If you’re like me, you love bacon in ALL its forms...including rendered bacon fat, which I consider a precious culinary treasure to be hoarded and savored at every opportunity! The irony is that most home cooks make plenty of bacon fat when frying up strips for breakfast or BLTs, but rather than saving this highly versatile secret ingredient, they toss it out as waste. NEVER AGAIN! When it comes to adding rich smoky flavor to my favorite dishes, there's nothing I like better than using bacon fat or bacon butter. I had the pleasure of discussing this with Marie Ciraulo, a 78-year-old Italian American and proud member of our #baconfam; she shared some great tips for saving, storing and cooking with bacon fat that you can put to good use!
Marie: Growing up we always had a can on the back portion of our Wedgewood stove—everyone had one. It was usually an empty Folgers coffee can and my mom used it to store bacon fat. She’d put it in our eggs or our potatoes—to add a nice flavor—and in a lot of other dishes. In my day, we didn’t always have butter handy or available. Bacon fat was what we used to fry up chicken, to make salad dressings, in place of oil in our baked goods, to saute onions, as a base for our soups and stews—we used it wherever we would normally use butter or oil. To this day, one of my favorite family dishes is to take the fat from pork chops and sautée it in a skillet to get a nice flavorful liquid. Then I fry the pork chops in the fat to make them even more delicious and serve this over a bed of Polenta, infused with garlic and spinach. (All this food talk is making me hungry—it must be close to dinner!) I also remember one of my daughters using bacon fat to make bacon-scented candles—during her candle-making phase. And, I bet you could use bacon fat to make beauty products. There’s really nothing I love more than bacon, can you tell?
My mother, Lena, grew up on a farm—the first one she lived on was a homestead in Colorado and then she and the family moved to a farm near Pittsburgh, Kansas. She told me there was one time she wanted to bake a cake for her favorite school teacher who was coming over to visit. She didn’t have any butter, so she fried up some bacon and rendered the fat for the cake. Delicious! Bacon-fat cake = Situation solved!
Camilo: How do you save your bacon fat?
Marie: I know there are a couple of ways to save bacon fat, depending on how pure you like it or if you want more of a solid form like butter with some bacon bits. To get the liquid version, you can cook your bacon in a skillet or in the oven, and, when you are all done, you can just pour the fat through a strainer you hold over your can or container—I often save jam jars and reuse them, and mason jars also work well. Personally, I think it’s easier to pour off the bacon fat when it’s on the warm side if you want a purer render, but you can also let it sit in the skillet and cool down to get more bacon product. For this option, I would cook the bacon and then eat it, and while enjoying my meal, I just let the bacon fat cool off in the pan. The fat will start to solidify. Then, take a spatula to capture all the fat and tasty bits of bacon still remaining. Scoop this into a can or a recycled jar for storing in the refrigerator or in a cool area of your pantry. This method also makes cleaning up a lot easier, since you will use everything that went in the pan in the first place!
Camilo: Does the bacon fat expire?
Marie: Well, in my house, it gets used so quickly, this is never an issue. My advice is to use it up in the first week or so, and check on it as you go. If you notice any odd smells, just toss it out and start cooking up a new batch. Any excuse to cook bacon is a good one, right? I find that the warmed bacon fat option without the remnants generally keeps longer, so when you are saving it, use a strainer to remove any bacon bits, as you transfer it to the storage jar. And, don’t forget you can also store some in the freezer, but, again, this is not something I do in my house because I use bacon fat so frequently.
Camilo: How do you use bacon fat?
Marie: I use it in place of oil or butter in many recipes. I think it gives my dishes that extra punch of flavor. It’s great on everything from meat to baked goods, spread on cornbread with a little honey, and more. My daughter once made a candle with bacon fat and the wonderful smell of the candle drew the rest of the family out of their rooms to see what was cooking.
I could go on and on about the many ways I use bacon...I’m Italian and, as you may have guessed, we have no problem talking about food ideas and recipes. Some of the ways I like to use bacon fat:
- As a substitute for butter when making eggs or pancakes. Cook the bacon and leave the fat in the pan. Then cook up the eggs or pancakes in the same skillet. This is delicious.
- With leftover baked potatoes, chop these up and toss in a skillet with bacon fat, and season to your liking. Yum.
- For popping popcorn, in place of oil, use bacon fat. When done, add some sea salt and lemon zest. But be careful or you might eat the whole bowl.
- As a base for my stews, soups or gravy.
- When I saute kale, spinach, Brussels Sprouts and other vegetables. This works great if you have kids (I have five) who may need some extra encouragement to eat their greens.
What you need:
- a bacon slab, steaks, ground bacon, lardons or strips and a fair amount of bacon fat collected when you cook these items
- a mason jar, recycled jam jar, or other glass container
- a spatula/spoon
- a chopstick or piece of uncooked spaghetti
- a candle wick
- take the solidified bacon fat, melt this in a pan/pot until it liquefies. Make sure the glass jar you are using is also warmed up to keep it from cracking when you pour the bacon fat into the jar. (I usually warm it in the oven for 7-10 minutes)
- add the wick in the jar and pour the bacon fat into the jar. I like to tie the wick to a piece of uncooked spaghetti or single chopstick and lay this across the top of the jar to hold it in position while I pour in the bacon fat.
- cut the wick to your liking
- once the candle sets up, you can wrap it and gift it to your favorite bacon lover or keep it all to yourself and enjoy the smell anytime you like.
How To Render Bacon Fat
- Be patient - cook bacon slowly to avoid burning it and rendering less grease. Cook your bacon in a skillet or in the oven. Once your bacon is cooked, devour however you see fit, and move on to the next step to strain the grease.
How To Strain Bacon Grease
- While still warm and liquid, strain the grease through a fine mesh sieve or cheese cloth into your storage vessel
- Use a wide mouth container - and steer clear of plastics as it can melt the container
- Your finished product should be caramel color, see through and free of solids
How To Store Bacon Grease
- On the Counter top in an opaque or dark colored sealed jar for up to 1 week (do a smell check for rancidity)
- In the Fridge sealed for up to 6 months
- In the Freezer sealed for up to 9 months (in either a wide mouth jar or in plastic ice cube trays for easy use)
- You could even consider keeping 2 jars - one for storing and one for using
How To Use It
Bacon fat can be used interchangeably with other cooking fats like butter, olive oil or lard (it actually IS lard enhanced with salty bacon and smoky flavors)
- Sauteéd or roast vegetables
- Fried/Scrambled Eggs
- Rubbed on the skin before roasting a chicken
- Home fries, french fries, baked potatoes
- Cakes, cornbread, biscuits, cookies, bread
- Fried chicken
- Pancake batter
- Beans, chili, stews
- Dressings, aioli, vinaigrette