Monday, September 04, 2006

Save your bacon

My grandparents grew up in the Depression. And like many people who came of age during that time, they are extremely frugal and reuse everything. Foil, Ziplock bags, plastic containers, glass jars, clothes, and anything else they can figure out a way to make last longer than its expected lifetime. If you’re riding in the car and you get thirsty, Grandpa will hand you an old syrup bottle filled with water. If Grandma sends me a pecan pie, it’s sealed in a Ziplock bag that has also held vegetables, meat and cheese in its long life. You get the idea. And I am not mocking them, I think these are fine traits and in respect to my elders, I also reuse everything at least once. I have a cupboard filled with Chinese-takeout containers that I use to store leftovers--I haven’t had the urge to attend a Tupperware party in years. And even though as a kid I was always embarrassed that the foil wrapped around my soda on field-trip day was wrinkled from many uses (the other kids always had smooth, shiny foil wrapped around their cans), as a frugal grown-up I reuse foil until it has holes in it, which can take a long time, it being metal and all.

But one of the finest reusable goods comes from a pig. Until I started cooking on my own, I always thought it silly that my mom and grandma poured bacon grease into a jar instead of just dumping it down the sink. They always said you couldn’t throw grease down the sink because it would mess up the pipes. This may be true, I don’t know. But the real reason they saved the bacon grease is this: because it is the number-one secret ingredient you can use in certain dishes. I spoon it into beans, use a little when frying up eggs or steak, fold a bit into my biscuit dough, sizzle it up for my cornbread, drop a spoonful into my marinara sauce, toss a dollop in my cooked vegetables—anytime I need a little pork pick-me-up, nothing is easier than reaching into my jar of bacon honey (um, yeah, I realize that sounds kind of gross) and adding a pure shot of flavorful delight. I don’t know what it is about the stuff, but it’s amazing how so little can add so much luscious, velvety goodness to a dish. It’s not for everything, of course, but when it’s used well it easily lifts the mundane into the sublime.

If you don’t have already have a jar on hand and you cook bacon, next time you fry up a skillet, after the grease cools (wait at least half an hour) pour it into a container. I use an old mason jar, but you can use plastic, too. The key is to make sure it’s at least room temperature or your container will either explode or melt. Store it in a cool place and it will last a long time. Don’t become frustrated if at first it doesn't look like much. Just keep cooking bacon and you’ll soon have a substantial sum. And be sure and scrape the pan for the bacon bits, they add even more flavor.

Do you use use bacon grease? If you do, what dishes do you enhance with its scrumptiousness?

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33 comments:

melissa mcgee said...

oh sister, this is MY kind of post. I keep bacon grease as well, a trait handed down from my mother, from her mother and her mother before her. probably before that as well. mine is in an old coffee can and rests in the fridge until ready for use.
my favorite uses for bacon grease:

i fry eggs in butter and bacon grease - unbelievable. i love to sop up the plate with buttered toast.

i add a dollop (generous) to mashed potatoes - it's incredible if you've never had it. add it after the potatoes are mashed but still hot - any little bacon bits that might make their way into the potatoes are a welcomed delight.

i love to fry thick slices of garden tomato in bacon grease - that's a depression era treat according to my grandparents, and i love it.

and most importantly, i use it to make gravy. some people use butter and flour to make their roux; i use bacon grease and flour. makes all the difference in the world. best. gravy. ever. and completely suited for homemade biscuits...

this must be why i'm not skinny.

Elise said...

Hi Homesick,
We love bacon fat here. And if you pour it down the drain, it will solidify and block up your pipes something awful.
Just made corn chowder last night with a piece of pancetta and some additional bacon fat. Yummmmm.

Homesick Texan said...

Elise, I love your site! And adding bacon fat to corn chowder sounds delish.

Melissa, I love that you keep it in an old coffee can--that's how my mom stores hers. It's indeed excellent in mashed potatoes. I'll sizzle some minced garlic in bacon grease and then fold it into the mash along with the ton of butter and half and half (yes, not cream--I have to cut back on the calories some place). I'll have to try the tomatoes while their still in season.

Nicole said...

I always save my bacon grease and use it for all kinds of different things. The last time I used it was for skillet cornbread (my first time making it by the way!).

Tuba Slim said...

Mmmm... Bacon honey....

