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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Absolute Best Bacon

Sinfully Delicious Porky Ambrosia

I just finished reading an article that I couldn't resist. It purports to identify the best bacons known to man. (http://shine.yahoo.com/shine-food/10-best-bacons-known-man-162800607.html)

When listing the “best” of anything, it is a completely subjective exercise based largely upon personal opinion. And you know how I feel about opinions; everybody is entitled to mine. And in my opinion, the authors here missed the bacon boat by one slab. But all is not lost. Way down in the comments section following the main body of text, somebody got it. Somebody mentioned the absolute best bacon known to man. That would be the thick, rich, unctuous, salty, smoky, sinfully delicious porky ambrosia produced in a little brick smokehouse just outside Madisonville, Tennessee by Allan Benton at Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams.

Now, other than this egregious exclusion, I'm going to give the authors credit for most of their choices. I say “most.” Nueske's definitely belongs up there in the bacon stratosphere, as do any of the choices that contain reference to “applewood” and/or “smoked.” I'll even grant them kudos for selecting Oscar Meyer Center Cut as the best “store bought” bacon money can buy. But in order to be taken seriously here, they've got to lose the duck.

Here's the dictionary definition of bacon: “the back and sides of the hog, salted and dried or smoked, usually sliced thin and fried for food.” Do you see “duck,” “turkey,” “cow,” “chinchilla,” or any other animal presented in that very simple definition? No. Bacon = pig. Period. End of discussion.

So let's go back to the original article, eliminate the duck aberration, and add Benton's bacon to the top of the list. Now we're cookin'!

There's a reason Allan Benton has been called “the Pork Whisperer” and elevated to the station of “Bacon Baron.” There's a reason David Chang at New York's legendary Momofuku, Sean Brock at Charleston's famed McCrady's, John Fleer at Walland, Tennessee's renowned Blackberry Farm and a host of other Michelin-starred chefs from all over seek out Benton's bacon. There's a reason it shows up on the menu in restaurants from Los Angeles to Atlanta. There's a reason John T. Edge featured it in Gourmet, and its been mentioned in Southern Living , Saveur and a host of other national publications. It's the same reason I'll get off I-75 and make a sixty mile round trip detour anytime I'm in East Tennessee. Allan Benton does bacon the way bacon is supposed to be done. The old-fashioned way. The real bacon way. Some might call it “artisan” bacon, and by any definition, Allan Benton is an artisan. But he'll tell you it's just country.

With the exception of refrigeration, there ain't nothin' mechanical or 'lectrical at Benton's. Everything is done by hand; everything from the cutting of the hickory wood for the smokehouse through the processing of the meat itself. And that meat is exceptional, too. Nothing but pasture-raised, heritage-breed pigs, like Berkshire and Duroc, who feed on natural forage like the leaves and acorns and grasses of oak forests. According to Benton, the meat from these pigs contains more intramuscular fat and has a heartier flavor.

We Cure 'Em” says the hand-painted sign out front. And that's just what they do at Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams. Relying on age-old techniques, handed down through generations, the meats at Benton's are slow-cured. He uses a rub made of salt and brown sugar and then smokes the bacon in thick clouds of hickory or applewood smoke. “We smoke the heck out of them for three days,” says Benton.

Back in 2009, Esquire Magazine called Benton's “the world's best bacon.” Now, how are you going to argue with a culinary authority like that?

And here's the best part: you can get four pounds of Benton's Hickory Smoked Country Bacon for $24. Hello? That's six bucks a pound! Compared that to the prices of some of the other bacons on that “top ten” list. It's only a dollar a pound more than the premium store-bought brand. Now, if you order online through http://bentonscountryhams2.com/ it'll be about a month before you get your bacon. They're a little busy, you see. But if you happen to be anywhere within, oh, say a hundred miles of Madisonville, Tennessee – it's just a little ways south of Knoxville – you might just drop in at 2603 Highway 411 and get some direct from the smokehouse. That's the way I do it. Or sometimes I get friends passing through to supply me. Who wants to wait a month for slices of the bacon they probably serve in heaven?

See why I believe the authors of the “ten best” list goofed? Go ahead and try their favorites. And then treat yourself to mine – and Emeril's and Hugh Acheson's and Sean Brock's and........

Try the rest, then buy the best: Benton's Hickory Smoked Country Bacon from Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams. It's so good that if you put it on top of your head, your tongue will slap your brains out trying to get to it.

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