Bacon is versatile and dependable, amping up most dishes. Our cheesy potato soup, for instance, just seems to call for salty-smoky crumbled bacon. So we stirred some in and sprinkled the rest on top.
Shad Kirton, award-winning chef and co-owner of Absolute Flavors Catering/Smokey D's BBQ in Des Moines, created this salad (left) based on the classic sandwich.
Bacon also stars in German Potato Salad. Tyson Wibbenmeyer at Stonie's Sausage Shop in Perryville, Missouri, brings home awards for his hickory-smoked bacon, which he adds to this dish.
BLT Salad recipe 
Chef/owner John McClure of Starker's Restaurant, located at Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, fills his behemoth burger (left) with sugared bacon and melting cheese curds from Shatto Milk Company.
Another chef-inspired main dish: Pan-Seared Trout with Tomatoes, Potatoes and Bacon. Chicago Chef Susan Goss thick-slices slab bacon for her trout recipe at West Town Tavern.
The Niman Ranch group turns to Iowa for much of its pork. Paul Willis runs the Niman Ranch Pork Company out of Thornton, Iowa. This recipe, which calls for Niman Ranch Dry-Cured Applewood Smoked Ham or other cooked ham, comes from pork producers Monica and Randy Duffe of Wilton.
The Willis family, meanwhile, contributed a recipe for a classic pairing of collard greens and bacon.
Peel and devein 1 pound of large fresh shrimp in shells (about 16), leaving tails intact. Rinse; pat dry. Using 8 slices of Niman Ranch Bacon or other bacon (halved crosswise), wrap each shrimp in a piece of bacon, securing with a wood toothpick (neck to tail in a half-moon). To grill, place shrimp on lightly greased rack of uncovered grill over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until bacon is crisp and shrimp turn opaque, turning once. (For gas grill, cover and grill as directed.) If you like, serve with your favorite barbecue sauce. Makes 16.
Clockwise, from top left:
On a flour tortilla, combine scrambled eggs, pico de gallo or salsa, pepper Jack cheese and chopped bacon. Serve it rolled up or open face.
Rye bread gets topped with Dijon-style mustard, bacon slices, Granny Smith apple slices and Brie.
On sliced wheat bread, layer Canadian bacon, coleslaw, pickles and barbecue sauce.
Top a toasted English muffin with peanut butter, bacon, banana slices and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Party pumpernickel bread gets a topping of sliced pear (brushed with lemon juice), blue cheese crumbles, bacon and honey.
Toasted white bread meets sliced roasted turkey, bacon strips, avocado and fresh ground pepper.
This bison specialty is a popular choice at Fire Lake Grill House and Cocktail Bar in downtown Minneapolis. Bison meat is redder than its beef counterpart, with a flavor similar to lean beef. You can use beef tenderloin if you prefer.
A Cleveland reader makes this salad a day ahead and refrigerates the dressing and vegetables separately. When it's time to serve it, she tosses everything together. Bacon, sunflower kernels and raisins make a crunchy and flavorful side dish.
Sunny Broccoli Salad 
This is the ultimate feel-good dish: two kinds of mashed potatoes with bacon. Cream cheese adds richness; chipotle chile brings a subtle smoky flavor.
This steaming stew features hearty chunks of pot roast and a colorful combination of vegetables, all flavored with bacon. Serve alone or over mashed potatoes, noodles or biscuits.
Savory Beef Stew 
Not sure what to do with your bacon drippings? Use them in this recipe, where they'll combine with sizzling onions to give the two-potato side dish an irresistible aroma and flavor.
Calico Potatoes 
Bacon and brown sugar punch up the salty-sweet flavors in this canned pork and beans fix-up from South Dakota's Triangle Ranch Bed and Breakfast. For a candied top, leave Baked Beans 'n' Bacon uncovered in the oven.
Give Brussels sprouts a fresh taste with this colorful side dish flavored with bacon and feta. The trick to preserving the sprouts' mild taste is to avoid overcooking.
Follow package directions for stove-top cooking, starting with an unheated pan over medium heat or:
In the oven: Place slices side by side on a rack in a shallow-sided baking pan. Bake in 400° oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until crisp. Drippings fall below the rack in this no-watch method.
In microwave: Cut down on splattering by placing slices on a microwave-safe rack or a plate lined with microwave-safe paper towels. Microwave on high (2-3 minutes for 2 slices, 3-4 1/2 minutes for 4, and 4-5 minutes for 6 slices), rearranging bacon once.
Most bacon results from a mix of brining, wet- or dry-curing and some form of smoking. Different twists on this process alter the taste.
Pancetta This Italian bacon (left), used to flavor sauces and pasta dishes, is cured but not smoked.
Dry-cured bacon Because it contains less water, this type shrinks less during cooking and produces less popping grease in the skillet.
Flavored bacon Maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, pepper and more complement bacon's saltiness. Smoking with woods such as apple or hickory creates subtle distinctions, too. But take note of labels promising things such as "hickory flavor." This isn't true smoked bacon.
Canadian bacon A smoked meat more like ham than American bacon, it also produces less cooking shrinkage, resulting in more servings per pound.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® January/February 2009.)