Bacon in the pits

by Joel Crews
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Chris Lilly, owner of Big Bob Bar-B-Q
Pitmaster Chris Lilly says bacon is one of the only meats that enhances the taste and moisture of almost all other meats.

Like almost every other segment of the food and beverage industry, bacon has also been adopted and applied by competitive barbecue cooks and backyard chefs- just ask Chris Lilly. Lilly is legendary not only for his family -owned restaurant, Big Bob Bar-B-Q, in Decatur, Ala., but also for his pitmaster prowess on the competition barbecue circuit.

Lilly says bacon has become a more common tool for creative cooks to make their meats stand out in the carnivorous crowd of entries at the growing number of cook-offs throughout the US. An Alabama native, Lilly admits he’s more than a little partial to pork and especially the belly.

“I love it,” he said from his smoky spot at this year’s American Royal Barbecue, held earlier this month in Kansas City, Mo. “It used to be you could only get pork belly at a high-end restaurant or foodservice provider. Now you can go to your butcher or local grocery store and get a belly you can experiment with.”

Lilly is not only a multi-year competitor at the annual American Royal Barbecue, but he also served as a judge in a whole-hog cooking contest that was part of this year’s event. He was intrigued by the creative use of bacon in this event. He estimated at least half of the hog cookers he judged applied ample strips of bacon to the loin portion of the hog to infuse flavor and enhance the moisture of the cut.

Pitmaster Chris Lilly
An Alabama native, Chris Lilly is a huge fan of pork, especially pork belly. “Bacon is No. 1 with me,” he says.

“Anytime you can infuse the flavor of bacon or add bacon in a dish, whether it’s in your backyard cooking or in competition, it’s always helpful,” Lilly says, which helps explain the bacon frenzy sweeping the nation for the past decade.

“There are a lot of people utilizing bacon as part of their cooking technique to make other meats taste better. What other meat is out there that can do that? Bacon is No. 1 with me,” he says.

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