BLT Final_2

Photo by Donna (more comment from her here)

I don't think I've had more fun making a sandwich than for the BLT-From-Scratch Challenge.  And it wasn't the from-scratch part.  I do this stuff all the time—the from-scratch fun was sharing it with so many people and hearing your stories.  That I don't do all the time.  But the coolest part of this cooking challenge was how amazing the sandwich turned out to be.

I received dozens of entries in all kinds of forms, classic, reinterpreted, vegetarian.  Every one of them inspiring.  Donna will be reviewing all the photographs this week to choose this winner.  I will be determining the winners of "best overall," "best vegetarian or vegan," and "best reinterpretation." All winners will be announced next Monday.    

Donna and I made and photographed three different sandwiches, and they were all, well, not just fantastic. They were so beyond the realm of what normally stands in for a BLT, it made me want to reconsider every classic for what it might be. That was what was so surprising for me about this whole challenge.

These BLT's were some of the most meaty, delicious sandwiches I've ever eaten.  With the mayo, the explosively juicy tomatoes still warm from the sun, thick succulent tender slabs of cured pork belly—these were BLTs times ten times ten. Pork fat, tomato juices and mayo dripping down the chin.  They were so good and so surprising, had I served one to you, you might not have known you were even eating a BLT.

The key here is that the sandwiches featured the pork belly—the meat was thicker than the bread.  This is really a pork belly sandwich, garnished with L, T and mayo.

Here's the critical cooking point for using bacon this thick in a sandwich.  If you were simply to cook the bacon in a pan, it would be difficult to make it tender enough to eat without yanking it all out of the sandwich.  Belly is a well-worked muscle that need tenderizing.  Traditional bacon is tender because it's sliced so thin. The way to make slabs of bacon tender is through long gentle moist cooking.

I wrapped the slabs in foil drizzling a little water over them to make sure it would be steamy inside the foil, and cooked them in a 200 degree oven for 3 or 4 hours.  I let them cool and reheated them to make the sandwich. Some I reheated on the grill over hot coals to get some smokiness, some I sauteed in a pan.  The belly in the sandwich shown here (n.b. I did not grow the potatoes or harvest the salt for the chips), I braised till tender, then fried.  Slow-cooking, cooling and reheating is a fabulous way to serve belly.

I want to do one more BLT from scratch, featuring not the belly, but the tomato—a green tomato sandwich garnished with strips of bacon, lettuce and a spicy mayo.  I may even dredge the tomato in cornmeal as opposed to my preferred panko.

It turns out the BLT-From-Scratch Challenge has been just as much a thought experiment as a cooking challenge.  And for me that's some of the funnest cooking there is.

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32 Wonderful responses to “My BLT From Scratch”

  • Frank Dragna

    That looks amazing. Quick question about curing bacon. Can I cure it in a vacuum sealed bag in order to better keep it in contact with the curing liquid

  • Noni

    I’ve been looking forward to the BLT reveal all summer! My tomato crop was disappointing to say the least (ever had a tomato more tasteless than one from the grocery store?), so I lost the motivation to keep striving for an awesome vegetarian BLT.

    I can’t wait to hear what people submitted!

    And I very much second the annual event idea!

  • marlene

    This was a really fun challenge to do, and it got me to make bacon for the first, but not the last time. Frying the bread in the bacon grease made the whole thing even more decadent. What’s the next challenge going to be? I’ve got three pork bellies that I’d like to do something other than bacon with!

  • luis

    Yummy! everything looks apetizing and very very beautiful. The bun is the only puzzling ingredient to me. I saw the ones you posted earlier and was looking for something along those lines…… I don’t know how you get beef to look that good…yum!. Only beef that good looking is on Steven Reichlems website.

  • E. Nassar

    So sad that I could not participate this time since my tomato plants all withered and died in the hot long summer (with no rain) this year in Houston. I just could not keep up with the watering and shading. I would love to see all entries and drool…

    Although “Vegetarian and Vegan BLT”!!!. Are you sure there should be such a category? Just seems wrong IMHO.

  • Kate in the NW

    *sigh*.

    I hope you’re still doing this stuff when I retire and can (okay, can CHOOSE) to spend more time on this sort of stuff.

    For the time being, I’ll rely on the expert farmers and butchers and bakers (and candle-stick makers?) to provide me with ingredients. Nice, high-quality ingredients – not the crappy stuff, don’t worry.

    But all-homemade? Not THIS summer. I admire the hell out of all of you for making the effort – I just can’t manage it at the moment.

    Hey – SOMEbody’s got to keep all those artisinal food producers in business, right? ;-)

  • Scott Johnston

    Dare I ask that you make this an annual challenge? While my hopes and vines died at the same time, the dream is still alive and I have a couple of ideas for next year!

  • Katie

    Too funny because I just recently did a post on something I named the Mean Green BLT. Had no idea you were running a contest or I would’ve entered, but the recipe was actually for another contest. It used fried green tomatoes (in cornmeal mixture) and a spicy, kickass mayo. Check it out: http://tinyurl.com/pb4w52

  • Carrie

    Beautiful! This was such a fun challenge – I had never tried anything like it before. Definitely a great learning (and eating!) experience. As Gareth asked, what’s next??

