Bacon is the perfect food. Fatty and rich, crispy, juicy, salty, smokey and truly delicious on everything. My favorite part about making bacon from scratch is that it’s such a simple process that yields an incredible transformation. For us, bacon is made up of great quality meat, salt, sugar, black pepper, real wood smoke, and time. Curing salt or sodium nitrite is optional, however, curing salts do improve the flavor, slow oxidation which is extremely detrimental to overall quality and prevent botulism; a serious food borne illness. Outside of your stance on nitrites, we can all agree that bacon is best treated in this exact way.
In 2021, however, there are so many varieties of bacon- turkey bacon, pork bacon, beef bacon, lamb bacon, back bacon, jowl bacon, cottage bacon, and more. What are the differences?
Pork Bacon- The American classic. Pork belly, often cured by pumping with liquid brine, and smoked prior to slicing and frying. At FFT, we dry cure the bacon and allow for drying time in between cold smoking periods. This concentrates the flavor and allows time for the smoke flavor to penetrate the meat. Also known as streaky bacon in the UK.
Turkey Bacon- a poor quality, chopped, glued and reformed imposter of the real deal pork treasure. I take no issue with turkey, nor any poultry, nor the idea that you could mimic the crispy, fatty bacon flavor that you desire. The part that I disagree with is the idea of chopping, gluing and reforming turkey to resemble the shape, texture and flavor of pork belly. If you’re looking for a pork free version of bacon, see beef bacon and lamb bacon below.
Beef Bacon- In my opinion, beef bacon is absolutely incredible and on-par with pork bacon. We make beef bacon out of the beef belly (navel), and process it the exact same way that we process pork bacon. There is one major difference though- beef fat melts at a higher temperature than pork fat which necessitates a different cooking method. The best way to cook beef bacon, in my opinion, is to bake the slices on a sheet tray at 200 for about 30 minutes, then crank the oven up to 500 until crispy; approximately 8 minutes or so. This method allows ample time to soften and render the fat, really develop the caramel like flavor of the smoked fat, and develop a more tender bite. Pan frying as you would pork bacon often results in a chewy bite.
Back Bacon- The UK classic. Back bacon is made up of pork loin that is often brined but can be dry cured as well. Typically, back bacon is unsmoked. I’d recommend baking back bacon vs. frying. Be sure to not cook the back bacon too long as it’s prone to drying out. Mangalitsa back bacon, however, has plenty of fat and will fare well with a quick pan sear/fry. We typically don’t stock back bacon but would be more than happy to make it as a custom order.
Jowl Bacon- My favorite bacon! We process jowl bacon in the exact same way that we process belly bacon but we use the cheek and jowl of the hog. Imagine bacon with a less greasy fat and somehow, more unctuous. Perfection.
Cottage Bacon- My favorite non-traditional bacon. We make cottage bacon out of boneless pork shoulders and cure with salt, sugar and black pepper with the addition of other flavorings such as thyme, garlic and juniper. The result is a more meaty bacon with the perfect amount of fat and a highly aromatic flavor. Cottage bacon is best cooked on a griddle until hot, but not crispy. Think of it as the most delicious ham ever made.
Sirloin Bacon- Similar to the belly and jowl bacon in preparation, but made from the pork sirloin. Pan sear this bacon, but be gentle. Sirloin is a lean cut and will overcook if you’re not careful.
Lamb Bacon- Lamb bacon is processed and prepared in the exact same way as beef bacon. The one major differentiator of lamb bacon is that the belly is much thinner than the belly of other species so the belly is rolled and tied prior to smoking and slicing. If this rarity is available, definitely grab some. Note: Lamb fat takes on a particularly caramelized flavor when slowwww roasted.
In summary, know that each bacon has a bit of a different flavor profile and needs a slightly different preparation. I hope that this simple guide can point you in the right direction for which bacon to choose, help you get better results, or simply encourage you to try something new.