The 9th Annual Baconfest Chicago was held on March 31 and April 1 and featured bacon creations from more than 150 chefs from around the city and nearby suburbs. It is a unique showcase for bacon talent from Food Network stars, Michelin-honored chefs and James Beard nominees, side-by-side with local chefs on the rise.

Meat and poultry processors can gain inspiration for future product development by viewing this slideshow that provides photos and descriptions of 26 of the creations sampled at the event’s three sessions (Friday dinner and Saturday lunch and dinner). Together, these three sessions fed more than 4,000 foodies with nearly 8,000 pounds of Nueske’s Bacon. Festival highlights included a visit from celebrity chef and bacon lover Bobby Flay, who attended the Friday dinner session.

Chef Lance Avery
Lance Avery, founder of Chicago-based Big Fork Brands, makes bacon the star of eight varieties of artisan sausage. His products are featured on the menu of many Chicago pubs and cafes, as well as gaining national distribution through retail outlets.

Big Fork Brands, a sponsor of Baconfest, is a family-owned Chicago-based company that’s all about bacon-based sausages. Founded by Lance Avery, a corporate chef-turned-entrepreneur, when he rolled out the original hickory and Applewood bacon and pork sausage in 2008, Big Fork specializes in handcrafted, artisanal sausages using all-natural pork or white meat chicken and nitrite-free hardwood smoked bacon. All sausages are free of artificial flavors, preservatives, antibiotics, hormones and gluten.

“We use hogs and chickens that are vegetarian fed and raised in the Midwest,” says Avery. “We cram as much bacon as possible into every sausage and add little else. We do not add spices in order to allow bacon to be the number-one flavor.

“We use a local bacon supplier who provides consistent product to minimize variability in our sausages,” he says. “The bacon is added raw into the meat matrix before being encased.”

The fully cooked sausages come in eight varieties, including aged cheddar, maple brown sugar, and the most recent entry, portabella mushroom. The latter contains about 20% roasted portabella mushrooms.

Avery was inspired to make these sausages after attending a similar, but smaller event in Minneapolis about a decade ago.

Baconfest Chicago is a nationally known event and one of the largest in the nation. Baconfest prides itself on being good for America. In addition to hosting a food drive and raffle at the event, Baconfest donates a portion of proceeds from ticket sales to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Since 2009, Baconfest’s support has resulted in more than $400,000 for Chicago’s food bank, which translates into more than 1,200,000 meals for hungry people in the area.

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