  • Ben

    YUM. Yum. yum.

    You’re totally right Michael, usually BLTs are way too wimpy with just a few pieces of bacon. It should be (and you made) a bacon steak sandwich! It looks divine.

  • minnie

    my tomatoes turned out so badly this summer i gave it up as a lost cause, sigh. your sandwich looks downright delectable, though.

  • Michelle

    Absolutely scrumptious! My college age son ate a bacon sandwich every single morning for the entire summer. When you wake up way too late for breakfast, but you’re really hungry and it’s too early for lunch, a bacon sandwich is the perfect meal.

  • szg

    Interesting that you didn’t really talk about the bread.

    Bread can really enhance or detract from a sandwich. Its never just a “neutral” element.

    I mean, take the pork belly, garnish it with the L, T, and mayo and you have a platter. Take the same elements, put them between two warm slices of the right bread and you have a SANDWICH.

  • Kelly

    Yes, you can have these sandwiches before 8:00 a.m. My husband made them for his friends this morning before they did a big concrete pour at our house. Nice bribe –

    But Michael, yours are truly insane (meant in the best, most decadent way possible).

  • Natalie Sztern

    Okay here’s my offer: the daughter goes to McGill, I rent her a room with car priviledges and you come down to visit every other weekend and make these sandwiches…and just these sandwiches

  • Elke

    We had our BLT party yesterday, late afternoon with several babies in attendance. They tried the homemade focaccia (only 2nd attempt ever making bread!) that had rosemary from our yard. The tomatoes we grew ourselves – 6 kinds, not all made it on the sandwiches.

    The mayonnaise was made yesterday morning and despite me reading the recipe from Ratio probably four times, I couldn’t figure out if it was “broken”. Husband comes in, reads the recipe and realizes I’ve put the entire egg in, not just the yolk! We made one version with canola oil and one with olive oil. The canola seemed more like the mayonnaise I’ve had before.

    The bacon was from a half pig we got back in February and we finished it off yesterday! The lettuce and eggs for the mayo were also from our CSA. They were great sandwiches and as I fell asleep last night I realized the biggest slight of the entire project – I forgot to take a single photo! We’ll just have to do it again. :)

  • Cmac

    Fabulous looking sandwich, although I can’t wait to see the other Vegan and Vegetarian ones. Since going vegetarian I’ve so missed bacon but luckily my tofu bacon has taken the place. There has been talk over at stumptownsavoury.com about doing a Mac & Cheese from scratch challenge, so as I type this I am pressing some home made Gouda in anticipation. Good luck to all other participants.

  • Rhonda

    I can’t wait to see the winners. However, I would love to see pics of all submissions because there are so many talented, creative people out there.

    You set the bar pretty high. I can’t wait to see the results.

    I did not participate in this one but I am enjoying it just the same.

    Good luck, everyone!

  • Leslie

    The Weathervane restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina serves a fabulous fried green tomato BLT with apple wood smoked bacon.

  • Fuji Mama

    Such a wonderful challenge. I fortuitously found myself finishing reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma about a week after our BLT dinner and found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read Pollan’s thoughts on his own “from scratch” meal. I loved how he said that it’s not so much about the food as it is about the shared experience and recognizing the cost of our food–a true Thanksgiving meal.

  • StumptownSavoury

    Thank you for a delightfully fun challenge, Michael. Not only did it make for an interesting summer–experimenting with different breads, trying different cures, and rooting for the tomatoes to produce–it was an excellent opportunity to introduce people to the pleasures of real food. I shared my sandwich with a friend whose garden space I share, and she was so enamored with the bacon that she’s now curing her own!

    Thanks again. What’s next?

  • Liz

    That is the most gorgeous picture of a sandwich I have seen in a long time! Kudos Donna!

    I didn’t participate in this challenge due to my indoor appartment with no space for a container garden, but your twitter (or FB??) comment about smoking bacon in your stovetop smoker is urging me to find some pork belly and have at it. I love the idea of a series of challenges from scratch. It doesn’t even necessarily have to include producing your own ingredients – although that is a nice twist – just getting in there and not relying on the shortcuts, and re-imaginging what it means to be an “x” is a cool approach.

  • Scotty Harris

    I don’t know which was more fun, my final submission or the all-American version with the pre-cooked bacon, Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread! ;-)

  • Dan

    I’m new to your blog. When you say pork bellies, is this just thick bacon strips, or something else? And if something else, where would a person buy it? I’ve never seen “pork bellies” at my neighborhood grocery. Thanks.

  • eatlivetravelwrite

    Michael this was the most fun party we have had in a long while (our “BLT reveal”). We had so many people contributing so much to make our sandwich happen – and all from scratch! Thanks for organising this! We even bought another pork belly on the weekend to make more pancetta for disgruntled friends who were unable to attend and missed out!!!

    Cheers,
    Mardi

  • erik

    That looks absolutely delicious. Unfortunately I was not able to get any tomatoes to grow in containers at my apartment yet. If I ever do get them to grow, I’ll make a BLT and post about on my blog I just started.

  • John Dennison

    Outstanding. Your mayo’s made from scratch too, I’ll wager – it’s got that color.

    I’m shutting down for lunch early and making me one of those babies.

    Oink