Baldwin County's Baron of Bacon

Perfectly bred pigs, subtle ingredients and moonlit serenades build the best bacon

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
Gulf Coast Media
Posted 9/21/22

As the Alabama sky turns pink, then crimson, and soon fades to stars, William E. Stitt retreats into the darkness.

A local band floats guitar riffs through the night air while Stitt fills it with …

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Baldwin County's Baron of Bacon

Perfectly bred pigs, subtle ingredients and moonlit serenades build the best bacon

Posted

As the Alabama sky turns pink, then crimson, and soon fades to stars, William E. Stitt retreats into the darkness.

A local band floats guitar riffs through the night air while Stitt fills it with the aroma of what might just be the world’s best bacon. That is, according to local devotees whose burgers, breakfasts and lunchtime sandwiches will only be touched by that bacon which Stitt has crafted.

The process of smoking and curing, and often singing to the slabs of meat, is one that is akin to therapy, Stitt says. Hidden in the back of his namesake restaurant on Highway 181 in Fairhope, Stitt crafts a culinary masterpiece that has lured followers from across the nation to stop in for a burger topped with the juicy pink meat and been named one of the top three bacons in North America by myrecipes.com.

It is a dream he has been chasing since childhood.

As a teen Stitt and his brother, both Eagle Scouts, were taught to navigate life by their dad’s simple philosophy: learn a little about everything. And they did. When the brothers showed an interest in a trade or topic, their dad found them an expert to learn from, gifting the boys a childhood of exploratory learning that Stitt calls, “simply awesome.”

Before they were sent to college their father also required them to learn a trade. Any trade. And make it something, he said, that you love.

Stitt loved food, especially grilling steaks. His father found an old school butcher in Yazoo County, Mississippi, deep in the heart of the coastal state. There Stitt spent much of his senior year learning the art of butchering. And just before he headed to college, the man gave Stitt the secret to his success. He taught him to make bacon the way his grandaddy did before him.

Still, it would take three years, lot of tinkering and a few lessons in hog breeding to make it perfect.

Stitt headed to Ole Miss after learning the secret of handmade bacon and became a chef where he spent time researching bacon. Later as a quality team member at Ruby Tuesday’s improving the chain’s bacon was always part of the conversation.

When he opened Bill-E’s in 2011, formally known as Old 27 Grill, Stitt could often be found late at night, in the back, singing and smoking his small batches of bacon.

Now, the bacon is what the restaurant is known for. Locals snap the hand-crafted slabs, wrapped in its signature brown paper, off grocery shelves when they spot it. Stitt is the reigning bacon king, though the title comes not with a life of ease but rather the non-stop hustle of managing both the bacon business and the restaurant.

What makes Stitt’s bacon not just better, but the winner of titles locally, regionally and nationally?

Stitt doesn’t just make bacon. He massages and manages the process from the moment his bacon is born.

If you are lucky enough to meet Stitt, you might hear him say, "When Berkshire red pigs and Chantilly white pigs get together. Magic happens." That magic is the moment Bill-E’s bacon is created.

Stitt buys his pork bellies from three farms in Southern Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. There, the specific types of pigs he prefers are bred and raised without hormones or growth antibiotics. They are happy pigs, treated kindly and fed correctly.

Once he receives the pork bellies the entire process is completed by hand, in small batches. Large bacon producers buy the meat in bulk and use machines to slice and press the strips and then spray with liquid smoke.

Bill-E’s bacon is crafted through a slower, more intentionally process. It is cut by hand, seasoned by Stitt, cured for eight days and serenaded by Stitt for good measure.

The result is bacon that can serve as a center of plate premium protein, much like a steak or cut of chicken.

“I always said, ‘how can we use pork belly as the main dish’,” Stitt said. “I feel like that’s where we landed. Some companies, their target is to have a specific spice or flavor but when you have that sometimes you totally forget you are eating pork.”

Stitt says diners need to “clear their mind of expectations,” before they sit down to a serving of Bill-E’s.

“My bacon is kind of hammy, in a positive way,” he says. “It’s hard to get crisp because it’s a great piece of protein. It has the texture of ham and is thicker than most bacons.”

“This is going to be a totally different experience than any other bacon you get,” he says.

You can ask what he uses for flavor, but all Stitt will tell you is pink salt and brown sugar from the finest molasses in the South. The rest is a secret.

"I could tell you the exact portions of my curing ingredients but then I’d have to eat you,” he says.

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