Ari's Top 5

Bacon Fat Mayonnaise

A fun way to liven up your summer eating

Mayonnaise is hardly an attention-getter in modern-day America. But it wasn’t always that way. The first known published recipe for it appeared in 1750. It became popular in Europe and then in the U.S. really only in the 19th century. It was first sold in jars in 1907, five years after Rocco Disderide built the Deli’s building—it’s not unlikely that he and his wife Katherine would have made and/or sold it themselves then, on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley. Around the same time a German immigrant couple with the last name of Hellman began to package the mayo they made at their deli on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan, first in the wooden “boats” that were typically used to weigh butter and then, in 1912, through commercial bottling.

While it’s rarely seen today, bacon fat mayonnaise is hardly new—anyone making mayonnaise at home a hundred years ago would likely have worked with whatever fat they had on hand; the original recipes were made in Spain where olive oil would have been used. Bacon fat would have been common in American kitchens, where, as I wrote in Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, bacon was the “olive oil of North America.” In the following decades, seed oil companies in the U.S. began to sell glass mayonnaise makers for home—glass “jars” with a metal “beater” (a slight bit of the same idea as old egg beaters) attached to the top so one could make their mayonnaise easily inside. The recipe was often printed on the glass, and they were used as marketing with the maker’s name prominently on the glass as well. You can find vintage ones online for sale. They’re beautiful pieces of old commercial art that were created to be super practical for everyday eating.

Bacon fat mayonnaise might likely have been particularly popular in the middle south, in the part of Kentucky in which Kenny and crew make the Kentucky Rose. As Harriette Arnow, whose books I have long loved, wrote in her amazing history of the region, Seedtime on the Cumberland, having bacon and ham was a “symbol of the good life.” Her first published piece was an essay called “A Mess of Pork” that was purchased by Esquire. “Cured meat in some form,” Arnow said, “usually bacon, formed the basis of the summer’s cookery.” Bacon fat would have been an everyday by-product; bacon fat mayonnaise would have been an easy way to use it. Back in the years of Arnow’s youth in the early 20th century, it would have been easy to be both cost-conscious and au courant at the same time. Arnow, who many will know from her book, The Dollmaker, and the film of the same name which starred Jane Fonda, lived her later years in Ann Arbor and died here a week after the Deli’s fourth anniversary in March of 1986. David E. Davis, who founded Automobile Magazine, was her nephew!

Making bacon fat mayonnaise is essentially the same as putting together any other homemade mayo, just using bacon fat that you’ve saved over the course of the week instead of olive (or other) oil. If you want the exact recipe from the Guide to Better Bacon, email me and I’ll send it your way. While it might seem daunting, remember that up until Mr. and Mrs. Hellman and their early 20th century peers started to put it in jars, mayonnaise was always homemade. It’s pretty much good anywhere you’d want to put a little flavor of cured and smoked pork belly. Try a bit on a burger, a salad, dabbed onto deviled eggs, or potato salad. It’s great as the dressing for a shrimp or chicken salad instead of your “regular” mayo. Try it brushed onto grilled corn on the cob, then rolled in grated cheese, the way folks in Mexico use regular mayonnaise. As Grant Melton writes on The Ktchen, “It upgrades everything!” And, he rightly adds, “This rich, smoky bacon mayo is the condiment equivalent of the song of the summer. Once you make it, you’ll have it on repeat all season long. And who could blame you?”

Cook some bacon, save the fat


Better bacon makes better bacon fat!!  Pick up a pound of Nueske’s or one of the ten other artisan bacons we have on hand!!