Cooking bacon over low heat melts the solid fat, rendering it from the meat. It's so versatile, and a little goes a long way, so it's our tactic for bringing a smoky presence to a dish without adding a lot of fat.

Cut up the bacon. Rather than cooking full strips, use kitchen shears to snip cold bacon into ¾-inch pieces. The small pieces will fully cover the pan and render evenly.

Choose the right pan. Select a pan that lets the bacon cook evenly, immersed in its own fat, without burning. Use a small pan for 3 ounces of bacon, a medium skillet for 6 to 8 ounces, and a large skillet for more.

Employ gentle heat. Cook bacon over medium-low heat 10 minutes or until the fat is released and the meat is crisp and browned.

Strain and go. Filter out the gritty browned bits—they can taste bitter. Use bacon fat to add smoky flavor to sautéed vegetables, soups, and croutons. Or use it to make a vinaigrette.

WARM BACON VINAIGRETTEPlace 2 tablespoons strained bacon fat in a medium pan over medium-low heat. Add 4 teaspoons minced shallots; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in ¼ cup sherry vinegar, ½ teaspoon minced fresh tarragon, ½ teaspoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Use dressing immediately; it will dress 6 cups of greens.

SERVES 6 (serving size: about 4 teaspoons)CALORIES 45; FAT 4.3g (sat 1.7g, mono 2g, poly 0.5g); PROTEIN 0g; CARB 1mg; FIBER 0g; CHOL 4mg; IRON 0mg; SODIUM 104mg; CALC 2mg

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