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Going Whole-Hog For Good Bacon


A whiff of cooked bacon makes we weak. The perfume of sizzling pork never fails to turn my head. It can even wake me from a nap.

Bacon has this power over other folks as well. Put a baking sheet loaded with strips of bacon under the broiler and members of your household, as well as any nearby mice, will show up in front of your stove. It you cook it, they will come.

Both the two-legged and four-legged creatures want the same thing, to eat the stuff that smells so good. I try to deal with all comers by feeding strips of cooked bacon to the humans, and by putting a piece of raw bacon rind in mousetraps. Bacon rind is, in my experience, a more effective mouse bait than peanut butter or cheese.

For eating I prefer husky bacon, the thick slices and slabs sold in butcher shops and some farmers' markets. But I won't turn down strips of the skinny supermarket bacon.

For a treat I recently ordered a $20, 2 1/2-pound slab of smoked bacon shipped from Roy L. Hoffman and Son Meats in Hagerstown. This is the body beautiful of bacon. It doesn't shrink when you cook it. The meat comes from select Maryland, grain-fed hogs. The smoke comes from white hickory. The procedure is supervised by the Hoffman family, whose members have been smoking meat in Western Maryland for more than 70 years.

Years ago, fall was the traditional season for bacon-making. With winter approaching, a farmer butchered his hogs and made bacon by slowly curing meat with salt, spices and wood smoke. Nowadays, most big meatpacking plants cure pork the year round by injecting the meat with solutions. This "wet curing" method produces bacon faster and less expensively than the old style, but it shrinks the meat.

Various groups have objections to eating the fatty meat of a pig, but I am not a member of these groups. I come from a long line of devoted bacon eaters. When, for instance, members of our clan gathered last summer at an ocean beach house, we spent many hours debating the question of how to make the perfect bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

As is true with most family discussions, there was little agreement in this one. On one side were the strict sandwich constructionists, who argued that only the ingredients that should be placed between two slices of mayonnaise-covered bread were those mentioned in the sandwich title. Namely bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Then there were the loose constructionists, who held that the sandwich could contain a variety of ingredients and still be considered a bona fide BLT.

One member of this faction said she adds slices of raw onion and sprinkles of black pepper to her bacon, lettuce and tomato. Still another told of a BLT recipe that called for adding slices of chicken breasts, spiced with cumin, peppers and thyme, and sauted in a bit of bacon fat.

I was appalled by such talk. I stayed appalled after polishing off three sandwiches made only with the title ingredients. Then, I weakened and began taking small bites of one of the rebel BLTs. I liked the flavor of the raw onions, but didn't care for the taste of pepper.

Soon I was experimenting with sandwich breads. I had a wild ride with pumpernickel. But I refused, under heavy pressure, to try toasted white bread. I have my standards.

On the cooking front, an effort was made with beeping bacon in the microwave, but it could not produce bacon fast enough for the lunch crowd. Beeping was replaced by the bulk-cooking method of sticking metal baking sheets loaded with bacon under the broiler. This method produced vast amounts of sandwich-ready material as well as lots of hot bacon grease, and a grease fire.

I was nodding off on the front porch when I heard the commotion in the kitchen. The vast pool of grease that collected in the bottom of one of the baking sheets had caught fire. When I arrived on the scene, the fiery pan had been removed from the oven and was sitting on top of the stove, kicking up pretty mean-looking flames.

I reached into a kitchen cabinet, pulled out a box of baking soda, and poured it on the fire. The baking soda knocked out the flames faster than Mike Tyson finished off Peter McNeeley.

A couple of kids standing in the kitchen were impressed that I knew baking soda would kill the fire. "These are things," I told them with a straight face, "that bacon-eaters know."

The kids quickly moved from being impressed to being grossed out by the cup of "white stuff" that sat on the nearby counter top. It was a cup of bacon grease, runoff collected from previous, less-fiery bacon-cooking sessions.

When I was a kid, my mother had a custom-made container for bacon grease. It was stain-less steel and had a filter. From time to time, she would use spoonfuls of the bacon drippings to season green beans, or sunny-side-up eggs, or fried chicken.

Rather than being impressed by the wisdom of their elders, the modern-day kids were repelled by the "gross" appearance of the grease cup. They couldn't wait to throw the container of congealed bacon drippings into the trash.

And that is why they never got to try another one of the world's greatest sandwiches, one that ranks right up there in toe-curling delight with the BLT. A soft crab cooked in bacon drippings.

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