Bacon is king. Whether dipped in chocolate, layered with lettuce and tomato, or crumbled over truffle-infused deviled eggs, it seems Americans have forgiven bacon its unhealthy reputation. After all, we're talking about a mouth-watering combination of fat, salt and crunch.
As North Carolina is one of the biggest pork producers in the nation, "we have plenty of belly to go around," says The Asbury's Chris Coleman, who's serving as the event's committee chairman.
Along with local craft beers and a classic car competition, the event will feature samples of bacon dishes created by 20 of Charlotte's best chefs. Attendees will be able to vote on their favorite bacon-y bites. "Bacon is one of those ingredients ... that make both chefs and non-chefs drool," Coleman says. "It can be taken in so many different directions." Chefs will be curing and smoking their own, featuring it in different textures, and "we have a few pastry chefs ... going sweet with it." Yes, that's right - bacon dessert.
Three of the chefs Coleman expects to wow the crowd are Gregory Collier of The Yolk in Rock Hill (who "is going a little unconventional," Coleman says); Luca Annunziata of Passion8 Bistro in Fort Mill; and David Quintana, chef de cuisine at Southminster, a retirement community in south Charlotte.
Because of Quintana's reputation among local chefs as "a master charcuterie maker," according to Coleman, we figured Quintana was the guy to ask how real bacon is made.
It generally begins with a pork belly, he says, though "you can use pretty much anything with a good fat to lean ratio" - the typical target is 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat. "I tried it on the belly of a fish once," he admits, adding, "It was good. It wasn't awesome." He'll be sticking to pork for Sunday's event, though he is using a variety of cuts, including shoulders and legs.
Regardless of cut, there are two essential steps to creating bacon: curing and smoking. Curing is done by applying a generous rub of salt, sugar and a special curing salt called Cure #1 or TCM (tinted curing mix) to the raw meat. The chef can change the ratio of ingredients, select different types of sugar, and add other seasonings. All these adjustments allow the development of unique flavors and textures.
The refrigerated belly cures for about a week, being turned every day while the liquid that was drawn out is massaged back in. At the end of that time, the bacon is allowed to dry for 24 hours before smoking, another point at which flavors can be fine-tuned through selection of different woods, temperatures and times. The goal is to gradually arrive at an internal temperature of 155 degrees. "You're looking at about three hours," Quintana says. "You don't want that internal temperature to hit if you don't have the color on your meat."
So once it's all sliced up, what makes this chef-cured bacon at the Bacon & Brews Cruise-In different from the stuff you can pick up at the grocery store any day? "Very few bacons you're going to find in the grocery store went through a smokehouse," says Quintana, explaining that most processors use ingredients like sodium erythorbate, artificial coloring and liquid smoke to speed things up.
If you're a real fan of bacon, it's probably worth your while to stop in on Sunday to see what the good stuff tastes like.
Tickets are $35. See more info here.