If there’s something that can beat the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, then it has to be the smell of bacon sizzling on the pan. Bacon has been around for as long as man has started salting meats to preserve them. As a testament to bacon’s popularity, there is even vegetarian bacon, so that vegetarians can enjoy bacon without consuming meat. Aside from vegetarian bacon, there’s bacon ice cream, bacon chocolate, bacon bits, turkey bacon, Baconnaise, and even bacon salt! Proving once and for all that everything tastes better with bacon.
- The Chinese were the first ones to eat bacon more than 3,500 years ago.
- The average American eats 18 pounds of bacon every year.
- Different places in the world use different parts as bacon. In the United States, bacon is usually pork belly. In Canada, the loin is used. In the UK, shoulder and ham are used.
- Oscar Mayer patented the first packed, sliced bacon in 1924.
Bacon Buying Guide
You really can’t go wrong with buying any type of bacon.
But for those that are particular with their bacon, here are some variants that you can choose from.
Regular Bacon – This is your run of the mill factory produced bacon. Nothing special, it’s cut from the belly. It is Fairly cheap and tasty, plenty of preservatives and is usually machine processed, flavored and cut. This can come in many flavors like honey-cured (sweet), spicy, etc…
Canadian Bacon – Canadian bacon is usually made from pork loin, which makes it a lot less fatty than regular bacon. Unless purchased from a specialty store or a butcher, this can be factory produced as well.
Pancetta – Now things are getting interesting. Pancetta or Italian bacon is made from pork belly which is dry-cured, but not smoked, so it is still raw. The curing time for pancetta is a lot longer than bacon which imparts a much stronger taste to the bacon.
Guanciale – This is another Italian style bacon, but it is made from pork jowls or the cheek part. Just like pancetta, it is cured but not smoked. This is softer in texture and less salty than regular bacon or pancetta but it has a stronger and fattier bacon taste. It is hard to find guanciale outside of specialty shops or good butchers.
Slab Bacon – Slab bacon is usually found in good butcher shops. As the name implies, slab bacon is made from the whole belly slab. Slab bacon is usually wet-cured and smoked by the butcher using commercially grown pork. You can get your bacon sliced as thick or as thin as you want (or need). These are usually hand-cut to order.
Center-cut Bacon – Center cut, as the name states, is from the center portion of the pork belly. This gives the bacon a consistent ratio of lean meat to fat meat. This bacon is more “premium” and produces a lot of trimmings so it will cost a lot more.
Certified Organic and Artisan Bacon – This is the newest trend (and in our opinion, the best) of bacon. Organic and Artisan bacon use only farm-raised pigs, usually raised by the producer to ensure that their source of meat is organic and chemical-free. The bacon is cured and smoked using traditional methods, the best ingredients, and without the use of artificial preservatives. If you’re looking for the ultimate bacon experience, then this is the way to go.
“Other” Bacon – These are faux-bacon. Chicken Bacon, Turkey Bacon, Vegetarian Bacon and so on.
Bacon Production & Farming in Texas
Commercial Bacon Production:
Ninety-Seven percent of all bacon produced today is commercially produced and is machine injected with bacon “solution” which is made out of water, salt, sugar, flavorings, and preservatives.
After the pork bellies are injected, they are blast chilled to reduce the temperature and are tempered to stabilize the injected brine. After being chilled, they are machine pressed to form blocks or slabs which make it easier for them to be machine cut down the production line. Once cut, they are then vacuum sealed in clear plastic bags and trays for a more eye-catching appeal.
Note: Most commercial bacon that has a “smoked” flavor to them haven’t actually been smoked. Instead, liquid smoke or smoke flavoring has been added to the injection phase. The long smoking phase is no longer required as preservatives have already been pumped into the meat.
This is the reason why all of the bacon that you see in store shelves look so perfect and every slice looks the same.
