On his 30th birthday, Luke Abrams received 30 pounds of Red Robin-brand bacon—”Applewood smoked!”—from a friend who was a cook at the chain. “Red Robin is famous for their bacon. It’s like crack,” Luke explained. “I don’t know what sorcery they perform, but it always comes out perfect. It’s not brittle, so it snaps; it’s not floppy and undercooked; it’s not pale pink but this nice rust color. It’s thick and smoky and ah!” As you can’t buy Red Robin bacon wholesale, the perfect bacon experience was not one Luke could hope to replicate at home—until that fateful birthday.
Is there such a thing as too much bacon? At the time, Luke Abrams didn’t think so. So the Saturday after his birthday, he woke up with a mission to make the perfect bacon, no matter how much consumption that took.
Normally, Luke would cook bacon on an oven tray, but even with the good stuff he still couldn’t replicate the restaurant experience—part of the secret was clearly in the cooking. “My dad told me than when he was growing up, his mom kept a big Folgers coffee can on top of the stove, filled with bacon grease,” Luke explained.
Grandma Eva, who was healthy long into her 80s, would use it for cooking, digging in with a wooden spoon to get a solid dollop. This, said Luke’s dad, was the superior way to cook bacon: a cast iron pan filled with an inch of fat. “The bacon grease acts as a heat transfer medium,” says Luke, who’s an engineer. A frying pan results in uneven cooking, and you avoid this by submerging the meat—not to mention how it means more fat stays within the rasher.
So Luke started cooking bacon while preserving the grease—the first few batches weren’t Grandma Eva bacon, or Red Robin-esque bacon, but, you know, there wasn’t anything wrong with it either, so he ate it.
“By batch seven I had my inch of bacon grease, and I'm like, oh my god. I think I'm onto something. This is the best bacon I've ever had.” Luke’s eyes light up at the memory. As he put on the tenth batch he was red and sweating, the kitchen was smoky and the stove was a puddle of grease. But Luke ate the last batch too, taking the total bacon tally to 100 strips.
The next morning, Luke stepped out of bed and immediately fell over. “I couldn't stand. I put a foot on the floor and this sharp pain rocketed all the way up my right leg. ... I was wracking my brain. Did I stub my toe? How can you get injured in your sleep!” Luke hobbled around all day, confused and miserable. The same thing happened Monday morning, when he had to go to work but couldn’t drive. “I realized, I'm going to have to go to the doctor!”
At that point, Luke hadn't been to the doctor since he broke his collarbone when he was 17. The check-up took place on Tuesday, and the pain went away on Wednesday, 72 hours after it started. Finally, he heard back from the doctor: amazingly, Luke was in the 99th percentile for health. His diagnosis: acute gout.
Too much bacon can certainly cause an attack of gout, says Caroline West Passerrello, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Bacon is high in purine. The body converts purine to uric acid. If uric acid builds too quickly and can't be eliminated, it deposits as crystals in the tissues. That’s what cause the intense joint pain, swelling, redness, and possible temporary immobility.”
In the Middle Ages, gout was associated with the nobility, as only the wealthy could afford to eat the rich diet that might cause gout. You’re still more likely to get gout if you’re a man or if you’re overweight. “But gout could happen to anyone,” says West Passerrello. Everyone’s purine tolerance differs, so there’s no way of knowing what amount of bacon is safe for you unless you’re willing to test it out.
Luke still loves bacon, but he’s no longer so cavalier with portion sizes. Because yes, says Luke, there’s definitely such a thing as too much bacon: “I call it the Gout Line. I don't know where my Gout Line is, and I'm unwilling to do the studies to find it. I'd say that for me, it's somewhere between 20 and 100 strips of bacon.”