(Pictured: Our Smoked Turkey BLT)This week I am dropping some knowledge about the that All-American sandwich favorite, the BLT. The bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is a first cousin and inspiration for the smoked turkey BLT that we do in my little kitchens.
The ingredients for the classic BLT existed for years, but based on what my research turned up, there’s little evidence to prove that this sandwich was available before 1900.
Looking back, one of the earliest mentions of the sandwich was in the 1903 Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book, where a club sandwich included bacon, lettuce, tomato, along with mayo and a slice of turkey.
When people started abbreviating the bacon, lettuce and tomato to BLT also remains a mystery.
The sandwich grew in fame and was popularised after World War II, following the expansion of supermarkets that made ingredients available all year-round.
In 1958, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (for the record…my heart belong’s to Duke’s mayonnaise) advertised their product as “traditional on bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches”, suggesting that perhaps that it could have been the case that when people were taking orders, to save time, the servers simply wrote “BLT”. Growing up in Nutley, New Jersey gave me plenty of opportunities to try this classic because the entire region had a seemingly endless number of diners that all served this classic as well as it’s blood relative…the turkey club sandwich.
Today the BLT is seen as one of the quickest and tastiest sandwiches to put together and it can be found on menus across the world.
In my world the best BLT is all about sourcing the best ingredients…and that starts with the bacon.
Growing up in my grandmother’s kitchen quality was always king. Her and other mom’s on the block like Angie McGriff were all about slab bacon. I ate often with my childhood friend Eric McGriff and his family. Good old southern slab bacon was the standard in her kitchen, just like my Grandmother and my mother. No paper thin supermarket bacon that shriveled up to the size of a postage stamp could meet their standards, and thick cut, cured, smoked pork bellies is where that begins. I remember Gram used to travel to Newark, NJ to a place called Eastern Meat Packing on Orange Street to get it. I remember going in there with Gram and being fascinated that you had to wear a sweater because the whole place was refrigerated. The floors were covered in sawdust and it was a mecca of sights and smells for a young boy that was fascinated with all things food related. I was literally in sensory overload and loved when I got to go inside with her. Hanging meats, whole hogs, sides of beef, lamb loins, guys with veal legs hoisted over their shoulder, sausages of all shapes, sizes, and flavors, butchers and an army meat workers in lab coats filling orders for people.
My grandmother and the Italian ladies who knew quality picked whole meats, haggled over prices and quality, and explained to the butchers how they wanted their order cut and tied into roasts, chops, steaks, scallopine, or ground. Her favorite guy was Charlie. He was one of the top butchers and one of the few black men who worked in the guest area. I remember how his eyes lit up when we got to his section. He knew my grandmother’s standards and she was not shy about reminding him. He always made sure that the last thing he did after filling her orders was to let her inspect a side of slab bacon. I remember watching him make a center cut for her to see that streak o’ fat and streak o’ lean before wrapping it up in butcher paper, and marking the weight with a black grease pen on the paper before handing it to me while saying, “Carry that for Miss Doris young man, and be careful!” I got to carry that slab of Gram’s standard, and I felt like I somehow was a part of her strict kitchen standard.
It was slab bacon, and those thick salty cuts of pork goodness hold memories that remain a part of how I see bacon to this day. I was partial to when she would often leave the rind on when she fried it. What remained was great cooked bacon and this ornamental strip of crunchy cracklin’ that was like the rock candy of pork to me. As a young boy I fell in love with that little exclamation point in every bite. Even at an early age, while my friends were discovering a relationship with Jolly Ranchers, Now & Later’s, and Bazooka bubble gum…I had a crush on the sexy salt and smoke, of what became a lifetime love of good bacon.
So, here we are so many years later and the love affair remains. What does the the kid in the butcher shop do with all that? He makes a sandwich! Not just any sandwich…I bring together some of those simple flavors by building the sandwich of my youth for my friends today…with a very special addition.
We trim, brine, rub, and roast whole turkey breast twice a week with hickory to make our Smoked Turkey BLT. It is a house favorite with thick cut double smoked bacon, romaine lettuce, tomato and a fat dose of house made herb aioli (fancy name for mayonnaise) that has the best of our garden flavors in this sandwich dressing. Since we are in the Philadelphia area, we stay within local tradition and purposefully make this on a hoagie roll and toast the entire sandwich.
This is fun throwback on a bun for me…and a growing habit for our customers in the know.
This blog post took me back and it definitely has me in the mood to work on the book that I have been thinking about.
Thanks for playing and remember this: Any day with bacon is good day, and any day without bacon can always be a better day…just add bacon!
Yo! Chefsoul Tip 8.24.17 ~ Instead of dealing with all the popping, jumping around, grease splattering and clean-up cooking bacon on the stovetop…just slip it in the oven for 8-16 minutes until it is done?
…and NEVER throw away that good bacon fat, because that is a whole ‘nother blog post!