If you’re a home cook who enjoys bacon, you already know that keeping bacon fat is a no-brainer. While we’ve covered plenty of great ways to use bacon in your cooking, we haven’t discussed the best way to store its beautiful byproduct: bacon fat. Plenty of chefs would probably chide you for not holding onto leftover bacon grease to use for something, and I’m guilty of dumping it on multiple occasions without thinking about it. (But not down the drain. Never down the drain. More on that later.)
To get some advice, I talked to friend and chef Taffy Elrod, a cooking instructor and recipe developer located in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley. She has plenty of experience cooking with bacon grease, and all the advice you need when it comes to its smoky rich goodness.
Before pouring bacon fat into a container, you’ll probably notice those burnt flecks on the bottom of your cooking vessel. That’s something you want to avoid keeping along with your bacon fat.
“If you’re pan-frying bacon, those little dark bits of bacon are an inevitability,” Elrod says. “You’ll want to get rid of them so they don’t cause the rest of the bacon fat to go rancid sooner. You can strain the bits out by using a sieve, cheesecloth, or coffee filter, though if you use a coffee filter, go slow.”
Sometimes, Elrod adds, the straining won’t even be necessary. “I typically pour the hot fat into a heat-safe container, like a stainless steel bowl, after I cook the bacon, or as I’m cooking it, if there is a lot of fat,” she says. “When the grease has cooled enough to handle I transfer it into a clean container, usually a glass jar. I don’t typically strain it. I let any solids settle to the bottom of the grease before I decant it. If any solids have settled to the bottom of the bowl I leave them there.”
But say there are a lot of little burnt bacon bits in there. You’ll want to deal with those sooner rather than later, before the fat solidifies.
“When I [do] strain bacon grease, while it’s still liquid, I pour it through a fine sieve lined with dampened cheesecloth. I dampen the cheesecloth with water first so it doesn’t absorb the grease.”
This is all to prolong your grease and prevent rancidity. The easiest way to check if your bacon fat is rancid later on is by a quick sniff test. If it’s off, you’ll know by any aromas that don’t quite smell right. Claire Lower at our sister site Lifehacker says that you might detect soapy or metallic smells.
Elrod has some tips for where to put your bacon fat once you filter it: “I store bacon grease in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid, like an empty jelly jar.” And while you can technically keep it in your kitchen pantry at room temperature, “I store it in the refrigerator for my own peace of mind. If I have a lot I keep some in the freezer.”
Bacon grease will solidify in the fridge, and in its solid form, it’s easy to manage. All you have to do is dig out a spoonful and plop it right into whatever cooking vessel you’re using. If you’re an overachiever, you can even use an ice cube tray to portion it out in the freezer for later.
Bacon grease is a versatile tool in the kitchen, and Chef Elrod has a lot of suggested uses. “I love cooking with bacon grease,” she says. “I use it to fry eggs, to brown proteins like chicken, and to cook vegetables like greens and sweet potatoes, naturally. I also use bacon fat in cornbread, and quick breads. I learned from my husband, the pizza man, to grease a cast iron skillet or Sicilian pizza tray heavily with beef bacon fat for baking focaccia like breads.”
But, as they say on television, that’s not all! Elrod also suggests using bacon fat to supplement meat dishes that include lean cuts, to add extra richness where there naturally isn’t much fat to begin with.
“I love using bacon grease to enrich stews and braises made with leaner cuts of meat, like venison or lean beef,” she explains. “I start by browning the meat and aromatic vegetables really well in the fat, then build the rest of the dish. I mix bacon fat with a neutral flavored oil for pan frying and deep frying, which allows me to stretch my bacon grease while adding great flavor and color to the fried items like breaded cutlets or fried chicken.”
According to Elrod, bacon grease also has some natural properties you can’t get with plant-based oils. It’s not just flavor that makes it such a good tool in the kitchen.
“Growing up and in my early career I only cooked with vegetable oils. When I started cooking with animal fats I was blown away by how much better they functioned as a cooking medium,” she explains. “There is less splatter, less burning and scorching, more control over the heat, and more flavor. Now I use them in concert with vegetable fats and oils to get the results I want.”
Beef bacon, it turns out, is interchangeable with the porky stuff for most cooking applications.
“We don’t eat pork at home, so beef bacon was a life changing discovery for me,” Elrod says. “I can use it in almost any place I would use pork bacon and it’s every bit as good.”
Deen Halal is the brand of beef bacon she uses most often, though it isn’t readily available at most grocery stores; she gets it from a restaurant supply store. So if you can’t find it, Elrod recommends a brand called Godshall’s, which you can get at some major grocery store chains.
If you absolutely have to get rid of your bacon grease, whatever you do, don’t pour it down the drain. I have to admit, for years, as a Younger Dennis, I had no idea why you weren’t supposed to do this, and I was too afraid to ask. But the answer’s pretty simple.
Bacon grease hardens as it cools, and it cools while going down pipes. This coats the pipes and clogs them, and the pressure of a stream of running water isn’t usually enough to dislodge the solid grease. While your sink drain might seem like a magical hole to nowhere, if you’ve ever fallen victim to a kitchen sink clog, you know that things can get gnarly real quick. Let’s avoid that, shall we?
My recommendation is to just let your pan cool off at room temperature until the grease solidifies. Then you can just use a rubber spatula to dislodge the grease from the pan and plop it into the trash.
However, since you’ve managed to read this whole article about saving bacon fat, and you’re now armed with some pretty cool knowledge, rethink the idea of just tossing it in the garbage can. It’s not difficult to filter, it lasts for a long time in the fridge, you waste less kitchen resources that way, and oh yeah, it tastes good.