Bacon is sizzling on chain menus

Chefs are taking bacon beyond the traditional applications, tempting customers with new techniques and products.
Checkers Bacon Mother Cruncher
Photo courtesy of Checkers & Rallys

Bacon is exploding on menus at the moment, showing up in new formats and applications across all segments.

Upscale restaurants have long pushed bacon’s boundaries to add flavor, texture and richness to condiments, appetizers, savory desserts and more, but now chain chefs are taking bacon into new menu territory.

Earlier this month, IHOP launched steakhouse premium bacon, a product closer to fine dining’s pork belly than family dining’s breakfast plate staple. The chain’s new Bacon Obsession menu features the thicker, hickory-smoked product in several applications, but VP of Culinary Scott Randolph also put a twist on IHOP’s regular bacon: he candied it. The crisp strips are brushed with a sweet glaze and incorporated into pancakes, a milkshake and an ice cream sundae.

IHOP's candied bacon

Checkers & Rallys is also featuring candied bacon in a new LTO, the Candied Bacon Mother Cruncher. The sandwich includes an extra-crispy fried chicken breast topped with brown-sugar-candied bacon strips, signature Squawk Sauce, Swiss cheese, mayo and crisp onion tanglers on a toasted, bakery-style bun.

“The candied bacon really differentiates the chicken sandwich from all the others out there,” said Dwayne Chambers, CMO of Checkers & Rallys.

Premium chicken sandwiches are a new category for the 850-unit quick-service drive-thru, introduced when the original Mother Cruncher made its debut last June. It proved to be a smart move, increasing sales a couple of percentage points, said Chambers. “Adding the candied bacon variation should lift the whole category,” he added. The Mother Cruncher sells for $3.99, while the bacon variation is a dollar more at $4.99.

Checkers & Rallys worked with a supplier partner to develop the candied bacon and it comes in ready to use. Chambers believes that the pandemic is partially responsible for the current bacon trend, as it fits into consumers’ craving for comfort food.

Sonic Drive-In is also betting on bacon with a recent burger LTO. The Bacon Jam Cheeseburger is enhanced with a complex sweet and savory bacon jam that would be right at home on an upscale restaurant menu. But Culinary Institute of America-trained Scott Uehlein, the QSR’s vice president of product innovation and development, scaled up the recipe to use as a burger condiment at close to 3,500 U.S. restaurants.

“The bacon onion jam is a magical culmination of flavors with bacon, brown sugar and caramelized onions,” said Uehlein in a statement. The burger’s build includes a grilled beef patty layered with American cheese, crispy bacon strips and the bacon jam, then topped with mayo and mustard on a toasted brioche bun. It sells for $4.99.

Shake Shack jumped on the bacon trend by adding it to two limited-time sandwiches, running through June 30. The items also pair bacon in a burger and chicken sandwich. Customers can order it up in an Avocado Bacon Burger, composed of a cheeseburger with avocado, bacon and ShackSauce, and an Avocado Bacon Chicken Sandwich, featuring a crispy chicken breast, avocado, bacon, pickles and buttermilk herb mayonnaise.

Fast-casual Shake Shack sources its bacon from Niman Ranch, a supplier with a sustainability mission.

Red Robin

On the full-service side, Red Robin also developed a sweet-savory bacon jam and is featuring it with several items in a Bacon Bash menu. Included in the lineup are Bacon Jammin’ Wings, bone-in or boneless wings topped with bacon jam, bacon crumbles, cherry peppers and barbecue-brown sugar glaze served on a bed of Yukon Gold kettle chips.

Red Robin is also offering a Bacon Jammin’ Burger that showcases bacon in three ways. The beef patty is topped with the bacon jam, hardwood-smoked bacon strips and bacon aioli, along with cheddar cheese, red onions, lettuce and tomatoes on a sesame bun.

And for dessert, there’s a Caramel & Cookie Crumb Milkshake topped with whipped cream, oatmeal cookie crumbs and candied bacon.

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