CHICAGO—Though once defined as just a  stand-alone meal, meat has risen quickly up the ranks to become the nation's second most popular condiment, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A pork chop tops a cheeseburger.

"In the past several years, meat's use as a way to enhance the flavor of foods has increased exponentially," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "Ketchup is still number one, but at the rate people are putting meat on top of other meats and foods, it may very well surpass it by 2010."

"American consumption habits have made meat a necessity just so people can notice that they're eating something," Johanns added.

Johanns cited the rise of bacon as a condiment as the most universal example of this trend. "By 2015, our researchers predict bacon alone will supplant condiments as diverse as mustard and Worcestershire sauce," Johanns said. "Crumbled 'bacon bits' are a classic addition to salads, and in recent years, slabs of bacon are increasingly used to wrap vegetables, fruits, and seafood. Adding bacon as a topping to cheeseburgers is old news, but now we are seeing bacon-topped meatloaf, bacon-covered chicken wings, and deep-fried, bacon-wrapped bacon sprinkled on pork chops."

Fast-food restaurants have led the charge in pioneering the new trend, Agriculture Department food chemist and study co-author Lynn Starck said. "McDonald's discovered years ago that people aren't really looking for some kind of spicy sauce to top their sandwiches," Starck said. "Quite frankly, what they really want to pile on their hamburger patty is another hamburger patty."

Mayonnaise—a mixture of egg and oil—was one of the original condiments, premiering in the 18th century and growing in popularity as diners sought toppings with flavors nearly as powerful as the food beneath them. According to the report, this growth will continue into the next century, with such new innovations as smearable beef packets, kielbasa chutney, and squeeze-bottled chicken.

Pureéd-steak pump-action dispensers are already a staple at condiment stations across the country, as an estimated 79 percent of fast-food patrons now dip their fries not just into ketchup, but into meat in one of its liquid forms.

High-end restaurants are also getting in on the act, with tuxedoed waiters now offering freshly ground steak tartare and a lightly seasoned pork mixture along with the more traditional black pepper at every table.

"In many restaurants, they'll 'meat up' almost any plate on the menu, even vegetarian ones, with an entire steak drooping over the top, at the customer's request," Starck said. "Bologna sherbet and ham brulée are also just two of the hot new condiment-based desserts we're seeing more and more of."

Kraft Foods, makers of Jell-O, are expected to release their highly anticipated pudding cups with dried veal sprinkles in November, and Baskin-Robbins is experimenting with diced frozen frankfurters and gelatinous pork orbs as toppings for their many flavors of ice cream.

Celebrity chefs such as Bobby Flay have enthusiastically embraced the meat-condiment craze. "I've been dipping my onion rings in a mixture of stone-ground white cornmeal, fresh thyme, and lightly whipped bison meat for years now," Flay said. "A couple of years ago doing something like that would have gotten me kicked off my five TV shows. Now everybody's asking for the recipe."