UPDATE 6/10: It's Official

Enormous and enthusiastic response to the "BLT From Scratch Challenge" cause me to make it official.  Rules for the sandwich itself are stated below in what "from scratch" means; it should go without saying that there will be no honor in purchasing bread or mayo or a slab of bacon and not acknowledging it; indeed, this will result in much bad karma.

Entries will be judged in three categories: best photograph, best overall preparation, and best interpretation of a classic.

The last category requires explanation. An interpretation means playing off the original.  To make an overly simplistic example, a BLT salad, lettuce and tomato with a mayo dressing, lardons and croutons made from homemade bread; an Alinea-inspired version might be lettuce ice cream served on a crouton, topped with deep-fried mayo and a caramel bacon sauce, garnished with powdered tomato. The interpretation must include one of each of the main ingredients: homegrown tomato and lettuce, a home-cured meat, some form of mayonnaise or emulsified sauce, and some form of yeast-leavened baked good.

Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free interpretations are welcome! If there are enough, they may warrant their own category.

Submissions will be accepted through Friday, August 28th. Limit: one entry per category per person.  Send pix and any notes or recipes to michaelruhlman@gmail.com.  (DO NOT send to the main "contact" email address or it may get lost!)  Winners will be announced on Labor Day Weekend.  Books of mine will serve as token prizes; internet fame and glory will be byproducts of the real prize: an awesome sandwich you really made yourself.

————————–

Two readers of the below pancetta post, Gareth, who has a very nice blog, and Carrie, who has become obsessed by what Gareth said in comment #1, have given me a great idea!

A collective challenge for all of you who really love to cook: Make a BLT from scratch.  No, this does not mean raising a piglet for the bacon or growing your own wheat to grind into flour.  Yes, extra credit for either, but I want this to be a challenge that everyone can accept, whether you live in a Manhattan walk-up or rural North Carolina, Alaska or suburban splendor: make a BLT from scratch, photograph it and send the photo to me.  If you blog, blog about it (and please link back to this post to encourage others to accept the challenge).

From scratch means: You grow your tomato, you grow your lettuce, you cure your own bacon or pancetta, you bake your own bread (wild yeast preferred and gets higher marks but is not required), you make your own mayo.  All other embellishments, creative interpretations of the BLT welcome.

Later this summer, say, mid-August or even on Labor Day (to give anyone way north more time to grow a tomato), I'll post the results and my wife and favorite photographer, Donna, will choose her three favorite images. Those cooks shall receive everlasting glory, an enthusiastic post here, and perhaps a copy of Ratio or another of my books of the winners' choosing (signed in bacon fat)—but the prize is not the point.

The point is to cook an American classic for ourselves and for our families without resorting to Oscar Meyer, Helmann's, Wonderbread, or even the Florida and California Tomato Growers associations.

Please join me and if you like the idea, spread the word.  Take the homemade BLT challenge!  Happy growing, curing, cooking, eating!

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106 Wonderful responses to “BLT From Scratch—Summertime Challenge!”

  • John

    Shouldn’t raising and slaughtering the pig, and growing the food for the pig (and the chicken) during the challenge also be part of the challenge?

  • Toluca Gourmet

    It’s on.
    I have 10lbs (3 slabs) of bacon curing right now. I am making a sourdough starter (MR’s recipe).
    I have my friend’s chickens so there is the egg/mayo, my mother in law’s tomatoes and her lettuce.
    I could be a contender!

  • Liane

    Just blogged about my first BLT of the year and one of my “commenters” ? :-) told me about this challenge.

    Not much time left but I’ll have think about this. Alas, the lettuce season is over, a cruel trick of the garden gods not to make both tomatoes and lettuce in season at the same time, at least in Chicago,…I’ll have to come up with options.

  • Cmac

    Would it be acceptable if I pressed my own soybeans, made it into tofu, then turned it into tofu bacon? If I can beat back the tent caterpillars then I’ll have the tomatoes and lettuce from my garden.

  • Damjana

    Glad I noticed your challenge on Gareth’s blog! Just that BLT is something completely new to me (I’m not from the States). Do other versions count too? I’d substitute some of the ingredients..

  • Kate

    Our first batch of bacon just came out of the smoker! It’s a teensy bit on the salty side, but it’s so freaking delicious.

  • home garden products

    Today as we are facing global worming now a days and one of the main reason of global worming is due to the reduction or cutting down of green forests. so we all can play a role in saving the environment for the future and for our children this is the right time to start developing small gardens in our houses back yard as its has become necessity act before its to late. So start your journey with us .

  • Vivian

    @sarah m You could try a gentle tea smoke or steam with some Lapsang Souchong tea. It has a very smoky flavor and I have used it to smoke both in oven and stovetop successfully.

  • tallwoman813

    if the pig was ours and the butcher smoked the meat, would that count? could offer pictures of the process as proof. (it’s not my farm, I am part of a co-op) I can’t wait to use the farm fresh eggs for the mayo, my friends are going to love the summer experiments. anyway, I accept the challenge. thanks for the fun!

  • Laura Red

    Perfect! Thanks! I have an amazing idea for this, then. :-)

    FYI, I fixed the grammatical error that you had pointed out, LOL. Thanks for the heads up! :-)

  • GG Mora

    August 28th? Getting a tomato out of my Vermont garden before then – given this “summer”’s weather, so far – is going to be a challenge. Maybe I can use cherry tomatoes. OTOH, lettuce will be no problem. Now I just gotta get some bacon seeds into the dirt.

  • Laura Red

    Now, you said ANY emulsified sauce, right? It doesn’t necessarily have to be mayonnaise?

    <—HATES mayonnaise

  • *susan*

    My garden will not produce tomatoes and lettuce at the same time until after the deadline. Very sad since all the other pieces are in place.

  • ntsc

    Great idea and I’ll be curing the bacons soon.

    However lettuce in August is a good trick.

  • milo

    This has been the coolest summer I’ve seen in a while, I wonder if I’ll have any edible tomatoes by august if this keeps up?

    Looking at Ozersky’s blog, he doesn’t seem to get much of anything. As far as I can tell, his gimmick seems to be meat to the exclusion of everything else, and be as contrarian as possible to attract hits to his blog from pure controversy. Yawn.

  • Darcie

    @Dick Black – I work a full time day job plus a 3 hour per day commute, but I’m in. Yes, it does make it more of a challenge, but it’s all about priorities. Since I’ve moved and had to endure this retarded commute, I’ve given up watching TV – it’s amazing what a time-waster that is! I also had to cut down on my web surfing (limiting myself to useful blogs such as this), but I’m getting as much done now as before I had the commute, which makes me regret all the time I wasted before.

    Grow a tomato plant in a pot (or topsy turvy planter) on your sunny porch, ditto for the lettuce. You won’t get huge yields, but it’s a lot less work than a full-fledged garden. Nothing beats a home-grown BLT in August!

  • Laura Red

    I have a fantastic idea for this challenge.

    And since this is my first real gardening venture since I had determined that I am the Grim Reaper of Flora and Fauna, I decided to create a blog to document my progess with this, as well as maybe share my recipes and such.

    So I get to make good food and learn new things. Good challenge!

  • sarah m

    hmm, as a vegetarian, I’m trying to figure out the fake bacon part. I would use gluten, and flavor it with soup stock (onions, garlic, mushrooms) but I’m not sure how to get it smoky without liquid smoke- i’m not sure it would stand up to actually smoking it. and soy sauce would help the flavor- are soy sauce and liquid smoke allowed?

  • kat

    BestFoods/Hellmans is far better than most home-made mayonnaises. It is in a whole different class from store-bought mayos in general.

    Not grinding wheat you’ve grown yourself? Then what’s the point, half the people in the U.S. seem to grow tomatoes.

  • jharp

    I’m out of the contest.

    The deer ate all of my tomato plants 2 nights ago.

    Damn.

  • adminnie

    i’m so in. tomatoes already planted, and several crops of lettuce planned, so now to contemplate the bread, bacon & mayo. also, i’ve blogged about your contest on the daily chum (www.limenviolet.com/blog). admittedly, it’s a blog for knitters, crocheters, and spinners, but I write a food column on a semi-regular basis. it’ll go up this saturday at 8 am central time.

    i’m drooling already

  • Pat

    Hii Michaael and all your great cooks, Your contest is interesting, I wish I had the skills to try. Can anyone recommend a great extra virgin olive oil??? thanks… Pat C

  • Kim

    The lettuce could pose a problem. When it warms up (if it ever warms up) the lettuce will just stop growing and what is left will get bitter. That being said, the challenge sounds intriguing.

  • luis

    Actually if you consider a BLT, you don’t really need…the B word? or the S? word….So it really comes down to making your own B. Ruhlman if I get the creeping crud….. I will never post here again..But the previous post..made it so easy. I am definitelly in Ruhlman. Just don’t know how in yet?

  • carri

    Opps, my ratio above for sourdough bread is askew (is there something I can take for that?) It should be equal weights starter and water and then twice that weight in flour…my bad. I now have an heirloom Arkansas Traveler Tomato plant in my window and some pork belly on the way…Good luck everybody!

  • Dick Black

    Dude, I appreciate the fact you are encouraging people to make their own bread or grow their own vegetables, but some of us work dayjobs and this is no easy task.

    You’ll get some good publicity that’s for sure, but for most people this is unattainable.

  • carri

    For anyone who wants to try a wild yeast starter, take an organically grown red cabbage leaf, wash it off in about 2 cups warm water and mix in 2 cups of flour. cover and let sit overnight…you may leave the cabbage in this, but it is not necessary. The white film on the leaves is a wild yeast that can be activated given food and water! After the first night. feed it again, this time equal weights of flour and water, say, 1# of each…mixture should be nice and bubbly by the next morning…if not, feed it equal amounts again and let sit overnight in a covered container. use like a sourdough starter…equal weights water and flour with 1/2 of that amount in starter added to the mix (how’s my ratio?)…a little salt and naturally leavened bread is yours!

  • Tzerris

    Tomatoes have been in for weeks out here in Cali and my twice yearly hog meets his maker next week. Gonna have to up my Lipitor dosage to make it through all the testing. I can hear my wife now..”You’re gonna hang what where?”

  • Jennifer S

    Yes, I’m in. Needed a reason to make some more bacon, too. :)

    I’ve got 30 little green tomatoes on my plants right now…

  • Harry

    “Alinea-inspired version might be lettuce ice cream served on a crouton, topped with deep-fried mayo and a caramel bacon sauce, garnished with powdered tomato.”

    Darn it, you stole my idea. Now I can never compete.

  • Kate in the NW

    Okay, there’s no way in hell I’m going to do this (or even read all 70 of the comments), but if you have a contest for the finalists, I volunteer to help judge. Even at my own expense.

    There is no sandwich – NO sandwich – EVER IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY – to outdo (or even equal) The Mighty BLT. It is a Ur-food, a Platonic Ideal, an Archetype. Even bad BLTs are good. Good BLTs are transcendent. GREAT BLT’s are…well, I won’t mention it on a family-friendly blog.

    ’nuff said.

    I hope you have a lot of fun with this…I will wait eagerly for the results.

  • Walt Smith

    Michael,

    I’m in on all counts.

    This is a great idea. Perhaps you’ll even take it a step further and develop this into a seasonal challange in the months to come.

    But why, oh why is Josh Ozersky over at the Feedbag Blog hating on such an inspired idea?

    Ozersky just doesn’t get it. I certainly don’t get him.

    Thanks for a great idea.

  • Darcie

    OK, I’m in! I have four kinds of tomatoes in the ground, but they won’t be ready until August or later here in MN. Maybe I can do something with the cherry tomatoes before then.

    I’d like to use foraged greens (from my yard or at least the neighborhood) instead of lettuce – is that OK?

    I’ll see if I can get some wheat from my brothers’ fields in North Dakota and grind it myself – extra points?? Anything extra if I pick and thresh the grain by hand?

    Now to order the pork belly…and find my pink salt.

    I say Cory Barrett can only play if he promises not to make a BLT dessert and whip our butts.

  • Martin Vine

    Chef from texas, extremely excited, actually started curring suckling pigs legs last month so should be good to go right about that time, great idea, love your work, the best literature on food and the industry, cant wait to do this

  • luis

    I will take on the challenge in spirit. I can not do the scratch thang unfortunatelly. But I can use the best ingredients and maybe even bake my own bun. It will be fun. Maybe you should have a store bought category you pompous elitist writer..you!

  • foodshethought

    I am SO in! I don’t have a spot for a garden, being a city dweller, but I am already planning my attack on the housemade bacon element and the bread! WewT!

  • Rubiao

    I didn’t photograph it, but last weekend we had grilled BLTs. Grilled green tomatoes, arugula, and bacon with Tabasco mayonnaise on grilled Boule loaf. Everything grilled except the mayonnaise. Delicious though.

  • Claire

    I’m in..and mine will be a Vegan Version…my first green tomatoes are starting to blush and I’ve got some healthy looking basil I’d love in a sandwich…is that an acceptable alternative to lettuce?

  • Jan

    Rarely have I seen a blog inspire so many, so enthusiastically. Can’t wait to see the results! Kudos and thanks.

  • Vivian

    This is awesome! Received new starter cultures from New England Cheesemaking today and am now trying to figure out what cheese I will do for this challenge. Sourdough starter is alive and well and if don’t kill the heirloom tomatoes this should turnout rather well. Wow a truly homegrown BLT with cheese :)

  • Vivian

    Michael, I re-tweeted part of your original tweet with the hashtag #bltchallenge so that anyone who twitters can follow along that way with pics and links to their blogs as they progress.

  • Jenny

    We are so there. Here’s hoping for a warm summer in Seattle, our toms are trying to catch up with everything else! Count on our addition to the fray!

  • Becky and the Beanstock

    Oh, goodness! I’m vegetarian and yet somehow this feels like a challenge I can’t just ignore. It’s so…. organic, in the truest sense of the word. You did say creative interpretations welcome… (promise, I’ll stick close to the spirit of the thing). How completely, insanely fun, while being sneakily educational. Love it.

  • Erin

    If the weather ever warms up around here, I’m in. Good weather for lettuce, not so good for tomatoes.

  • Gabe

    Wow, awesome idea! I’ll have to see if I can get my aerogrow pumping out lettuce and tomato since I work too much to water a garden enough to keep it growing.

    Coincidentally I did recently make a Ruhlman inspired “BLT” with heirlooms (purple cherokee), daikon sprouts, and duck prosciutto. It wont count, but maybe it’ll give someone an idea:

    http://evella.us/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/blt.jpg

    Excited!

  • ruhlman

    yes, you will have to time and tend lettuce a little more carefully to coincide with tomato…

  • StumptownSavoury

    The lettuce is dead easy. Plant seeds in a pot, water until they sprout. Done. Microgreens can be timed easily to match the tomatoes, and it isn’t like there’s only going to be one tomato on the vine, so a day one way or the other isn’t going to be too much problem. I’m more worried about the tomato, because we don’t always have sun during the summer in Portland. Oh, and curing bacon for the first time could be interesting, but then, that’s what makes the challenge fun.

  • Allison

    This is a little difficult, come to think of it- tomato and lettuce don’t really grow at the same time, let alone tomatoes don’t even grown this early unless you have a personal hothouse.

    I am up for the challenge though! I will have some form of greem/tomato come late july/early august.

  • cory barrett

    Ok, so i know i’m not an “at home cook” (though i do cook at home), but this sounds like way to much fun. I wanna Play

  • shannon

    One problem with this otherwise good idea: lettuce finishes producing heads, and it goes to seed, around the time that tomatoes are flowering. It’s not a simple thing to grow lettuce in July or August, when tomatoes begin to ripen in most parts of the country. There ARE some heat resistant lettuces, and shade cloth over the lettuce bed helps, but the BLT is a product of (like it or not) our supermarket culture, where we can have tomatoes from Florida and lettuce from California in the store at the same time in, say, March or April.

  • Conway Yen

    On like Donkey Kong. I’m curing some bacon right now to top off some burgers for a friend’s housewarming party in two weeks. Everything else is still growing, and I’m headed out to buy more pork belly tonight to try the pancetta recipe from Charcuterie. So excited, it’s a little ridiculous….

  • Cat Boy

    Would making this a collabortive effort be considered cheating? I don’t get enough hours a day of sun in my yard to grow a tomato worth eating, as I discovered two years in a row. But I can borrow a couple square feet of someone else’s yard and grow a tomato there. I would not always be the one caring for the tomato, but I would buy the plant it, plant it, and see to it at least once a week.

    If that is acceptable, I’m in. Now I have to go find a butcher shop in suburbia, which is bound to be the hardest part.

  • elizabeth

    What a fabulous idea! We’ve been slowly dipping our toes into the world of DIY charcuterie (and your book is on my must-have list!), and I have figured out how to make a mean focaccia.

    Going plant shopping this weekend–perhaps we’ll give this a shot.

  • David A. Goldfarb

    Pancetta, I do; sourdough, I do; mayo I do; and photographs, I do. Alas, the extent of my garden space these days in our third-floor New York walkup is an indoor windowsill herb garden, but the farmer’s market, I do.

  • ladygoat

    Love it! I’m in.

    The bread and the lettuce and the tomatoes (maybe even the bacon if I can summon the courage) is all well and good, but how can I grow an avocado in Cleveland before Labor Day?

  • The Kitchenette

    Love this challenge. Very upset that I don’t have a garden, or I would be all over this challenge like white on rice. But I’m so excited about the challenge I may buy local tomatoes and lettuce, just to make everything else myself, but I won’t enter the contest, of course.

    Love the enthusiasm over such a project. The sun is shining brighter today!

  • carri

    “If you want to make a BLT from scratch, you must first create the universe.” – Carl Sagan…(Ok, Carl was actually talking about apple pie when he said that…)

  • Nick

    Let’s see…
    Homemade, whole wheat sourdough: check, with a starter fed on locally grown wheat even.
    Homemade bacon: un-smoked version, but check.
    Homemade mayo: not yet, but this will be the easiest part by far.
    Homegrown tomatoes/lettuce: Herein lies the problem. I have no ripe tomatoes yet. And its a definite possibility that I’ll run out of homemade bacon before any ripen. Plus, the way it’s looking, my lettuce patch will have died off by then.

    I’m dry curing a pork shoulder in a mini-fridge at the moment. Obviously not as fatty as pork belly (more like prosciutto than pancetta, in terms of fat content at least), but it may be a suitable substitute for the bacon.

    Now my mind goes off on a tangent. I’m imagining a pressed sandwich with aioli, paper thin slices of cured shoulder, homegrown basil leaves, and semi-dried tomatoes. Not remotely a BLT, but I think I might make one anyway.

  • Samuel Fromartz

    I’m down with this. I’ve done it all, my only slight problem will be whether my tomatoes will come in while lettuce is still growing. Might be tough in August, but will try. Then getting a pork belly at the farmers’ market, hope they have it.

    As for the bread, a ciabatta? A sourdough boule? A baguette? Hum, I’m thinking… Any bread suggestions welcome, a brioche perhaps?

  • ruhlman

    Love this enthusiasm! basil ok? sure, any green you grow will suffice–was worried about the southern states and lettuce.

    and yes you must cure your own bacon and yes it is as easy as everyone says.

  • Vivian

    Awesome! Already planned on curing the bacon and have been contemplating doing the Bread Bakers Apprentice challenge. With garden showing signs of life I will be able to accomplish both challenges!

  • Rhonda

    Michael, this is a great idea.

    However, I’m out. I barter fresh veg from people who have gardens by giving them your books.

    The most intimidating aspect of this challenge is having Donna judge the photos. That in itself makes me want to run for cover. It is like being asked to cook for MPW (circa 1983).

    I am excited for all who enter though and I cannot wait to see the results.

    Good luck, everyone!

  • JoP in Omaha

    Man, this is so cool–what fun! Great idea, Ruhlman.

  • Lisa

    Damn, I’ve got tomatoes just starting to pop, a plethora of mesclun running amok, I make my own bread weekly, and mayo, well, that’s kid stuff. ;-) Never wanted to cure my own bacon before but now I’ve got something to prove. Cured piggy is the best piggy.

  • Matt

    i accept. tomatoes still to flower. lettuces died on the first run. incentive for round 2!

  • E. Nassar

    I so would’ve done this in the next week or so. The tomatoes (in Houston, TX) in my garden will have at least a few fruit by the next 2 weeks, I have homecured bacon in the fridge, I bake bread (wild and commercial yeast available in my fridge) once a week at least and making mayo is a favorite activity of mine. NOW, I have no lettuce in the garden (I think I pulled the last one out a few weeks back) and that’s the problem. I’ll think about growing some ASAP if I cannot locate some random leaves that are still in the ground.

  • corey

    damn, should’ve grown lettuce this year!

    another good challenge idea: reubens from scratch! corned beef, sauerkraut, rye, thousand island… everything but the cheese (unless someone wants to get real fancy).

  • Matt

    It just so happens that I keep a can of ‘whoop-ass’ in my pantry for challenges like this. :) Curing my own bacon will be a new challenge, but pretty cool. Any extra points for serving it with a homebrew?

  • John Patterson

    I never made it as straight as the recipe goes but they give you the information you need to have a solid base. I play around from the base and add my own flavors. Currently I am curing a Chipolte and Orange Blossom Honey Bacon that will be smoked with Pear wood. It is actually VERY easy to do. The hardest part for me was obtaining the Pink salt. I had to drive a extra few miles to a different meat market to obtain it as my local guy did not have any. All of my past bacon’s have come out much better than super market bacon. They do not take as much effort, money or skill as you would think…It is about 10% as intimidating as you would think it was.

  • Ricky

    Man…I am tempted. I do love BLT’s. How about I buy some hens and throw a fried egg on top? Seriously…

  • Marlene

    I’m in. Thank goodness it won’t be till later in the summer as we won’t get tomatoes here until then. Asuming mine grow this year. I’m a dismal failure at tomato growing.

    I had planned to make bacon for the first time this summer anyway, and I always make bread and my own mayo. Guess I’d better plant some lettuce. Not something I eat normally. :)

  • John Patteson

    Nurit, May I suggest a book called “Charcuterie”….

    It is a wonderful book written by a Mr. Ruhlman with Chef Brian Polcyn.
    :)

  • Austin Val

    Lettuce doesn’t grow in Central Texas in the summer–it’s too hot. Would basil be an allowable substitution?

  • kakaty

    Okay – so I made my own mayo after you posted about it (two broken attempts with a whisk, one great attempt with the KA mixer). Right now I have pizza dough resting in my fridge ready for the grill tonight after reading your recent post.

    I’ve got 6 types of heirloom tomatos and two varities of lettuce growing in the back yard (all purchased from loacal growers at the NS Farmer’s Mkt in Shaker Square). I can make a mean bread and would be willing to try wild yeast. I already make my own butter from Snowville Creamery Cream. But do I really want to cure my own bacon?? The West Side Market has such nice bacon vendors. Can’t I just buy local on that part??

  • Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food.

    Oh, boy, this is too much. I didn’t notice the “wild yeast” part before and then *Donna* will choose the best photos… Suddenly curing a bacon – which I have no clue about – sounds easier… OK, so, since I never in my life was intersted in curing pork, where is a good place to start? recipe? book?

  • Carrie

    It’s so on!! I’ve never dealt with a wild yeast, so I have lots of exciting firsts coming this summer. I’m sure I can convince the hubs to carve out a spot for lettuce in the garden – if not I’ll get a planter going on the porch.

    StumptownSavoury, you’re killing me today!! My husband brews beer as a hobby, so now I’m thinking about prodding him into a nice crisp summer brew.

  • Ryan

    Okay, count me in. Curing belly is easy, it’s the bread making and vegtable growing that scares me. Time to face my fears!

  • John Patteson

    I have Marglobe Tomatoes growing, I have Arugula as my only salad leafs growing in the garden, I have a Chipolte Bacon curing right now and I am thinking of a Aleppo and Lime Mayo.

    I don’t bake unless I have to. Maybe I can come up with something. I think between a Pizza Bianco alla Roma.

  • Badger

    Wait! Is locally grown (purchased at the neighborhood farmers market) produce acceptable? I AM growing tomatoes and lettuce, but the garden is sucking this year — tomatoes not setting fruit, lettuce infested with caterpillars and other critters. I am down with the curing, baking, mayonnaising, etc.!

  • Rene

    Challenge accepted. Tomatoes have begun to flower giving me enough time to cure bacon, plant and grow lettuce.

    What a delicious idea.