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First published by Kate Lawson on May 13, 2010

Do you suppose if bacon were called anything but bacon that we'd love it as much? Say the word to anyone other than a vegetarian and watch the response: We adore it. Quite simply, bacon is meat candy.

Ari Weinzweig, co-owner of Zingerman's Deli and Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, loves bacon so much he wrote a book about it. Alex Young, four-time James Beard-nominated chef and chef/co-owner of Zingerman's Roadhouse, says he eats bacon every day, and Iron Chef Michael Symon, whoowns Roast restaurant in the Westin Book Cadillac, has flying pigs tattooed on his chest. If that doesn't say love, what does?

There's a definite bacon boom in the culinary world, and these days, you can find its smoky flavor in everything from dips and breads to seasonings and candy bars.

Chefs and home cooks are going whole hog, folding bacon into muffin and waffle batters, wrapping it around seafood and chicken livers, saving the fat to enhance stir fries and to make chocolate gravy (a Southern favorite), and dipping the crispy cooked strips in melted chocolate to really gild the swine.

Bacon also has had its share of taking it on the chin because of its high sodium, fat and caloriecontent. But compare that to a hot dog or hamburger or even a glazed doughnut, and bacon looks like health food.

But here's the real debate: Is bacon a meat or a seasoning? Both, argue bacon lovers. Serve the salty strips as a breakfast side, crumbled over a salad or pasta or sprinkle the cooked bits on a sundae and bacon is arguably manna from heaven.

"I look at bacon as fine wine," Weinzweig says. "You need to have more than just one in your repertoire."

Weinzweig's self-published book, "Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon," is designed to educate cooks on how to use different bacons. The book covers the wide variety of artisanal bacons found throughout the country and how they differ from mass-market versions.

Login below for a special peek at some the best bacon recipes!

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Chocolate Bacon

Pork and chocolate are a match made in heaven. Try this treat from yumsugar.com.

12 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate morsels

1 pound thick-cut, good quality uncooked bacon

4 ounces white chocolate, melted (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the bacon on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in the oven until bacon is cooked to your liking. 15 minutes for soft bacon, 20 minutes for crispy bacon. Let bacon cool on the parchment paper for 5 minutes, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.

Meanwhile, set up a double-boiler. Heat a large saucepan filled with water over high heat until boiling.  Reduce heat to a simmer.  Set a heat-proof bowl over the simmering water. Add the chocolate chips and stir with a fork until smooth and completely melted.

Cover another baking sheet with parchment paper. Using tongs, carefully dip the bacon into the melted chocolate, turning to coat all sides in chocolate.  Transfer to the clean sheet of waiting parchment paper. Repeat with remaining slices of bacon.

Drizzle with the white chocolate, if desired.  Refrigerate until chocolate is hard. Serves 10.

Per serving: 285 calories; 19 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 60 percent calories from fat); 29 g carbohydrates; 10 mg cholesterol; 193 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Hot Bacon-Blue Cheese Dip

From "The Bacon Cookbook" by James Villas.

"Since the bacon and blue cheese in a classic Cobb salad are the two ingredients that distinguish it from all other salads, why not combine the two to make an unusual dip? Virtually any style of bacon will work for this dip, but what I really love to use is a fine corn cob-smoked Vermont bacon. And if you really want the ultimate dip, spring for genuine French Roquefort cheese or a superior domestic blue like Maytag."

6 slices lean smoked bacon

1 small onion, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup lager beer

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Cayenne pepper to taste

1/2 pound blue cheese, crumbled

Bread sticks

In a large skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat till crisp, drain on paper towels and crumble.

Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet, add the onion and stir 3 minutes. Add the flour and stir 3 minutes longer. Whisking, add the milk and beer, then add the Worcestershire and cayenne. Bring the mixture to a low boil, whisking, and cook for2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Add the bacon and blue cheese and stir till the cheese is melted.

Transfer the dip to a small bowl and serve with bread sticks. Makes about 1 3/4 cups or 14 servings.

Per serving (per 2 tablespoons; without bread sticks): 87 calories; 6 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 62 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 16 mg cholesterol; 278 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 0.2 g fiber.

Chocolate Gravy

Recipe from "Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon"

6 ounces sliced, dry-cured, smoked bacon (about 3 to 4 slices)

4 tablespoons bacon fat

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk

Coarse sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Fry the bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Strain the fat and return 4 tablespoons back to skillet. Turn heat to low. Combine sugar, cocoa and flour in a bowl and mix well. Sift into the hot fat, stirring constantly until blended and the dry ingredients begin to melt into the bacon fat, about 3 to 4 minutes. Chop the sliced bacon into small bits and set aside.

Slowly add 1/4 cup of the milk to the skillet, stirring constantly. The mixture will begin to bubble. Turn the heat up a touch and keep stirring until the sugar mixture is well-dissolved. Slowly add the rest of the milk, a bit at a time, stirring throughout so the gravy thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes; it should coat the spoon nicely. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon the hot gravy over warm buttered biscuits or white toast.

Crumble the bacon over the top. Serves 8.

Per serving: 223 calories; 10 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 40 percent calories from fat); 29 g carbohydrates; 15 mg cholesterol; 140 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Bacon Waffles

From "Pig" by James Villas.

8 slices smoked bacon

2 large eggs, separated

2 cups cake flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups whole milk

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, melted

Warmed maple syrup or molasses for topping

Preheat a waffle iron according to the manufacturer's instructions. In a large skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat till crisp. Drain on paper towels and crumble.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks till light and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites till stiff and set aside.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; add the egg yolks and milk; and stir till well-blended. Add the shortening and bacon and stir till well-blended. Fold the egg whites into the batter till well-blended, and pour batter into the hot waffle iron according to the manufacturer's instructions. Cook till waffles are golden, and serve hot with maple syrup or molasses. Makes about 4 waffles.

Per serving: 585 calories; 30 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 46 percent calories from fat); 62 g carbohydrates; 129 mg cholesterol; 722 mg sodium; 14 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Better bacon brands

Look for these brands online or visit gourmet markets such as Whole Foods, Westborn Market or Papa Joe's.

Beelers: www.beelerspurepork.com; (515) 201-8644

Burger's Smokehouse: www.smokehouse.com; (800) 345-5185

Iowa Farm Families: www.iowafarmfamilies.com (641) 753-6772

Niman Ranch: www.nimanranch.com; available at Trader Joe's

Nueske's: www.nueskes.com: (800) 392-2266; available at Hiller's Market, Plum Market

Vande Rose Farms: www.vanderosefoods.com; (866) 522-4448

Wright Brand Bacon: www.wrightbrand.com; available at Kroger and Meijer stores

Arkansas Peppered Bacon: www.zingermans.com; Zingerman's also carries a wide variety of bacon on its website.

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