Bacon is a $2 billion industry in America. Jimmy Dean lives in half of all home refrigerators; rashers of Swift are consumed in astounding quantities, and never more than in these tough times. Bacon consumption is up, over the past ten years, by a pound per person (to 17.9 pounds for every man, woman and child in the country). And how are restaurants responding? Duh, pass the bacon! Bacon on burgers, steaks, pancakes, in sandwiches, even woven into a tapestry upon which more bacon-laden foods can be served.
What you're looking at, on the left, is a tasty, $10 dish called Tempura Fried Kurabota Bacon, served, with a maple sambal ponzu sauce, in the bar at John Howie Steak in Bellevue. It's been two years since I ate it, and I still remember how good it tasted.
But I've also had some truly horrifying bacon experiences. Bakon Vodka, for example. Baconnaise, for another, created by Seattle entrepreneurs Dave Lefkow and Justin Esch. They started with Bacon Salt (now in nine flavors), then moved on to Baconnaise (regular and lite). I found it more medicinal than bacon-y, with a bitter, chemical aftertaste. The list of ingredients is downright frightening, including corn syrup, MSG, hydrolized vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast extract, palm oil, flour, and "smoke flavor." No doubt similar to the flavoring ingredients used in "real" bacon, but that doesn't make it any healthier or tastier, even if it is, technically, kosher.
The latest to climb aboard the bacon bandwagon is none other than Burger King, with $2.5 billion in annual revenues and whose menu includes a stunning number of bacon-ated sandwiches and wraps, everything from single-stackers to Double Croissan'wiches to 1,140-calorie Triple Whoppers. Afgter a year of testing and staff training (more on that here), BK now prepares all its bacon in-house: brined, smoked and cooked daily in every one of the chain's 7,200 or so restaurants. BK, by the way, is the fifth-largest restaurant chain in the US (after Subway, McDonald's, Starbucks and Pizza Hut).
"People are crazy about bacon," BK's executive chef told us by phone this week. That would be 52-year-old John Koch, who has spent his career in working for corporate restaurants and their vital supply chains (most recently for a meat distributor). You'll recall that pasty-faced "King" character who was the TV face of the company for a couple of years? G-gone, fired, along with the "cutting edge" ad agency that created him. The new agency, McGarry Bowen, is putting the focus on products and ingredients, hence the push to publicize the company's newfound emphasis on bacon.
And don't forget that Burger King is testing home delivery as well. The company has developed a "proprietary thermal packaging technology," says Jonathan Fitzpatrick, BK's chief brand & operations officer, which, he says, "ensures the Whopper is delivered hot and fresh, and the french fries are delivered hot and crispy." (Pizza companies are watching closely; delivery is 70 percent of Domino's business.) If BK's experiment works, it could revolutionize the fast-casual sector. After all, if cardboard covered with glop can make it as a staple item in America's takeout inventory, bacon can't be far behind.
The BK folks taped Chef Koch during our phone call. You can watch the video below.