Dining

Benton's Is the Best Bacon You've Never Tried

This Tennessee staple is the cured pork of legends
Where to Get Benton's Bacon
Photo: Murray's 

If you find yourself in Tennessee, there's one cardinal rule to keep in mind: The word bacon must always follow the word Benton's.

Ever since he switched from high school guidance counselor to professor of cured pork, Allan Benton has earned several epithets for his bacon—including Bacon God and Ham Hero. The only phone line at his Monroe County smokehouse leads to an old-fashioned rotary that sits on his desk, and chances are if he's not answering the endless calls, then he's out tending to the hickory logs that keep his products bathed in a legendary fog. Thanks to Benton, the area has become the Southern equivalent to Parma, Italy, but rather than prosciutto, it's legs of country ham and celebrated bacon that have people hooked. 

 

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The first thing to know about Benton's bacon is that it's not for the faint of heart. After being cured in salt and brown sugar for 10 days, it's aged for another 10 before spending a seemingly inordinate amount of time in the smokehouse. "We'll smoke the heck out of them for three days," Benton once told the Times Free Press. What comes out is an intensely smoky bacon with a perfume that will make your house smell like an Appalachian campfire after cooking even just a few rashers. 

You don't eat or cook it like normal bacon either. Benton's arrives in thick, Peter Luger-style cross-sections that need to be cooked low and slow for the best effect. The concentrated flavor means it works just as well starring in a BLT as it does being used as a seasoning to keep in your flavor arsenal alongside salt and pepper.

We're not the only ones who are bringing home the (Benton's) bacon: It's been a mainstay in David Chang's ramen and Sean Brock's burgers, and even Thomas Keller has been known to incorporate it into The French Laundry's menu. And you know your product is special when it gets you inducted into the James Beard Awards' Who's Who Hall of Fame.

To truly appreciate Benton's bacon, though, head to Knoxville, which lies just an hour north of the smokehouse. Have it alongside your eggs Benedict at The Plaid Apron before heading to Emilia, where the bacon gives carbonara a Tennessee twist, and J.C. Holdway, where it's bound to be found in Joseph Lenn's menu. Or you could just head right down to the smokehouse, where chances are you'll walk away with the smell of smoke stuck in your clothes and a few packs of bacon tucked under your arm.

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