Bacon: the final frontier
I was going to begin this piece by saying that yes, we know, you’re sick of bacon, and we’re sick of it, too. But that would be total bullshit, and I don’t think Taste Test readers want to be lied to. If you’re anything like us, you could eat bacon every day, and in almost any sort of configuration. By itself. With some eggs. On a BLT. Club sandwich. Crispy, chewy bacon adds wonderment to almost anything it touches, and we will eat it until we fall down, grasping our chests, sucking wind, and smiling.
That said, some of the ways bacon has been presented to us over the past few years haven’t lived up to the majesty of the pure product. Some bacon presentations can degrade bacon, and make her feel like a cheap whore, when really she’s a beautiful princess. So in the interest of a) not writing about bacon for a while and b) clearing a bunch of shit off my desk, we decided to just let our bacon freak-flag fly all at once.
Thus, the following products were tasted, all in one giant orgasm of baconosity: Bacon Freak Maple Bacon Pancakes, Bacon Freak bacon jerky, skillet bacon jam, Spam with bacon, bacon-flavored jellybeans, bacon-flavored gumballs, and bacon-flavored toothpicks. Because they were still sitting around the kitchen, previous Taste Test stars chocolate-covered bacon and Bacon Salt were also involved. Not only that, but we went all out in preparing some of these items, particularly the bacon jam, which was served in a variety of ways. We did this for you, bacon. Sometimes you make us so mad, but it’s only because we love you sooo much.
Let’s start with the most exciting item of the bunch: skillet bacon jam. A reader named James C. hipped us to its existence. Made by Skillet Street Food, a mobile restaurant based in the Seattle area, and served there on delicious-sounding burgers (Oregon natural beef, cambozola, arugula, bacon jam, brioche), the bacon jam is prepared thusly: “we take a big bunch of really really good bacon, and render it down… add a bunch of spices… onions, etc… and let it simmer for about 6 hours…give it a quick puree, and blast chill it… and you have bacon jam…” In an e-mail, James swore by its goodness, so we ordered a jar, which turned out to be a can.
In order to give it a fair shake (rather than, y’know, just eating it out of the can), we decided to incorporate bacon jam into some half-assed recipes. The first, peanut-butter-and-bacon-jam sandwiches on cheap white bread, was an immediate hit. The bacon jam looks fatty and slimy, but it tastes like pulled pork—hints of barbecue and lots of onion. Against the sweet peanut butter, it was a winner. Next up, we made grilled cheese with bacon jam, which was simply more crappy white bread, slices of cheddar, and bacon jam—all prepared to goopy perfection in a George Foreman grill. Unless there’s some miraculous treat I’m not remembering, the grilled cheese with bacon jam was the best-received Taste Test item in the feature’s storied history. A couple of people hesitated, but most agreed that it simply tasted like a well-seasoned pulled-pork-and-cheddar sandwich. And who can argue with that?
All the while, Chef Koski prepared Bacon Freak’s Maple Bacon Pancake Mix, which the package describes as “real buttermilk pancake mix with genuine Bacon Freak bacon bits and creamy maple flavored chunks.” Pancake mix is always too good to be true, but we had high hopes for this one, and Bacon Freak has provided us with some solid bacon products so far. The pancakes were just so-so—a great idea that didn’t (and maybe couldn’t) execute well. The bits of bacon were really hard, and the pancakes themselves weren’t sweet enough. Jun said it best: You’d be much better off just cooking some delicious bacon next to a good pancake. That said, we did make some interesting creations with the pancakes, topping them with bacon jam (good) and maple syrup (even better). But overall, we’d probably rather just have some Batter Blaster pancakes with a side of Bacon Freak fancy bacon.
No one had any illusions about the Spam “with real Hormel bacon.” Only White Chang (a.k.a. Whang, a.k.a. ad ops heartthrob Brett) claimed to like Spam in any incarnation. This was mostly just horrendous. Its gelatinous ick is nearly impossible to get out of the can, and it smells so bad uncooked that I can’t believe people voluntarily eat it. Cooked, it’s perhaps slightly better, but after the gourmet vibe of the bacon jam, it just seemed that much worse. And could you even taste the bacon in it? Not at all.
At some point in this orgy of pig flesh, Jesse concocted a special sandwich for Whang to eat, a sandwich someone cleverly named “the Jesse.” It consisted of spam as the bread (which, it should be noted, is the name that Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis publishes his songs under, Spam As The Bread Music), bacon jam, cheddar cheese, and peanut butter—all grilled by Mr. George Foreman. It looked like a mess, but if Anthony Bourdain can eat a “three little pigs” sandwich at Chicago’s Silver Palm and live to tell about it, our Brett can give this a shot. He didn’t hate it, but he and Jesse probably wouldn’t eat it again.
Next course: bacon jerky, again made by Bacon Freak. Two things: Someone pointed out the obvious in saying, “Isn’t bacon already jerky?” Well no, it really isn’t, but it’s definitely got some similarities. More importantly, most jerky we’ve eaten has been dry. That’s a key part of the definition, isn’t it? Jerky is smoked, dried meat. Bacon jerky, though vacuum-sealed, was slightly oily. (You couldn’t put it in your pocket for a camping trip, really.) We tried two flavors—honey-BBQ rubbed and summer-tomato BLT—neither of which blew anybody away. It’s not terrible, but they should definitely trim some of the fat from future batches. More importantly, it really doesn’t do actual bacon justice. It treats her like a commodity, to be bagged and carted around. She isn’t that. She’s precious. You don’t take her camping, you take her to the Ritz-Carlton. You feed her the finest champagne in a crystal goblet. You order the finest food in the restaurant, stuffed with the second-finest. (Lobster stuffed with tacos, for the record.)
