Navy Bean Soup: Jowl What Now?

Happy 2013, fake food friends!

For my first meal of 2013, I had something SO un-blog worthy that I’m going to blog about it anyway. BECAUSE I CAN. 

I had a turkey sandwich (Boar’s Head, bitches. ON SALE.) with white cheddar cheese on toasted sourdough with Inglehoffer Sweet Hot Mustard (WHAT WHAT) and Duke’s mayo (best mayo ever, y’all).

…the standards of this blog have really sunk, huh. 

My first REAL meal of 2013 was something that I tried over the holidays and it went over gangbusters. If you’ll recall, Mom was on a whole “I don’t want to cook ever” kick, so she suggested I make some sort of soup for Christmas day lunch. Problem is: my dad hates soup. (WHAT!!!! HOW CAN ANYONE HATE SOUP!?!?) So, we had the following conversation:

Me: Ok, I’ll make soup. But what kind of soup would Dad eat?

Mom: Well, he doesn’t really like soup.

Me: …Yeah, I know… well, ok. Dad. What kind of soup would you eat on Christmas?

Dad: Soup? I hate soup.

…Yep… We finally settled on navy bean, which is, I dunno, less soupy than other soups? I made the soup the day ahead, so all the flavors could meld and I could focus on dinner on Christmas day. And Dad made some grilled cheese sammiches. Because my dad makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches evar. 

I got back from my folks’ on New Years Eve and went shopping for navy bean soup ingredients on New Years Eve. In North Carolina. In the South. On New Years Eve. There was nary a ham hock to be found. And I couldn’t figure out why. And then I realized that I was in North Carolina. Which is in the South. On New Years Eve. And everybody had scooped up the ham hocks because they were making their collard greens. 

Sidebar: I grew up in Florida, but Jacksonville is not the deep south by any means. So the first time I experienced the black eyed peas and collard greens thing was when I was maybe 8 or 10 and we were over to a friend’s house. She told us that it was tradition to put quarters in the collards for good luck. Is that a thing? It seems like a choking hazard to me. And the ones who are lucky are the ones who avoid the quarters.

I asked the Lady Butcher at Harris Teeter if they had any ham hocks and she told me no, but asked me what I was making. So I told her. And she said “hold on a second.” I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And I started wondering if I imagined that she’d said “hold on a second.” Did I dream it? Am I asleep right now? Is this the series finale of St. Elsewhere? Did anybody get that joke other than my dad?

Anyway, she finally came out and said “yeah, we’re out of ham hocks but you can use jowl bacon.”

Come again?

Jowl bacon, I was told, would work in place of my ham hocks. It was smoked. And she often fried it up with eggs. And you could only get it at Harris Teeter in January. And she often bought a ton of it up and froze it. Even though you could get it at the meat market. I got a LOT of information from this woman in a very short amount of time. 

Sponsored by Paula Dean

The only thing that was troubling is that I didn’t know what exactly a jowl was. And then I remembered something.

My friend Sarah had a baby about 6 weeks ago. Her name is Lana and I love her. She’s got these amazing cheeks. In fact, I very recently decided to start calling her The Cheeks because of her very yummy cheeks. A couple weeks ago, Sarah posted a picture of Lana, saying that older southern ladies referred to Lana’s cheeks as ‘jowls.’

And then I realized: jowls are just cheeks, y’all.

 A quick Google search confirmed this. And noted that jowl bacon is a very close relative of guanciale, the Italian unsmoked bacon made with jowls or cheeks. And I love guanciale. So I’m sure to love good ole fashioned American jowl bacon.

Having not tried the stuff before and being far too lazy to fry up a piece, I made a guess on how much to replace the ham hocks with based on my vast fake food knowledge and more googling. And it turned out pretty well. 

This soup is easy breezy, y’all. Not a whole lot of work to bring this together. It’s creamy, without having any cream in it. It’s filling and sticks to your ribs without a lot of meat.

There are two main differences between the jowl bacon vs. the ham hocks. 1. Because the ham hocks have the bone in (that’s what she said), they give a much deeper deeper flavor. The jowl bacon still brought the smoky ham flavor, but I’d take the ham hocks in the end. 2. Ham hocks have a lot of fat and very little meat. And the jowl bacon has a lot of fat. But more meat. So, you have more meat in the jowl bacon soup. 

I got an extra special treat because my friends Jenny and Ben dropped off a gift of homemade pretzels and homemade rice krispie treats (not pictured, but very delicious). The salty pretzel paired perfectly with the soup, especially for dipping (I did not dip the rice krispie treats in the soup). You can find the recipe here on Jenny’s bread blog chronicling all of Ben’s breadventures. Pancussion: A Regular Hit of Bread Experimentation

I’m gonna try the jowl bacon with eggs. Like Overly Informative Lady Butcher said. I might even make a JBLT: Jowl Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. 

If jowl bacon ain’t your thing, let me suggest you make friends with Lana. Cause those cheeks are the kind that anyone would want to nibble on.

…see what I did there…?


Navy Bean Soup, from 


  • 1 pound navy beans, picked over, rinsed and drained | I’m not exactly sure what I’m picking over. So I took out any beans that were really ugly (I’m judgmental) or split open.
  • 10 sprigs parsley
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 large smoked ham hocks, about 1 1/2 pounds | Or about ¾ lb. of jowl bacon! Heavy on the jowl! 
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped | I did 2 garlic cloves. Cause I like garlic. And I didn’t invite any vampires over.
  • 8 cups of cold water
  • 1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Butter for garnish | I didn’t think that this was necessary. But then I tried it. Adding the butter adds a smooth creaminess. Don’t think, just do.

Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes; remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for one hour. Drain and reserve. Tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf together with kitchen twine. 

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven combine the beans, herb bundle, hocks, onions, and garlic with the water. Bring to a boil, cover, and adjust the heat so the soup cooks at a gentle simmer. Cook until the beans and hock are completely tender, about 1½ hours.

Turn off the heat and remove the hocks. Cool slightly. Remove the meat from the hocks, discarding the bones, fat, and skin. (If using jowl bacon, remove the fat as well. Cause it’s gross.) Cut the meat into small cubes. Remove the herb bundle and discard.

Puree about 3 cups of the beans with some of the liquid in a blender. (I used an immersion blender.) For a smoother soup puree all the beans. Stir the puree and diced meat into the soup. Heat the soup and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper.

Pour into heated bowls, place a small pat of butter on top of each soup, and serve.


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