Sweet Baconey Jesus, this post makes me sad I married a vegetarian.

Nathan Jernigan said...

I cooked with it a couple times, and then told "Uncle Richard" about it and he told me it was really bad for me, and that people don't do that anymore, so I threw my jar out = but this blog just validated its use - does it ever go bad?

Homesick Texan said...

Nathan, I'm not going to say it's good for you, but it tastes delicious, and as you can see from the comments section, people do still use it. I've never had it go bad on me, but that's because I use it on a regular basis. Just keep it in a cool place so it won't go rancid.

Danielle said...

I really like that photo of the spoonful of bacon grease!

Homesick Texan said...

Danielle: Thanks! I used a honey spoon to go with my "bacon honey" description.

Susan said...

Parboil potatoes cut into equal size chunks ~ when cool enough to handle, score each side with the tines of a fork and roll slowly and carefully in melted bacon grease in an ovenproof dish. Generously season with sea salt & cracked pepper. Bake at 400 degrees about 1 hour, turning every 15 minutes or so until beautifully gold on the outside ~ they will be soft on the inside. OMG. A delicious slice of life. I used to room with 2 vegetarians, would make these potatoes without divulging the "secret" ingredient ... they loved them, and no, I didn't feel guilty!

Tammy W said...

Good gracious, girl - you are Texan all the way through the bone! I haven't thought about bacon....drippings (it's too special to call it grease. But I love your 'honey' term for it even more!)in ages. Every relative I can think of had a can of it on their stove. My favorite dish using the drippings was a salad of very finely shredded turnip greens (the fresh leaves), with sliced radishes, salt, pepper, green onion, a splash of vinegar...and warm bacon drippings lightly drizzled over it, then tossed. (I hope there aren't any cardiologists who read SAVE YOUR BACON. I'm sure they ended up dazed and on the floor.)
YOU ARE SPECIAL, HOMESICK TEXAN! A real pleasure to read!

Mark in toronto said...

Hey, homesick Texan. I buy home rendered pork lard from a Salvadorean food market here in Toronto. I use it to make pie dough and pastry for empanadas, pasteles and I saute onions and garlic in it with a little olive oil when I make chili or bean soups. I just found your blog and am a big fan already. I love all things culinary and Mexican. Cheers, Mark in Toronto

Anonymous said...

I only read the first two lines and cracked up! We've always said my friend's uncle Stanley never met a mason jar or bread sack he didn't like. We had to clean out his garage after his death. You'd be amazed at the stuff he "saved" to reuse.

Texann

Anonymous said...

I like just a touch of bacon honey (love that terminology!) in my smashed red potatoes. Of course I also put crumbled bacon, sour cream and chives in it.

I'm enjoying the hell out of reading your previous work. So glad I found you!

Texann

Madeline said...

This may sound weird, but as an experiment I made banana bread substituting bacon fat for oil or butter. Crispiest crust ever, super moist inside, not identifiably "bacony" but with an extra depth of flavor.

Melinda said...

Contrary to popular belief, saturated fat is not bad for you at all. Further explanation here:

http://www.westonaprice.org/knowyourfats/index.html

I use bacon fat for just about everything. I keep it in metal oatmeal can with a lid. I haven't had any problems pouring it into the can while hot. Haven't tried it with mashed potatoes, though. Sounds good.

katyjake said...

Here's my favorite thing to put bacon fat into.

Okra, tomatoes, onions, a little bacon grease, a little water, a little cayenne pepper (or favorite pepper). Bring to a slow boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes until veggies are tender.

It's mandatory that it be served with cornbread......made with bacon grease.

Enjoy cooking, enjoy living!

Bob

Rapunzel said...

I am sorry to post a comment a year late, but I just stumbled onto your blog while searching "store bacon grease," LOL! I have a boyfriend who enjoys bacon on the weekend, always pours the grease into a coffee can and I'm wondering: how long does it keep? And what else can I use it for? Well, you sure answered that question! Thank you for the info, and providing me with a new blog to enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I am a low carber who knows nothing about Texas. I stumbled onto your blog while googling about bacon fat - I was wondering if I could save it and resuse it since it is so flavorful.

THANK YOU for the info. uh, I've poured bacon fat (cooled) down my drain one or two times....hope I won't need a plumber.

