrich said. “No
matter where it comes from, it’s basically
Kim Brown 581-8474
Baxter's Interurban Grill loads its turkey sandwich up with a restaurant-smoked, sugared bacon. Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World
Bacon on the grill at Baxter's Interurban Grill.Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World
Baconnaise, a spreadable bacon-flavored mayonnaiwse, has really caught on.