The Perfect B.L.T.

There's nothing quite like the melange of flavors one gets from a well made Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich. I rarely miss an opportunity to have one, but most fall short in some way. I have been on a quest for quite some time to fix this and find the perfect B.L.T. I have "endured" many a failure, but I have finally arrived.

The "B": Bacon

The perfect B.L.T. starts with the centerpiece of the sandwich: the Bacon. There are two potential problems bacon can have: it can be too chewy/tough or too crispy. Bacon that is too chewy will not be cleanly severed by your teeth, and will pull itself out of the sandwich. This creates a systemic problem as it negatively impacts the structural integrity of the entire sandwich by pulling other ingredients out, too. This is unacceptable.

I can hear you now, groaning about the second problem: bacon that is "too crisp." For sitting down at breakfast, I agree - bacon simply can't be too crisp. Or too salty. Or too good. But, in a sandwich, bacon that is too crisp and crunchy will fall apart. At best this means you get bacon bits in each bit rather than mouthfuls of that sweet, sweet bacon. At worst, it means bacon falls from your sandwich and back onto the plate. Not ideal. My goal is zero bacon loss, but bacon that is crunchy enough.

My solution for this is twofold. First, use thick-cut bacon. The bacon in the shots here is Smithfield "Original" Thick Cut. Thick-cut bacon is much more forgiving of a little-too-long in the oven, but will still get fairly crisp.

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The second part of the solution: cook your bacon in the oven. This gives you several benefits. If you start with a cold pan, cold bacon, and a cold oven, your final product will be flat. Since we're putting it on a sandwich, we want it flat - this prevents premature bacon breakage. The second benefit is that it will cook slowly, letting you hit that perfect balance of crispness. How do you cook bacon in the oven? Simple:

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  • Place bacon on a baking sheet with a rim (a rim is necessary to catch the grease).
  • Place the baking sheet in the oven.
  • Turn the oven on to 425.
  • Set a timer for 18 minutes. Keep a close eye on the bacon after the 18-minute mark.
  • When the bacon is done, pull each beautiful strip out on to a paper-towel lined plate.
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The L. & T.: Lettuce and Tomato

While the bacon is cooking, prepare the lettuce and tomato. The keys to these ingredients are fairly simple.

Lettuce: I like iceberg lettuce on a B.L.T. I know, I know - iceberg has no nutritional value, blah blah blah. That's ok - I'm eating a B.L. fucking T., not a salad. I want the lettuce in there for it's cool, crunchy mouthfeel - NOT it's vitamin and mineral content. This isn't to say that lettuce is not important, but the most important aspect of lettuce is how it's cut.

That's right - the cut of the lettuce matters. In my lowly opinion, a fine, "bird's nest" cut is vastly superior to more crude cuts of lettuce (don't even talk to me about whole lettuce leaves!). This provides some airspace in the middle of the sandwich, adding a bit more springiness to each bite. Try it!

Tomato: unlike lettuce, this ingredient IS driven by quality. The flavor of a really good tomato is hard to overstate, and it brings a lot to the table on a BLT. My advice is find the best tomato you can, slice it not-thick and not-thin, and move on!

The Overlooked "B": Bread

Now, on to the one thing that everyone forgets when constructing a B.L.T.: the bread. I don't get too wrapped up in the exact kind of bread you use because some tastes are bound to vary here. For my purposes, I generally used a sliced Italian loaf from my local grocery store's bakery. It has a pleasing toughness around the crust, and the crumb has a wonderful flavor. Once you've selected your bread, now you must toast it, and this is where nearly every fucks up.

Most people toast both sides of the bread. This is folly, my friend. If only one side of the bread is toasted, the toasted portion is on the outside. Again, this is a mistake. In my estimation, the perfect configuration for B.L.T. bread is thus: Toast one side. Place the toasted side inside the sandwich, not out. "But why," you may be compelled to ask. Ah, let me count the reasons!

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I think toasting is important because it imparts another layer of texture to the sandwich. However, when the toasted side is out, you risk tearing up the soft palate of your mouth on hard, toasted bread. By placing the hard part inside, you get the best of both worlds: a nice, soft sandwich exterior while still enjoying the texture of toasted bread. But the benefits don't end there!

If you dress your sandwich (with mayonnaise or perhaps something better [keep reading]) you'll want to dress the toasted side. The toasted side is more durable, and this prevents the mayo (or whatever) from soaking into the bread. It also prevents tomato juice from soaking in, all of which keeps your bread from getting soggy and ensures your last bite of this bacon-laden beauty is just as good as the first.

B.L.T. Dressing: Mayo or...

I'm not the biggest fan of mayonnaise, but I think it's a fine dressing for a B.L.T. Not content to leave well enough alone, I decided to tinker with this venerable topping, too. Before you move on, please realize that what follows is completely optional, and your B.L.T. with plain mayo will still be excellent.

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Still with me? Ok, let's do this. Forgive me, but a bit of backstory is in order. A few months ago, I decided to make a hibachi-style meal at home. I realized that the one thing I didn't know how to make was the sauce that hibachi restaurants are famous for: "yum-yum sauce." So I went digging through the internet and found a damn good recipe. The ingredients below were borrowed from Coop Can Cook's hibachi-at-home recipe.

  • 1 1/4 cup mayo
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 - 2 T melted butter
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2-3 T water

I deviate from this recipe slightly, and add a healthy dose of sriracha sauce. This darkens the color of the sauce up a bit to a pleasing orange, and adds some much needed kick. Whisk all this stuff together well, and refrigerate it (ideally, at least 24 hours before you plan to eat it to let the flavors gel). You'll find yourself reaching for it for all kinds of stuff; we especially love it on fried green tomatoes.

BLT ASSEMBLY

At this point we've got the makings of a B.L.T. so let's put this thing together. As I mentioned earlier, position the toasted side of the bread in, and dress it. You can dress one or both sides, depending on your preference. After you've gotten that down, the rest is easy!

One side of the bread is for bacon. Don't be stingy with the bacon.

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The other side of the bread is for tomato. The tomato slices need the traction provided by the bread; otherwise they'll be prone to slipping out.

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Finally, add the lettuce in the middle.

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Put the two halves together.

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Enjoy.

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Justin Carroll