If you’re looking for a pork-free or meat-free alternative to replace the bacon in your Cobb salads or BLT sandwiches, then eggplant is an option absolutely worth exploring. While this isn’t an exact replica of bacon, it still has crispy edges and chewy centers, and that beloved smoky-sweet flavor. Japanese eggplants are the top choice because of their long, bacon-like shape. If you don’t have liquid smoke on hand, the smoked paprika and ground chipotles could provide similar smokiness. An oven-safe wire rack is a good tool for a lot of tasks (like cooking evenly crispy chicken wings or vegetables in an oven), and especially helpful here: It allows more efficient drying by providing better air circulation, leading to a crispier texture. If you don’t own a wire rack, line a sheet pan with foil. Halfway through cooking, use a pair of tongs or a spatula to carefully flip the eggplant slices and continue to cook until evenly browned on both sides.
For what it’s worth, there is absolutely no benefit to salting the eggplant prior to cooking for this recipe. It does help reduce water loss through osmosis, but in my testing it did not reduce the average cook time. With respect to the bitterness in eggplant, most eggplant varieties are bred for reduced bitterness. And since salt does not remove bitter-tasting substances, but rather masks their taste, salting in advance of cooking or right beforehand (as we’ll do here) provides the same benefit.
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 55 minutes
- Serves 4
Japanese eggplants or 1 globe eggplant
extra-virgin olive oil
liquid smoke (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt (fine sea salt also works)
- Heat the oven to 325°F.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the eggplant lengthwise into slices 5 millimeters thick (a bit thinner than ¼ inch).
- In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, liquid smoke (if using), maple syrup, paprika, chipotle, and black pepper.
- Brush each side of the eggplant with the olive oil mixture and season generously with salt.
- Place oven-safe wire racks over two sheet pans. (If you don’t have an oven-safe wire rack, see the Author Notes.) Spread out the eggplant slices on the racks. Bake for 35 to 55 minutes, rotating the pan after 20 minutes, until the eggplant turns light brown and crisp at the edges, with slightly tender centers. Check in frequently toward the end: If the eggplant starts to turn dark and burn, remove it from the oven, or lower the temperature if it needs more time to cook.
- When the eggplant is done, transfer it to another wire rack to cool slightly. Eggplant “bacon” is best eaten warm, and can be rewarmed at 300°F if needed.