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Ask Matthew: Leftover Bacon Fat

This series answers all your cooking questions. And yes, by “all” we mean the wild, silly, and “stupid” ones, too.

Published Mar. 6, 2020.

Before Matthew Fairman joined Cook’s Country as a test cook, he cooked in many restaurants and taught college literature and writing. When hes not pitching a new take on fried rice to his editors or whispering to his slow cookers, Matthew is usually scaling plastic mountains at the climbing gym or running food experiments on his wife, Lauren, and cat, Daisy. He hopes to one day pay for climbing trips by selling fried rice from a food truck to hungry people stumbling out of bars after last call.

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Dear Matthew, My roommate makes bacon every Saturday and Sunday. It's one of my favorite things about living with her! But she always throws away the bacon grease. Now, when I was growing up, my grandmother always saved her bacon grease in a coffee tin, and then she'd use it for things like cornbread or sautéed greens. Every time my roommate just pours the bacon fat into the garbage, I get sad. It seems so wasteful! I'm thinking maybe she'll become a convert if I can educate her on the best way to keep it (Do you need to strain it? What kind of container is best?) and maybe give her a few ideas of what to do with it. Can you help?


Makin' Bacon

Dear Makin’ Bacon,

There is literally nothing I’d like more than to help you sort out your bacon-related roomie relationship issues. As you and I both know, rendered bacon fat is a treasure. It should be hoarded and protected like a dragon hoards her pile of gold and jewels. How dare your roommate treat it so disdainfully!

Here’s what I’d do if I were you, to teach her a lesson. Next time you two are settling down for your weekend breakfast, snatch half of her bacon, throw it on the floor, and stomp on it. That’s right; you heard me. When she asks you why you did it, this is what you say: “Well, have you ever examined a piece of bacon? It’s like half fat! Would you come home from the store with a fresh pack of bacon and feed half of it directly to your garbage disposal? No! The way you feel right now is how I feel every time I see you pour the bacon grease in the garbage.”

In a couple of months, once you two are on speaking terms again and she’s had some time to think about what she’s done (and to ask you for forgiveness), she’ll be ready to learn how to properly store and use the bacon fat she now treasures. That’s when you drop some Cook’s Country test kitchen knowledge on her.

Supermarket Bacon

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How to Store Leftover Bacon Grease

First, here’s how you collect it. While it’s still just warm enough to be liquid (I usually just wait until I’m done eating to do this, 15 or 20 minutes), pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof container with an airtight lid. I like to use a wide-mouthed Mason jar (they even sell special bacon grease containers with built-in strainers). I have a tea strainer that sits perfectly in the top of the jar without my having to hold it. That way my hands are free to pour out the skillet and to scrape out every last bit with a rubber spatula. Occasionally, if I’m making a big batch of bacon, I bake it on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. In this case, I carefully fold up the foil and bend it into a funnel to pour the rendered drippings it into my jar.

Straining the bacon grease accomplishes two things. First, it ensures that there are no solid bits in there that will burn the next time you cook with it. And second, it helps the fat keep longer.

Once I’ve got my treasure in the jar, I label it with the date (of the very first bacon grease addition) and pop it in the fridge. If I ever amass so much that I don’t think I can use it up within a month or so, I freeze it in 1-tablespoon portions using an ice cube tray and then pop them out into zipper-lock bags.

One note on the shelf life of bacon fat. My gut (and anecdotal experience) tells me that properly strained bacon grease will last a long, long time in the fridge (at least a month) and for nearly all of eternity in the freezer, but I have to advise using caution, common sense, and the good old-fashioned sniff test to judge the quality of fat that’s been around for a while. If it develops an off smell or flavor, then we have to let it go, but I’ve personally never had the restraint to keep it around long enough for this to happen.

What to Cook with Your Stored-Up Bacon Grease

Finally, let’s peruse for some potential uses for your fresh hoard of bacon treasure. You already mentioned the cornbread, but it bears repeating: Substitute bacon fat for the oil in our Southern-Style Skillet Cornbread recipe and reap the smoky, crackly-crusted cornbread rewards. And for maximum bacon-fried surface area, you might want to try our recipe for Hoecakes, which basically makes a whole batch of nothing but the crispy edge of cornbread. For that matter, bacon grease will work wonders in just about any recipe with corn. Our Corn and Bacon Pasta is a prime example. The bacon grease is built into this recipe, but the method of sautéing sweet summer corn in bacon grease will lend itself to a bunch of applications.

Honestly, with bacon grease on hand, the potential uses are too many to number. I’d make a bacon aioli by replacing the olive oil with bacon fat in our Easy Homemade Aioli recipe. Then I’d slather it on an Ultimate BLT Sandwich or use it to dress this Roasted Red Pepper Shrimp and Pasta Salad. I’d also whisk it into the vinaigrette for our Potato, Green Bean, and Tomato Salad—and into any vinaigrette for anything, for that matter. I’d use it in place of oil or butter (Who am I kidding? I’d use it in addition to oil and butter!) in just about any savory recipe that could use hit of smoke and pork, such as our Loaded Rustic Mashed Potatoes, our Sirloin Steak Tips with Charro Beans, or our Shrimp Creole.

Well, I’ve gone and made myself too hungry to continue. But you get the point, and hopefully your roommate will, too.

Until then, may your jar of bacon fat always be fresh and full, and may you and your roommate see eye to eye on all things bacon forever.

Matthew Fairman

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