FARGO-There are few words more powerful in the food world than bacon - at least, among carnivores. Just saying the word out loud in a crowd can elicit a jumble of excitement, with necks craning and nostrils flaring, everyone wondering, "Where's the bacon?"

This was a question we heard often earlier this month at North Dakota's Banquet in a Field, where we served Candied Bacon as one of the dozen or so appetizers inspired by North Dakota crops and livestock. This appetizer debuted at the 2015 banquet, and was so popular that the North Dakota Pork Council asked us to bring it back again this year.

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We have to give fair warning to all of our bacon-loving readers: Candied bacon, when consumed in excess or without adequate supervision, can be highly addictive. And the fact that it is beyond simple to make doesn't help much on that front, I'm afraid. All you'll need is a package of bacon, some brown sugar and a bit of cayenne pepper to create one heck of an appetizer for your next party.

To get started, mix 1 cup of brown sugar (either light or dark) with a ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. The heat from the pepper is present but gentle, and serves as a great complement to the salty sweetness of the candied bacon. Once the sugar and pepper are well combined, toss each slice of bacon in the mixture and then transfer to a baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture evenly over each piece until all used.

For best results, we bake our bacon over a wire cooling rack placed on a baking sheet, which helps the sugary fat render off cleanly instead of pooling up around each piece of bacon. A broiler pan would also yield the same effect.

If neither option is available to you, you could also minimize the clean-up effort by lining a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and then drain the cooked bacon briefly over paper towels upon removal from the oven.

Bake the bacon in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the fat is rendered from the bacon and the sugar has melted. The bacon should be crispy-chewy, but not crunchy. After eight minutes, check every two minutes until done to prevent burning. When done, remove from oven and cool until ready to serve. Candied bacon can be served warm or at room temperature, and will last in the refrigerator for several days.

At the banquet, we served our candied bacon plain, in whole strips, and made over 300 slices so that everyone attending could have at least two pieces. Not a single piece was left by the end of the pre-dinner appetizer social. When we entertain at home, I like to cut the pieces in half so I can fit them on a smaller serving platter, and today we're sharing some other great ways to showcase this easy-to-make, crowd pleasing appetizer.

For an elegant buffet arrangement, you can create bacon lollipops by weaving wooden skewers through each slice, and then place the skewers in an edible base like a baguette, apple or melon.

For brunch parties, serve Bloody Mary cocktails garnished with a slice of candied bacon and pickled veggies.

Jazz up a salad with candied bacon bits, or, for a crunchy snack, sprinkle sunflower seeds, soy nuts or chopped pecans over each slice of candied bacon immediately upon removing from the oven.

However you choose to serve candied bacon, whether it's in a field, on a platter, or a stick, one thing is for sure: if you say "bacon," they will come.

Banquet in a Field Candied Bacon

Ingredients

1 package bacon, thick-sliced or regular

1 cup brown sugar, light or dark

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (use less or more as desired)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a wire cooling rack, parchment paper or aluminum foil; set aside. A broiler pan may also be used.

In a large bowl, mix the brown sugar and cayenne pepper until combined. Toss each slice of bacon in the mixture and then transfer to baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture evenly over each slice until gone.

Place the bacon on the oven's center rack and bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until the fat is rendered from the bacon and the sugar has melted. The bacon should be crispy-chewy, but not crunchy. After 8 minutes, check often to prevent burning. When done, remove from oven and cool until ready to serve.

Candied bacon can be served warm or at room temperature, and will last in the refrigerator for several days.

Serving tips

-- For easy handling, weave wooden skewers through candied bacon slices and place them in an edible base for serving, or wrap 2 pieces in a parchment sleeve and serve on a platter.

-- Use candied bacon as garnish for Bloody Mary cocktails or in salads.

-- For a crunchy snack, immediately upon removing from the oven, sprinkle bacon with sunflower seeds, soy nuts or chopped pecans.