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Would you like bacon on that?

By J. Scott Wilson, Food columnist, food@ibsys.com
Published On: Apr 23 2012 12:23:56 PM CDT
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OK, we get it: Bacon is good. It's delicious. It's salty, crispy, fat-laden and contains enough suspected carcinogens to choke a goat, but we love it. But WHY do we love it so much? Why does everything from Bacon Hot Sauce (more on that later) to bacon-flavored frosting to Baconnaise sell?

I have a theory.

Fat is one of the things that enabled our prehistoric ancestors to move from the trees to the suburbs. Extra fat content led to larger brains, which led to the invention of everything from the wheel to the Ronco Pocket Fisherman (another way to acquire fat, especially super-healthy Omega-3s.). Therefore, I theorize, our brains are hardwired to rejoice in the presence of fat. Sure, we feel tremendously self-righteous and noble when we trim all but the barest bit of fat from our steak before we cook it ... but no amount of such higher emotions match the sheer animal glee of biting into that bit of crispy fat that lives around the edge of a properly seared rib-eye steak. Personally, it's my experience that people who fanatically trim all visible fat from steaks have other nasty habits, like eating tofu.

So, we crave fat. Our monkey brains jump up and down and hoot in happy glee when our tongues send the message that fat's on the way down the hatch. And yet, we also know that too much fat is bad for us. And I'm not talking about "wake up with a hangover" bad. I'm talking about, "Drop dead at 35 from a massive coronary" bad. I am even now battling the pounds laid on by years of eating the typical American diet of tons of red meat and other fattening goodies only occasionally tainted by the presence of vegetables.

That battle doesn't change the fact that I will, on occasion, be willing to sell one of my kidneys for a perfectly crafted bacon cheeseburger. Mr. Monkeybrain doesn't care that I'm 100 pounds overweight.

Let's look at that bacon cheeseburger, shall we? For it's there that my theory was born. You see, with the bacon cheeseburger you have three different fats in play: the beef, the cheese and the lovely bacon. My theory is that Mr. Monkeybrain sense that we're not just getting fat, we're getting three DIFFERENT fats, and he goes, well, ape. This explains why we love a pat of garlic butter on a freshly grilled rib eye, why we'll wrap damned near anything in bacon and why baked potatoes with sour cream, butter and chopped bacon have long been part of the American menu.

One trend I've noticed recently is the placing of fried eggs on top of different foods. I first encountered this 20 years ago in Houston, when I was served a dish of chilaquiles, a classic Mexican comfort food, with two fried eggs atop it. The idea was to pop the yolks and mix all that yolky goodness into the already rich combination of chicken, tortilla strips, green chile sauce and queso fresco. Shortly after I moved to North Carolina in 2004, I began seeing burgers offered with fried eggs atop them. My initial reaction was to make sure I had my dry cleaner on speed-dial, because the combination of burger grease and egg yolk sounded like death to all shirts. Then I remembered I pretty much only wear T-shirts given to me by barbecue cook-offs, hot sauce vendors and beer companies and ordered a burger.

It was divine. The creaminess of the egg yolk melted into the slightly crispy crust of the flame-grilled burger and all was right with the world, if not with my arteries.

Of course, the "extreme food" crowd soon had to grab onto the concept. My favorite local watering hole, Whiskey Mill Bar and Grill, serves something called "Da Big Nasty," which is four half-pound patties, each topped with a fried egg, bacon and cheese, all topped with chili and served with a mountain of house-made chips. There is, of course, a prize for finishing it. I took one look at the thing and decided there wasn't enough Lipitor in the world to protect me if I attempted such a feat.

Again, though, imagine Mr. Monkeybrain's delight at getting the egg fat with the burger (and possibly bacon and cheese) in the same bite. To me, there's an undeniable evolutionary reason why some of us feel compelled to eat such things. That doesn't by any stretch mean we should ... but I'll bet you're hungry right now just thinking about it.

Allow me to pile on a bit with another egg-topped discovery, this one from Pie Town, a high-end pizzeria in Charlotte, N.C., run by several of the city's best-known chefs. They serve the bacon and egg pizza, which is a pie topped with thick-sliced bacon, Roma tomatoes, herbs and cheese. When the pie's about half-cooked, the chef cracks four eggs at compass points around the pizza and then puts it back in the oven. The result is a perfectly cooked pizza with sunny-side-up eggs just perfect for spreading.

Now, if you'll excuse me, just writing this has made me need to eat a salad.

<h3>Get Hot</h3>

If you like to dose your burger or other favorite chow with hot sauce, I've made two finds you need to try.

The first will come as no surprise: Bacon Hot Sauce. What IS surprising is that, unlike most of the "bacon-flavored" products available, this one actually delivers on its promise. The heat is well-modulated, right about the level of Frank's Red-Hot, and the bacon flavor is unmistakable. This may be the best scrambled egg topper ever made. Most hot sauces I'm sent for review end up in my fridge, most of the contents still in the bottle, until I finally have to clear them out to make space. The Bacon Hot Sauce was gone in a weekend.

The second sauce goes in a completely different direction. I've referred to Ken Weikel, owner of Weikel Foods, as the Mad Scientist for years. The guy just has a gift for creating food products, from his now-famous Pie In A Bottle to pancake mixes, spice blends, rice and pasta mixes and much more. His Scruffy Man's Mustard sauce combines the tang of good mustard with enough heat to get the attention of any burger, dog or chop. I found it to work best with meats, but that's just common sense. The heat builds nicely, peaking at about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. It'll start you sweating but won't make you wish you hadn't started eating it.

If you're truly a glutton for punishment, Weikel just launched the Heavens to Betsy chocolate bar, which is good chocolate with a hidden dose of ghost chili. I haven't spoken to the pope about it, but I think this level of burning probably will expiate all your sins.

That's all for this week. Next time, we'll get healthy with some great after-school and summertime snacks for the kids and whatever else crosses the plate.

Got a question? Comment? Product you'd like reviewed? Drop me a line, anytime!

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