This June, the breakfast site Extra Crispy held a much-publicized writing contest in which the winner would be anointed its bacon critic. The job title is as ridiculous as it is a carnivore’s dream—a three-month fantasy baconalia, traversing the world in search of the one true bacon. Attending bacon festivals. Rubbing shoulders with bacon artisans. And this person would get paid for it, too.
Out of 1,500 entries, the powers that be chose one lucky bastard: New Orleans-based food writer Scott Gold, whose byline has appeared in Gourmet and Thrillist and who’s served as the dining critic of the New Orleans alt-weekly Gambit.
The A.V. Club talked to Gold just as he began diving down the bacon rabbit hole. His bacon dispatches can now be read at Extra Crispy.
The A.V. Club: You recently interviewed two guys who reviewed barbecue and weed (separately) for a living. What advice did they offer about not burning out on the bacon beat?
Scott Gold: They said to treat it like a job, treat it professionally. At the same time, I’ve been writing about food for 10 years now. I published a book about meat and spent a year eating every part of every animal, and I didn’t get burned out then. Three months of bacon won’t be much of a challenge, though it would be very sad if I burned out on bacon. The key will be to treat it fairly, to distinguish between eating and tasting, and to have a bit of restraint—ironic, considering bacon is the food lacking restraint the most.
AVC: I’d find it difficult for my monkey brain to separate eating professionally and eating for satiation.
SG: I find it extraordinarily difficult, especially if the food being served is New Orleans food. It’s not just delicious and filled with love, but also very rich. I once wrote about the New Orleans code of excess. You can’t just go out and have a nice piece of fish—your fish has to be covered with more fish, and then covered with a very rich sauce. There has to be, like, three seafoods on the plate. That’s the way people do it here. Having grown up in New Orleans, that gives me an edge as far as being a bacon critic. I’ve tested my limits and know how far I can go before I got blown out, palate- and stomachwise.
AVC: New Orleans is one of the great food cities in the world. Does the city hold a special relationship with bacon?
SG: Creole and Cajun cuisine has a lot of pork in it, and bacon is included in that. I don’t think New Orleans has a more special relationship with bacon as other cities. It is a quintessential ingredient, but New Orleans cooks take to bacon as much as they do the rest of the pig. The Cajun culture has the boucherie—first light in the fall, they slaughter a pig and cook the entire animal 50 different ways. Bacon is just one part of the culinary landscape. It’s a commodity, but a lot of traditional Louisiana cooking will use the non-commodity parts of the pig and make them great, too.
AVC: You’ve been on the job for a month now. What have you learned about bacon that you didn’t know 30 days ago?
SG: Having written that book about meat, I come into it with a fair bit of experiential and literary knowledge about bacon and pork. One thing I’ve learned is no one really knows how to define Canadian bacon. Even Canadians are a little confused. As far as I know it’s a style of back bacon, but the parameters of what makes Canadian bacon Canadian bacon are fairly loose. Another thing I learned is that the best bacons in the world are made in America. I’ve been to Italy, Australia, all over the world, and no one makes bacon like us. The U.K. and Ireland are fond of their pork products, but their rasher style is never as good. And within the last eight to 10 years, we’ve had a bacon renaissance. As with other food products, people are creating in small batches. Whether jam or bourbon, people are really turning back to the classics and saying, “How can we take something as elemental as bacon and make it better?” It’s really a wonderful thing to behold.
AVC: How will your job work? Are you essentially on a bacon bender the next three months?
SG: There are several facets. I’m the bacon critic for Extra Crispy, so anything and everything on the bacon beat is fair game for me to write about. Then there’s the travel element. I’ll get to go wherever I deem appropriate and interesting and try bacon. At some point that’ll include an international trip. I’ve already been invited to several bacon festivals. The biggest element of all is crowning the best bacon in America, which will be the biggest challenge for me over the next few months. That’s the one thing that makes me most nervous about this dream job, which is I have to be the ultimate decider of who gets to wear that bacon crown.
AVC: Did you come into this position with set opinions on bacon? Are you malleable in your stance?
SG: You try to be as objective as possible. But at the same time, food is so personal—it makes it difficult to enter a job such as bacon critic without preconceived notions. Like the perfect slice of bacon should hit all those classic elements: There should be smoke, fat, salt, and you should really taste the pork. It shouldn’t be buried in salt, it shouldn’t be overly smoked, and you want everything in perfect balance. That includes texture. Some people love their bacon blackened to a crisp. Others like it nice and soft. I take the Goldilocks approach: middle of the road, a bit of crispiness, not completely soft, a bit of chewiness to it. On a 1 to 10 scale, that’s probably a 6.5 or 7.
AVC: Is turkey bacon a crime against humanity?
SG: Turkey bacon is fine. I’ve never had a turkey bacon that’s blown me away. Of course, I’ve never had turkey bacon that can compare to pork bacon. At the same time, I’ve had duck bacon and amazing lamb bacon. Unlike turkey, ducks and lambs have good fat.
AVC: What about shelf-stable precooked bacon?
SG: It’s never as good as the real thing, because you don’t get to cook it yourself. That’s part of the enjoyable qualities of bacon. If you’re buying raw bacon in a store, you get to take it home and cook it however you like to cook it—in a griddle pan, a flat top. I actually like to bake mine in a rack so it gets good air around it, not sitting there frying in its fat. Precooked bacon takes the fun out of it. It can be a nice convenience if you want a quick BLT or chop it up for a salad. But I’ve never had precooked bacon that’s as good as bacon my mom would make on a Sunday morning.
AVC: Bacon’s on goddamn everything these days. What about just a perfectly fried slice, straight up?
SG: I’m a purist when it comes to eating bacon. I like it on its own. Sometimes it goes a bit too far—I’ve not yet experienced Wendy’s Baconator. I’ve had bacon-infused whiskey, which I didn’t think was pulled off well. I’ve also had a bacon old-fashioned, too, and it had this unctuous quality that wasn’t as good as on its own. Sometimes there’s too much of a good thing. But I’ve also had wonderful dessert bacon. My friend in New York made this bacon dipped in chocolate and nuts and paired with ice cream. It had salt and smoke and fat, paired with the crunch of nuts and cool creaminess.
AVC: It speaks to our current overfetishization of bacon, which you don’t get with, say, sausage, even though there’s a lot of component overlap. Why is that?
SG: It’s been overfetishized because of how good it is. No one goes to a restaurant and sends back bacon. Even if it’s mediocre, I’m still going to eat it. It’s like the Louis CK bit with Cinnabon: “Listen, I’m going to put you in my mouth. You decide whether you and I will be in the news tomorrow.” With really good bacon, in that platonic ideal of how that bacon should be, hits all the culinary elements that gratify your palate and your brain. In the same way people fetishize drugs—with great bacon, you take a bite and it floods the pleasure centers of your brain. Bacon might as well be cocaine. In the same way, you can go down a dark path with it.