A few weeks ago, I had a very illuminating conversation with a few friends on bacon.
We got on the topic because we were talking about meal planning, and how it's been the answer to budgeting and cooking fatigue. Everyone in the car was newly or nearly 30, so it felt like an all-around appropriate conversation to have.
Then my friend Allison, a person who always teaches me something new about cooking with her elegant and effortless way of going about it, described how once she started eating meat again, bacon became her key to stress-free weeknight meals. Her recipe for beans and greens starts with "one pound bomb-ass bacon, cut up into large bits and sautéed in a cast iron skillet until crispy; drain and save half the liquid fat for cooking and leave the rest with the bacon."
Another friend brought up Brussels sprouts and bacon. Later, I had a friend call asking about a way to use up the bacon fat she had saved from a string of weekend brunches. We are all talking about bacon as a component of a meal, as the starter or a topping. For some, it was the only meat they ever really got around to making. My own cooking habits are similar — bacon, for the most part, is seasoning and condiment and never really the star. Why and how we made these choices that led us to cook with bacon this way was certainly a function of flavor, but cost was pacing at the same level of priority. So I asked everyone this: Is bacon the most economical way to eat meat?
I got yeses all around.
Why Bacon Is the Most Economical Way to Eat Meat
When I first started to make this list, I began feeling like a lot of it was pretty obvious. Of course you can get a lot of flavor out of little bit of bacon, and of course you can use the bacon fat, but when I opened to the discussion up to the rest of the team and a few friends, the list continued to grow with ideas and reasons that didn't even occur to me. I ended up with a few points, that would have swayed me in bacon's favor from the get-go.
Bacon freezes well.
Even if you never get around to using up that pound of bacon you bought, you can totally save it from going bad by sticking it in the freezer. Or you can buy bacon in bulk and freeze it right away. This readily avoids food waste, and if you buy your bacon in bulk, you can often score a much lower price per pound. Best of all, you can cook bacon straight from the freezer. If I never got around to portioning it out (which is almost always,) I just snip off a bit with kitchen shears to use as the fat to sauté veggies or aromatics in. At that rate, a pound of bacon gets used in at least a dozen meals.
More on Freezing Bacon
Bacon is affordable.
According to the National Pork Board, bacon's current national average price is $4.70 a pound. Considering all you can do with it, that's pretty solid when it comes to a cut of meat that has such far-reaching applications. Now, depending on the specs, a pound of bacon can also cost you as much as 12 dollars, but there are entry points for every wallet and every set of concerns. I, for one, am just happy the options exist so when I want to blow some cash on black forest bacon rather than the center-cut bacon I usually buy, I can.
You get meat and fat.
You don't make a steak and save the fat, but when you fry bacon, saving the fat isn't even a second thought. Since that fat carries all of the smoky, porky flavor the bacon itself delivers, it's just as valuable as the crispy meat. All this brings us to the third reason why bacon is the most economical way to eat meat: It's a twofer. With just the one cut, you get the meat and the fat. You can use the rendered fat in sautéed veggies, baked goods, homemade popcorn, and granola. And I'm sure that just skims the surface.
This tip comes from our associate editor, Meghan, who points out that buying bacon by the slab lets you slice and dice this meat however you'd like. She's a fan of cubing it for carbonara-type dishes, but also suggests slicing it thickly and treating it like pork belly or even ham and preparing it with a long, slow cook and a quick sear. I've seen slab bacon at the regular ole grocery store at this point — but to be fair, that's when I was living in Iowa, land of pork — but most butchers carry this cut, no matter where you are.
You can buy just what you need from the butcher case.
This point piggybacks (ha!) off the prior. In having it your way, that also includes just the amount you need. You can buy sliced bacon by the pound from most grocery stores from the butcher case. Which means if you just want to buy a few pieces for breakfast (raises hand!) that's the place to do it. Beyond the ability to just buy what you need, the butcher case often offers a variety of seasoned bacon. Black forest bacon, a variety offered by Whole Foods Market and Wellshire Farms, is something I often only buy a few pieces of over a whole pack.
The core flavors of bacon are universally applicable.
When it comes down to it, bacon is just a vehicle for fatty, salty, smoky flavor. And when used correctly, those flavors can go just about anywhere. Remember that period a few years ago when bacon crossed over from the breakfast table into nearly every single thing we ate? Even when it was garish and totally unnecessary, you could understand how it worked. Maple bacon cupcakes still continue to thrive, but beyond its more wild applications, bacon's trifecta of flavor is the key to everything from a better batch of roasted Brussels sprouts to an over-the-top pork tenderloin.
You can buy bacon you believe in.
The kind of bacon you buy has so much to do with what your priorities are. You can buy a bunch of bacon on the cheap for a few dollars a pound, or you can spend over 10 bucks and barely hit a pound. There are that many options and each is tied to what matters to you. I have a package of Benton's bacon hiding out in my freezer because I'm waiting for the right occasion to use it, and in the meantime I've bought a range of products at a range of prices. Oscar Meyer bacon always surprises me with how shatteringly crispy it gets, and, when I was doing Whole30, the absence of sugar in the bacon from U.S. Wellness Meat didn't leave it any less delicious. But one thing that does bare mentioning is that wherever you are in that spectrum, the bacon is going to be good.
Bacon can help you eat your veggies, beans, and grains.
This brings us back to where we began with that conversation about bacon as the most economical way to eat meat. When meat isn't the core element of your diet, usually grains, veggies, and beans take that place — foods that are cost-effective in themselves. But bacon remains because often its helps us eat more of these things in truly delicious ways. I haven't had a recipe for kale, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts that bacon didn't make better. Grains sautéed in a bit of bacon fat before they are cooked are absolutely delicious, and beans braised in the presence of the smoky, fatty richness of bacon have legions of fans.