We Asked 3 Chefs to Name the Best Bacon, and They All Said the Same Thing

published Jan 31, 2024
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

At any one point in time, I’m bugging dozens of chefs and bartenders all across the country to let me know what their favorite store-bought items are (like chicken nuggets, croissants, boxed mac and cheese, bourbon, and vodka). This is all in hopes that we, dear reader, can recreate that restaurant-level magic at home. And what better way to start the new year than by seeking out the chef’s favorite brand of arguably the greatest ingredient of all time? 

Of course, I’m referring to bacon. Outside of just serving as a side to your weekend pancakes, bacon is a do-it-all ingredient: It transforms a can of beans, brings much-needed flair to fuss-free appetizers, and adds smoky, rich flavor to grits, rice, pasta, and much more. So it makes sense that these chefs have eagle-eyed a favorite after years of sampling the best of the bunch. 

As it turns out, there is one brand, in particular, that really sizzles.

Credit: Mara Weinraub

The Best Bacon to Buy, According to Chefs

As far as chefs are concerned, you can count yourself as especially lucky if you’re familiar with North Country Smokehouse’s bacon. If not, it’s time to get acquainted. “I’ve tried just about every variety and brand of bacon available to the general public,” says Chef Gavin Lambert of pop-up restaurant Bon Ami. “If I’m not making my own … I’m buying North Country.” 

This is not your average slab, Lambert notes: The delicacy of smoke, and the general care and pride in its production, make North Country’s bacon one of the most versatile for using in stews, braises, and sauces. “Plus, in my house we save every single gram of rendered bacon fat to use for cooking in place of oil — liquid gold, as we call it.”

Chef Brian Poe, of Tip Tap Room and Crane River Cheese Club in Boston, who heard about the brand from acclaimed Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller, agrees wholeheartedly: “It’s got such a lovely thickness, viscosity, umami, and proper smoke to it,” says Poe. “It’s meant to be snacked upon, as well as an amuse, app, soup, salad, entrée, and dessert.”

Whether it’s at home or in her restaurant kitchen, North Country also has a fan in Chef Morgan Jarrett of STATE Grill and Bar, the flagship restaurant of the Empire State Building. “We use North Country at my restaurant for our “Clothesline Bacon,” Jarrett says of the popular dish, which involves slow-cooking bacon over rye bread (to catch all those majestic bacon drippings).

For many chefs, North Country’s bacon is an inspiration in itself (a painter has paints and a chef has bacon, amirite?). When asked what his favorite way to use North Country’s bacon is, Poe simply responded with, “Oh my sweet Jesus, everything I do revolves around this bacon,” adding that his baked Brie bacon jam recipe can be provided upon request. 

Thankfully, North Country is now widely available even outside of New England (you can locate your nearest store here). But if you can’t track it down, chefs overwhelmingly agreed that seeking out the local bacon made in your area will also make that BEC or BLT really shine.

Find it in stores: North Country Smokehouse Organic Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon, $7.43 (on sale!) for 8 ounces at Whole Foods

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If You’re Cooking Bacon, a Few Chef-Approved Tips

So you’ve brought home the bacon — what now? You’ve got two main choices: Opt for pan-frying or cook in the oven. As for the chefs, the oven is, overwhelmingly, the way to go. “Stop cooking your bacon in a frying pan — this is Sisyphus’s work!” pleads Jarrett. “Instead, take a small sheet tray and line it with parchment paper. Lay the bacon in a single layer, and cook it at 350ºF.” After about six to eight minutes, much like you’d do while tanning on a hot beach, give that bacon a flip.

If you’re only looking to cook up a few casual strips of bacon for a midday BLT, by all means go for the skillet. “The key is consistency,” says Lambert. “I start from a cold pan and lay down strips of bacon so they don’t touch, but fill the whole pan. Then I turn the heat to low, and gradually turn the heat up as the bacon cooks.” While it might seem tempting to go fast and furious when frying up your bacon, resist the urge. “A mistake that a lot of people make is turning the pan way up or way down; slow and steady is key,” he says.

No matter how you choose to cook your bacon (in the oven or in a frying pan), don’t forget the flip. “Flipping halfway through cooking is crucial!” Lambert adds. “Cooking the bacon too far on one side will result in crunchy, dry strips, and it will lack that signature chew.” 

Across the board, chefs beg you to not throw away that bacon grease. Like, don’t even think about it. Of course, we all have had a jar full of bacon grease (and good intentions) that we’ve forgotten to use in a timely manner, but Jarrett urges home cooks to keep that jar of liquid gold — especially when you’re shelling out for top-notch bacon: “You can then save that bacon fat and keep it by your stove for general cooking needs; I keep it in this container.”

This article originally published on The Kitchn. See it there: We Asked 3 Chefs to Name the Best Bacon, and They All Said the Same Thing