Traditional and Artisan Bacon Production:
Traditional bacon is made through dry curing. The raw pork belly is first trimmed of any excess fat and shaped for easier slicing once the process is done. The pork belly is then rubbed with salt and other seasonings that impart the meat with flavor. Depending on the producer, this is left to cure for one to two weeks in a cure house so that the cure will draw out the moisture, and at the same time, the meat will absorb the seasoning.
After the curing stage, the meat is rinsed off to get rid of the excess seasoning on the surface and then cold smoked anywhere from 6-12 hours, depending on the smokiness the producer wants on the bacon. The wood used to cold smoke the bacon also imparts a unique flavor to the bacon.
Preservatives and Additives:
Here are some of the things that are injected into commercially produced bacon to speed up production and reduce cost.
- Sodium Nitrite – This is the world’s most used preservative. This is used to prevent botulism. This is weakly toxic, and to prevent accidental toxicity, this is dyed bright pink to avoid being mistaken for plain salt or sugar. That is why sodium nitrite is also known as “Pink Salt”.
- Some studies have shown Sodium Nitrite to be “probably carcinogenic” to humans.
- Sodium Ascorbate – This is a preservative that is used to prevent the meat from browning. It is relatively safe as it is just the sodium form of Vitamin C. People who are watching their sodium levels should be careful with processed food that contains sodium ascorbate.
- Sodium Phosphate – Sodium Phosphate is added to bacon to maintain freshness and to help the meat absorb the flavors injected into it. This also helps avoid spoilage of the product for extended shelf life.
- While the FDA has said that sodium phosphate is considered safe, people with certain conditions like kidney disease, intestinal blockage, colitis, and heart conditions may want to reduce their intake of products with sodium phosphate.
Commercially produced bacon is usually packed in clear plastic bags that are vacuum sealed for maximum shelf life. They are kept frozen or chilled at very low temperatures to keep them fresh the whole year-round.
Hand cut and artisan bacon is generally wrapped in cling film to keep it from absorbing other flavors in storage and then wrapped in greaseproof paper once they are sliced and purchased. Some artisan bacon producers also vacuum pack their products after slicing to maximize storage time.
Despite being cured and smoked, bacon still needs to be fully cooked before consumption.
Bacon still in their unopened vacuum-sealed packs can last in the fridge for up to a week and up to a month in the freezer. (Note that this only applies to traditional and artisanal bacon, as commercially produced bacon can last for a very long time in the freezer)
For opened bacon packs, you can repack them using a home vacuum sealer or at the very least a Ziploc bag with all the air pushed out of it. This will extend their shelf life in the fridge for a few more days or up to three weeks in the freezer.
There are a number of ways to cook bacon and we’re going to go over them one by one.
- Classic Method – This uses the tried and tested skillet over the stove method. Simply place your bacon on the cold pan, be careful not to overlap, then turn on the heat. Starting from a cold pan ensures that the bacon cooks evenly and all the fat will render out slowly.
- Oven Method – Use this method if you’re cooking bacon for a lot of people. Take a rimmed baking sheet and line it with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Lay out as much bacon you need without overlapping. Place the bacon laden baking sheet inside the cold oven and turn the heat up to 400 F and bake until the desired crispiness level is achieved. (Have you ever wondered how they cook mounds of bacon at a buffet? Well, this is the answer)
- Microwave – If you need a few pieces for a quick snack or to make some toppings, then the microwave method is the one to go for. Just take a microwave-safe plate, cover it with a couple of layers of paper towels, then lay the bacon pieces on the paper towels. Cover it with another couple of layers of paper towels and microwave on high for four to six minutes depending on the level of crispiness that you want.
As we have mentioned before, bacon can be used in a lot of applications. Bacon can be eaten as the main protein in the meal. It can be crushed and used to add flavor to salads (Caesar salads specifically, but any salad can use a bit of bacon). Bacon can also be candied for a sweet-savory snack. Bacon-wrapped dishes are also extremely popular, you can wrap anything with bacon and it’ll make for a very popular appetizer. Bacon has endless uses. Remember what we said at the start? Everything tastes better with bacon, and we weren’t kidding!