We love bacon too much to not expect the best from it. Our head chef, Dan Kish, gives the full story on how we cleaned up our bacon—and made it tastier in the process.
Growing up in Amish country in Western Pennsylvania means you have pretty wide access to good bacon. We didn’t buy ours presliced from the grocery store: We got our slab bacon direct from the butcher and used the meat and grease to weave smoky flavor into fried cabbage and stews. My Hungarian grandmother loved to cook with deeply, deeply smoked bacon, and those were always my favorite dishes. Needless to say, I have high bacon standards.
So when we decided to lift the hood on our bacon and tinker a bit, I wanted to do more than just take out artificial additives and other things we didn’t need. I wanted to put everything on the rack and make sure it was working: flavor, texture, the works. People adore bacon, and if we were going to change it, I wanted to use the opportunity to change it for the much, much better. I think we achieved that. But it took a few steps…
Step 1: Brine & Dine
We have great raw materials—our hogs are raised without antibiotics, and they’re vegetarian-fed and well cared for—but the artificial additives in our curing process had to go. We started out with a whole pork belly and asked ourselves how we could treat it differently to make it taste better. Infusing herbs into brine is something I’ve done for years as a chef with my Thanksgiving turkeys and other meats, but it wasn’t being done as a regular treatment for bacon…so we ran with this idea. We went through many variations before landing on an herb brine for our clean bacon that includes thyme, water, sea salt, sugar and celery powder. This produces a bacon flavor that’s really unique.
Step 2: Up in Smoke
Our old bacon was applewood-smoked, but it didn’t taste smoky. So we went to work figuring out how to increase the smoky flavor; we taste-tested samples smoked with maple and hickory and cherrywood and other hardwoods, even combinations. I’m capable of eating a lot of bacon, if I’m on a mission. In the end, we liked applewood’s flavor the best—we just added more smoke in the smokehouse to create a bacon that tastes even more like bacon.
Step 3: Through Thick and Thin
Once we had the flavor where we wanted it, we tackled its thickness—and although you’d think more bacon is better, we discovered that you can have bacon that’s too thick. Especially for sandwiches, we wanted bacon that could be easily crunched through all the other layers. If it’s too toothy, you can’t bite through, and if it’s too thin, you don’t catch as much of the flavor. Increasing the thickness from nine strips per inch to seven might seem subtle, and it is, but we wanted this bacon to be perfect.
Step 4: Getting Warmer
Finally, we looked at how we cooked and stored bacon in our bakery-cafes, and we realized that placing bacon back in the refrigerator after cooking actually decreased its crispness. Not good. So we switched up our procedure: We take the bacon out of the oven and blot off the excess fat, just like you do at home, then we keep it at an ambient temperature right up to the time we serve it. You get warm, crispy bacon rather than a cold piece. Every step in the process is key. And when you taste our new bacon, I think you’ll get it.