I was recently in Charleston, South Carolina, where, one evening, I had the pleasure of sharing conversation and some Basil Hayden’s bourbon with Randolph Stafford, a Charleston-based chef with Iverson Catering—and a veritable pork aficionado. As the evening came to an end, he cocked his head, pushed up his glasses, and wished me in his slow Virginia drawl “World Peace and Bacon Grease.”
Now, I’m from the South. But until recently, I’d spent the past seven-plus years in Manhattan, where bacon grease is just an oily souvenir of something you ate that you’ll probably pay for later. Randolph’s words hung like a sweet (smoky?) reminder that I’m home again.
When I was growing up, there was always an old coffee can tucked neatly into the back of the refrigerator. As any good Southerner knows, that can didn’t have an ounce of coffee in it—it was full of drippings and bacon grease. And though my brothers and I regularly got into things we shouldn’t have, we knew not to mess with the can. (Try congealed bacon grease once, and you’ll see what I mean.) A heaping scoop of those drippings went into everything from butter beans to boiled okra to pretty much any other vegetable that Momma wanted to cook Southern-style (i.e. boiled to within an inch of its life). Daddy even used bacon grease to make homemade popcorn on movie nights. And my favorite cornbread still comes from a cast-iron skillet that’s been preheated and coated with a dollop of bacon grease—the crisp smoky edges that result are worth fighting over.
Admittedly, I kept my Southern ways and carved out space for a bacon grease can in the fridge I shared with roommates in New York. But I always felt like I was a stone’s throw away from being turned over to the health inspectors by my roommates. Let’s just say it’s nice to be back in a neck of the woods where not only is bacon grease a celebrated fact of life, but where it’s an acceptable way to bid farewell to friends.
“World Peace and Bacon Grease.” I think he’s onto something.