And beautiful authentic bacon didn’t even appear in the dessert course for this drawn-out Taste Test, at least not for real. Some sort of sick joker or bacon-tranny must’ve invented bacon gumballs and bacon-flavored jellybeans. These products are for kids or comedians, not for bacon-lovers. Bacon beans are Jelly Belly sized, but they don’t even have the balls to be as disgusting as dirt or earwax-flavored JBs. I spit in their face, throw them their $5, and send them back to the stroll. Bacon gumballs were only interesting because, like the Bakon vodka we sampled a few weeks ago, they somehow taste like Band-Aids. To paraphrase the suspicious bass player from “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”: “Bacon-scented toothpicks, I don’t know about you.” (In other words, they were horrible and possibly even gay.)
What did we learn today? That we need to treat bacon right, and not take her for granted. Sure, she might cry sometimes, and she blew 37 other guys, but she brings you lasagna at work and does the dishes every night. She makes your tastebuds feel all right. If you try to replace her, you might just end up with artificial-flavored bullshit, and you’ll never know the real taste of bacon again. If you work at this relationship—say by cooking her, then puréeing her, then blast-chilling her—she’ll come up tasty every time. She might even let you have a threesome with some peanut butter.
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Peanut butter and bacon-jam sandwiches
- “It tastes like it’s got a ton of bacon in it!”
- “It’s really smoky. I don’t think the smoke blends with the peanut butter at all.”
- “There’s too much onion in this and it’s too savory and smoky for my tastes, but I’m guessing someone who really liked fried onions and bacon would think it was heaven in a can.”
- “I would never eat this on my own, but the smokiness of the jam pairs relatively well with peanut butter.”
- “It’s kind of like a chutney, almost.”
- “This could be the new lunch paradigm.”
- “Kind of a Southeast Asian vibe—pork satay, cold peanut noodles—on top of good ol’ American white bread. Like a senator with a Bangkok hooker. You shouldn’t print that last bit.”
- “The peanut butter and salt from the bacon match pretty well.”
- “An overload of salt. It is an abomination to the sanctity of PBJs everywhere.”
Grilled cheddar cheese with bacon jam
- “It’s like a pulled-pork panini with cheese. Probably really healthy.”
- “It’s really delicate.”
- “It’s like crunchy pulled pork.”
- “Totally tasty, though it doesn't really taste like bacon. Like someone else mentioned, it has more of a pulled-pork flavor.”
- “You know, this stuff tastes good-ish going down, but I suspect if I ate a whole one and allowed it to ferment in my stomach, I wouldn’t be so happy.”
- “Darn tasty! Warm melted cheese really sells the bacon spread.”
- “Delicious. I daresay I would actually order this in a restaurant.”
- “They managed to completely dry out the meat, but leave the fat intact. Very greasy.”
- “For me, this was the worst. Felt like it should be used as a dog treat, and the consistency of the fat in the jerky was that of a stick of butter.”
- “It even tastes unhealthy. Even I can't justify bacon jerky.”
Bacon Freak Maple Bacon pancakes
- “The bacon inside is really hard and chewy.”
- “That’s a winner right there. It saves time! It’s like a KFC bowl.”
- “The bacon in these things is better bacon jerky than the official bacon jerky was. It’s hard and chewy, but flavorful.”
- “I’m a little concerned that I might be eating hickory chips in a pancake.”
- “It tastes like a campfire to me, for better or for worse. It tastes not like liquid smoke, but specifically like the pine-wood char that comes off campfires.”
- “It’s bizarre, it’s like eating a smoked pancake.”
- “It pooped on me, but it’s totally good.”
- “I kept getting thrown off of the nice, easy texture of the pancake by the speed bumps of the bits of bacon—not a fun textural experience.”
- “Also, the batter smelled like sex.”
- “Not a whole lot like bacon; more like what would happen if I poured too much syrup on my pancakes and my bacon on my plate was soaked in it.”
- “The pure batter, however—I can’t believe I’m writing this out—smells like a used condom.”
SPAM with bacon
- “If you combined all the meat in the world, that’s what it would taste like.”
- “The only excuse for eating this much energy is if you’re hiking across the Arctic or something.”
- “The main problem is texture. Pork shouldn't be fluffy.”
- “It's like whipped ham, only smoky.”
The 'Jesse' Spamwich
- “It was a palate of confusion. Think about eating a hotdog only to find out that it's filled with bananas and peanut butter.”
- “I felt like I had just bathed in a tub of grease after eating this guy.”
- “It looked and tasted like something you would eat for breakfast in the 1950s, before health was a concept.”
- “There was a definite pairing of fruit with these. Not sure what fruit would go with bacon, but it’s in there.”
- “The jellybean was a total disappointment. It tasted like a slightly off Jelly Belly, but it wasn't unpleasant at all.”
- “This is bullshit. There's no bacon flavor, and it's too sweet. It should be savory if it's going for bacon. If it weren't labeled bacon, I would have never guessed it. It's more like a Jelly Belly Bean Boozled jellybean for Band-Aids.”
- “Very sterile, almost like sucking on gauze from the dentist’s office.”
- “This is slightly closer to bacon flavor than the jellybeans, but it's also totally gross. For every one gumball you chew, you need two pieces of Eclipse to kill the taste from your mouth.”
- “The worst item in this Taste Test. Like sucking on an antiseptic wipe.”
- “Somebody must have pulled these out of an ashtray.”
- “Now this is just unnecessary. Enough is enough with the bacon-flavored shit already.”
Where to find them:
Bacon jam: Skillet Street Food’s website
Bacon jerky and Maple Bacon Pancake mix: Bacon Freak
Spam: Your local grocery store or Wal-Mart
Bacon gumballs, toothpicks, and jellybeans: You don’t want that shit.