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog looking for shelf life on bacon "honey" which my girlfriend and i collect like busy little bees. We've got enough that we deep fry fish with it.Add a touch of garlic into the mix and ......Oh my mouth is watering, I'll be in the kitchen. Thanks for the blog. Aussie

Anonymous said...

I know I'm commenting on this late, but oh, bacon grease! I recently started saving mine, as I saw my grandmother do (in a coffee can on the stove, of course!). I like to fry my pancakes in a little bacon grease--it gives them a nice, crispy outer edge. I'm sure my grandmother could tell me countless other uses, though.

I'm from southern Ohio, with both of my sides of my family hailing from Kentucky, but I married a gent from northern Ohio. His mother once told me of a friend who offered her some eggs fried in bacon grease--and she was just HORRIFIED by the very idea of it! She went on and on about how she couldn't believe someone would do that, and didn't I agree? I told her that my family has used bacon grease for lots of things, and that took care of that conversation. I think it solidified me as a "hillbilly" in her mind!

Anonymous said...

my mom uses it in peas butter beans etc. I just found out after wondering for years y hers was better than mine.

Anonymous said...

I use bacon grease to make chex mix and it is absolutely delicious, the bacony taste sets it apart from all other chex mix recipes and my whole family loves it!!!

KC Martin

Andrea said...

Bacon grease, the best seasoning!
Both of my parents are from the south, Ma- NC/Dad-MS. That's one thing they always used in vegetables! There's something about the bacon that gives your vegetables the ability to transport you back to the times where you were at Grandma's table with wonderful fresh vegetables before you! Mmm... :]

Anonymous said...

I'm living in Italy, studying "slow food" and I found the re-use of bacon fat comments fascinating. I'm from Canada and my mom always kept--and used--bacon fat. Mmm... but I wonder about what's in that bacon fat in today's world, where the bacon doesn't come from a farm-raised pig, fed scraps, corn and sour milk. Fat is a part of the body that collects a lot of "gunk" re additives, chemicals, etc. Would it be best to use organic bacon if you're going to save the fat and reuse it? Anyone know?

Anthony said...

does it need to be refrigerated? Ive been storing it under the sink..but have never used it - thanks!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Anthony--Some people don't refrigerate it but I do.

Anonymous said...

I just leave my pot of bacon grease by the sink, i've left it out for months and its never gone rancid.. I do use it at least every few weeks, and pour it back into the pot.
Now if you dont use it for a year or something then it might go bad just sitting out.. I read that you should only reuse it once, but I don't know how valid that claim is.

The Love Family said...

I have always saved my bacon grease as well. Seems like we were raised pretty similarly. We often get leftovers sent home on styrofoam plates (I shudder to think what they held previously) covered by reused foil :)

My grams pies always come out SO amazing, her secret? She brushed the top with just a teeny bit of bacon grease.

Jude Chao said...

How did I never think of this before? This is GENIUS!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, 5 years later and people are still reading this post :-D

I cook but don't really use recipes or watch cooking shows - I just improvise. So I had no idea that other people used bacon drippings like this too! haha I cooked bacon, then fried the eggs in the bacon fat afterward and loved it. Then I started sauteing diced bell peppers, onions, garlic, and serrano peppers in bacon fat to use in soups and chili, and even in spaghetti sauce!

Today this finally led me to search to see if there was any reason not to save it and reuse it, and..here I am! Thanks for a good article!

Danny Watkins
Dallas, TX

Anonymous said...

Is it better to comment years late than never? ;)

I don't cook bacon often anymore, but I do always save the grease. I did have it go rancid a time or two quite a few years ago (when I was cooking more bacon, so I was keeping more grease).

Now, to make it last longer, I pour it into a small corningware dish I keep in the refrigerator. If it gets to about half an inch deep before I use it up, I move it to the freezer, and after it hardens cut it into inch squares and drop it into a (probably reused) zip bag that stays in the freezer.

- jim

Anonymous said...

I have an aluminum grease saver can with strainer from way back when. I believe the last time I cleaned it out was a couple of years ago when I used it all up. Before that it had probably 10+ years of bacon history in it. Kept it in the fridge, when I wanted some for taters or such I would heat it on the stove a bit and pour out the spout what I needed. It's never gone bad on me.

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