Red Bean Essentials: Bacon & Bacon Grease
Smoky Flavor & Richness
When it comes to adding smoky flavor, richness, and delicious fat to the base of your red beans, many cooks say there’s nothing better than bacon. A popular method involves chopping and cooking bacon in a cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over low-to-medium heat until the fat has slowly melted out of the meat, and the bacon becomes crisp.
A Little Goes A Long Way
The flavor that even a small amount of bacon imparts to red beans is noteworthy, so a little can go a long way. Which is why many people use bacon grease as a base, cooking the trinity in it until translucent, and then adding beans, stock and any other meats they may be using.
The Magic of Bacon Grease and Crispy Bacon
Many Southern cooks are so enamored with bacon grease that they’ll often cook a whole pound of bacon just to store the resulting grease, using it later to add a rich smokiness to red beans as well as other favorite dishes, such as greens and cornbread. If you’re making a big batch to store it, be sure to let the bacon grease cool first, then pour it through a strainer and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Of course, the resulting crisp bacon is a treat and full of flavor as well. Many leave it in the bottom of the pot along with the bacon grease to add even more meatiness to their red beans, while others remove it and drain it, adding it back to the pot when the beans have finished cooking – or crumbling it atop individual servings.
Keep in mind that bacon is cured and salty, so when using it in your red beans, be careful not to over-salt the pot. You can always add salt at the end of cooking, tasting and adding more if needed.
Here are some of our favorite red beans & rice recipes that feature bacon: