Brussels sprouts and bacon are like mac and cheese, or chili and cornbread, or cookies and milk. Which is to say they’re meant to be together. We love this recipe as a festive holiday side (for Thanksgiving, Christmas, you name it). It’s also great any old day of the week: Soft-boiled eggs and a crusty baguette turn it into a quick but hearty dinner; or you could toss the whole thing with hot pasta (8 ounces of any short shape, like rigatoni or penne, to feed 2 to 4 people).
This fall, our test kitchen set out to create its ultimate version. Here’s how we made our Brussels sprouts with bacon stand out from the rest:
First, we opted for an oven approach versus stovetop. If you’re like us, a sheet pan is (a lot!) bigger than any skillet you own, which is important here for one big reason: browning. If you cooked these many Brussels sprouts on the stove, you’d have to sauté in batches to avoid overcrowding and steaming, which is a bit fussier than we’d like. A sheet pan lets the Brussels sprouts stretch out as much as they want (caramelization, ahoy!), and you can cook them in one go.
That said, we aren’t actually cooking the Brussels sprouts first. Before they hit the sheet pan, the bacon gets to cook for a few minutes in the oven. This head start encourages fat to render, creating a flavorful base for the sprouts. It also gives the pan a chance to heat up, which means better browning. Note: This step yields crispy-crunchy bacon; if you want softer, chewier bacon, simply toss the bacon with the Brussels sprouts and other ingredients.
Now about those other ingredients: Both yellow onion and garlic underscore this dish’s savory vibe. Freshly ground black pepper and chile flakes add some spicy input (and, yes, you can skip the chile flakes if you want). Maple syrup adds just enough sweetness (don’t get us started on how tight maple syrup and bacon are together). Finally—and this one may seem a little surprising—apple cider vinegar. Besides its apple-y autumnal spirit, this ingredient also makes everything else pop. Think of when you add a log to a fireplace and embers start flying up the chimney.
This dish is great served hot, of course. It’s also wonderful at room temperature, if that makes your holiday or dinner easier to plan. Leftovers aren’t ideal, since sprouts get soggy in the fridge, but we have a feeling you won’t run into this issue. —Emma Laperruque
Test Kitchen Notes
This is one of Food52’s Best Recipes. In this series, our test kitchen sets out to create the ultimate version of your favorite recipes. Let us know on the Hotline if there's one you'd love to see next. —Food52
4 as a side (or 2 as a main)
thick slices bacon, chopped into 1-inch pieces
Brussels sprouts, halved
medium to large yellow onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
Add the bacon to a sheet pan and roast for 5 minutes.
While the bacon is roasting, add the Brussels sprouts, onion, garlic, olive oil, maple syrup, salt, and pepper to a mixing bowl. Toss to combine.
After the bacon has been in the oven for 5 minutes, remove the sheet tray and add the Brussels sprout mixture. Use a spatula to carefully toss, then arrange the Brussels sprouts so they’re evenly spread out and facing flat side-down.
Roast the Brussels sprouts for 20 to 30 minutes—shuffling the sprouts with a spatula and rotating the sheet pan halfway through—until the bacon is crisp and the Brussels sprouts are tender and beginning to char. Drizzle with maple syrup, carefully toss again, then return to the oven for another few minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts are as crispy as you like them.
As soon as you pull the sheet pan from the oven, drizzle the Brussels sprouts with apple cider vinegar and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Toss, taste (watch out, it’s hot!), and adjust the salt, spice, and vinegar as needed.
This is great served hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.