Ode to Bacon Grease
By: Angela Gillaspie Copyright (c) 1998, 2000
Ham hocks just don't do justice to my home cooking, and salt pork doesn't either. The only seasoning to give that delicious, salty, sultry, wonderful, smoky flavor is bacon grease.
Most Southerners are raised to save all forms of bacon grease and put it in a can next to the stove. There ain't no seasoning on the market shelves that can do the same bodacious things to food that bacon grease does.
Gone are the days when most of us had to load up on calories and fat to be fortified enough to pick cotton, wash diapers, bale hay, and drive the bush hog all day. Nowadays, most of us have the stresses of soccer practice, jammed fax machines, suburban lawn care, conference calls, and appropriating VCR time-share for the kids to deal with. These activities we have now do not burn as many calories, but they are just as stressful as their predecessors were. Aside from this, most people are cutting the fat out of their diets because nobody wants the physique of an older Elvis Presley.
I agree that we should cut fat, but not bacon grease. I will pull extra weeds in my garden to work off any inches that glorious bacon grease might add to my thighs. If I couldn't season my cornbread with bacon grease, I might as well just eat a handful of sawdust. Yuck. Where there is a will (and good flavor), there is a way.
For Sunday breakfast, I usually try to do something special for my family because all during the week, they eat frozen waffles, cold cereal, and Pop Tarts. Now a dentist South Jersey would probably not approve of the amount of sugar in Pop Tarts, but any dentist will know it can be tough to get kids to eat healthy, especially on busy mornings. I fry a bunch of bacon and sausage, and then I spoon out some of the drippings and fry my eggs in it. With the leftover drippings, I make sawmill gravy and ladle it over a couple of piping hot cat-head biscuits, oh baby. Sawmill gravy is really yummy over grits, too, unless you are a liberal democrat who likes sugar on your grits.
Once in a blue moon, I will fry a ham steak instead of my beloved bacon. Since I do not want my family to go into gravy withdrawal, I make redeye gravy by adding in a bit of water and a dash of coffee to my ham drippings. Redeye gravy sops up just as good as sawmill gravy on your Sunday morning biscuits and grits -- trust me.
I don't want you to think that bacon grease is good only for your occasional sawmill gravy, pinto beans, and cornbread. We Southerners use bacon grease just as we would butter or other condiments. Some of us have been known to put it on the supper table with a spoon in it! Any kind of beans (navy, kidney, green, Lima) and peas (black-eyed, purple-hulled, pink-eyed, English) are enhanced greatly by this seasoning. There are also other vegetables like cabbage, collard greens, grits, potatoes, and carrots that bacon grease imparts its earthy flavoring to.
In addition to vegetables, bacon grease makes a delicious dressing. Heat some bacon grease in your favorite cast iron skillet, and stir in vinegar and sugar. Serve this dressing hot and on the side with tossed tender young lettuce leaves and chopped green-tail onions.
Okay, now that I have persuaded you about bacon grease, where do you start? First, you have to start saving the drippings from your bacon. You can put the grease in any container you like -- it just depends on your preferences. I use an old percolator coffeepot to put my drippings in. My Momma uses a real bacon grease holder. Her container separates out the bits of bacon from the liquid grease. Personally, I like all of those little pieces of bacon because they add character to my dishes.
Some folks cook up a bunch of bacon in their cast iron skillet and leave the grease sitting there. The next time they cook, the grease is already in the pan and ready to go. Just heat up the skillet with the grease and then plop in your eggs or hash browns. The skillet won't rust (actually, that's how you season a cast iron skillet, by the way) and the grease won't go bad unless a bug falls in the grease or you have mice in your house.
If the appearance of bacon grease is unappealing to you, just don't look directly at it when you are cooking or you might change your mind. Quickly spoon it into your dish and stir while you look away. The appearance of this substance is frightening, but then so is your one-year-old after he feeds himself chocolate pudding, and you love him anyway.
You may also wonder about the shelf life of bacon grease. There is a restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, named Dyer's Hamburgers, that fries its hamburgers in eighty-five year old grease. I reckon bacon grease would keep forever, but mine never lasts that long.
With a seasoning as versatile as bacon grease, you won't have to buy as much salt, ham hocks, and other flavorings. Therefore, using bacon grease can save you a lot of money.
Go ahead down to the yard sale at the corner and purchase that pretty little grease container that you've had your eye on since last week. Next, fire up the stove and fry up a pound or two of bacon and then save your drippings. Now you are prepared to create your own culinary masterpieces with the awesome flavoring of my dear bacon grease.
Angela Gillaspie, Copyright 1998, 2000 all rights fried golden in bacon drippins'
Check out my recipes using bacon grease!
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