The Healthy Cook's Guide To The Ultimate BLT
We guarantee this will be the best take on a classic sandwich using summer’s fresh in-season ingredients.
Cooking Light’s Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis has a bold statement to make regarding a staple favorite for diners across the country, stemming from casual diners to refined interpretations at fine-dining establishments.
Ready? Here it is: Don’t eat a BLT except for in the summer.
But why would you relegate such a delicious treat just to four months? Why wouldn’t you chow down on this simple and easy meal all year round?
It’s all about the ingredients, and the keys to an ultimate BLT lie in seasonal heirloom tomatoes that you can only get your hands on during the summer months. Good things come to those who wait, Lewis says, and that golden moment of opportune deliciousness is when tomatoes are their freshest.
But as our fearless leader will tell you, the perfect BLT isn’t hinging on a single ingredient alone — it’s the seamless blend of all five ingredients together that make this method of building the sandwich the best one you’ll ever try.
With his note about tomatoes in mind, here are Hunter Lewis’ simple steps to building the ultimate BLT:
1) Get Your Favorite Cut of Bacon And Bake It
For Lewis, that’s Benton’s Bacon based out of Eastern Tennessee – a slab of Hickory Smoked meat that is perfectly rich in smoky flavor and evenly salted. Whichever brand and cut of bacon is your favorite, there’s only one way to ensure that it’s uniformly crispy and not drenched in it’s own fat, Hunter says.
Arrange your bacon on a latticed baking rack just above your baking sheet and place it in a cold 400-degree oven, where the warming air inside the oven will circulate and push the bacon to its prime texture. Twenty minutes is all you need, then dry the bacon thoroughly on paper towels.
2) The Bread Can’t Be The Star of The Show
Not to put any bread enthusiast down, but Lewis makes it plain that ambitious loafs of bread with nut- or seed-encrusted artisanal exteriors don’t have a place at the table where your perfect BLT is being served.
Lewis recommends an evenly weighted, smooth sourdough or multi-grain bread that will “blend in and be the vehicle for the rest of the ingredients.”
With this particular loaf in mind, you should line another baking sheet with your bread slices in rows, one side against the metal of the sheet. Throw the bread into the oven for no more than 5 minutes after you remove your bacon.
The topside of the bread will be slightly toasted and pack a slight crunch, while the underside of the slice will be soft and steamed, which is key for the overall smoothness of your first bite.
3) Salt Those Tomatoes
You should be doing a couple of things to ensure that your in-season tomatoes are the best they can be, and your work starts as early as when you’re at the farmer’s market or superstore.
“Do we know if these tomatoes are too soft, or overly ripe? There’s a couple keys to answering this important question,” Lewis says. “You’re going to have to do more than just a touch test at the market.”
The foolproof way to ensure your tomatoes are ready for the glory of a BLT, beyond a taste test with a friendly vendor at a farmer’s market, is to buy more than a few and cut them open so you can sample them ahead of time.
When you do find that perfect specimen, however, the secret to a perfect BLT is to salt the tomato right before you assemble the sandwich. A generous pinch of kosher salt will help draw out the juices and flavors of the tomato that will really shine when it’s time for your first bite. Grind some fresh black pepper on the tomatoes as well.
4) Romaine or Iceberg Only
When it comes to lettuce, there’s only two kinds acceptable to have in a proper BLT, Lewis says.
Choose a fresh head of romaine or a robust iceberg to slice lengthwise the same size as your chosen bread. The trick here is to ensure your lettuce isn’t wider than the bread – hence why many BLTs end up raining lettuce all over your plate and not making it into your mouth.
5) Cook and Assemble Immediately
There’s no room for pre-assembly or meal prep when it comes to the ultimate BLT. Don’t let time expire between cooking and cutting ingredients and actual assembly, because temperature and texture are optimal when the sandwich is made and enjoyed fresh.
Take out your moist yet toasty bread and slather each side of the sandwich with your go-to mayo (Lewis was raised in a Hellman’s household, but now swears by Duke’s).
The mayo should be on the softer side of the bread, immediately followed by three slices of tomatoes and lettuce. Put an additional dusting of salt and pepper on the sandwich as well. Add your crisp bacon on top of this glorious stack. This gives you the freedom to simply pick up the other half of bread and top off your creation without any ingredients slipping out.
If you ask Lewis himself, he’ll tell you the next logical thing is to take a big bite of your creation over the kitchen sink. Savor your glory and know, deep down, you've maximized flavor and texture of this shockingly simple yet delicious mash up of ingredients.