One of my most prized possessions is the grease crock I inherited from my grandmother. Every morning she made bacon – which was basically every morning ever – she would remove the strips of fried cured pork, then unceremoniously dump the rendered fat into the crock, along with any lingering burnt meaty bits. The crock lived right next to the stove, and she would scoop from it, never measuring, whenever she needed “a little grease.”
This system worked perfectly well for her – her cooking was always delicious and never made anyone ill – but it was not a model of proper food safety. Not only does keeping fat near a heat source increase the risk it will go rancid, but those little meaty bits can also promote microbial growth, shortening the lifespan of your precious grease. Luckily, storing and collecting bacon grease is not hard. You just need to take a couple of (easy) extra steps.
If you’re going to be using the grease right away – like frying an egg in it, for example – there’s no need to remove it from the pan to strain it; just add your food to the hot grease and let it work its delicious, salty magic. (And if you want to maximize your rendered fat yield, and the crispiness of your bacon, start with a cold pan.) But if you want to save it for a later project, you’ll have to remove those solids. First, pick the right vessel. Pouring hot grease into plastic is a bad idea, but a re-purposed glass jar – I like a pickle jar – or a metal or ceramic container will work well.
Next, grab a funnel (canning funnels are my favorite for this) and a fine mesh sieve. Set the funnel down in the jar and place the sieve in the funnel. Wait for your grease to cool a bit – this will decrease the danger of it spattering and burning you – then carefully pour the grease through the sieve and into the jar. Discard the solids, let the grease come to room temperature, then store it in the fridge, where it will keep almost indefinitely with the solids removed. (If you are worried about rancidity, give it a sniff; rancid fat can smell bitter, soapy, or metallic, though I have always described rancid oil smells as crayon-like.) If you want to be super safe, you can store it in the freezer, and even portion it out in an ice cube tray so you don’t have to chip off a hunk of grease from a larger, frozen blob.
As far as cooking goes, you may find bacon grease soon becomes your favorite culinary fat. It’s a fantastic option for shallow frying (greetings, really dank french fries) as well as roasting (hello, the best carrots you’ve ever had), but don’t rule out heat free options like bacon butter, bacon mayo, or even a bacon vinaigrette. One thing to keep in mind when working with bacon grease: go easy on the added salt. The best thing about the stuff is the smoky, savory flavor it adds to any dish, and there’s no reason to gild the lily with even more sodium chloride.