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What is Bacon?

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Sliced Bacon

Sliced Bacon

Photo by cyclonebill [flickr]

Bacon is the salt cured and smoked meat from the side of pork or pork belly. There are many varieties of bacon depending on the cut of meat and method used to prepare it.

Bacon fat sets bacon apart from other pork products. The fat lends flavor, a crisp texture, and intense richness. Ideally, bacon should be comprised of one half to two thirds fat. Although a majority of the fat melts away during the cooking process, it can be reserved and used for a variety of purposes.

Bacon Varieties

  • Side Bacon – Traditional American bacon is also known as side bacon because the meat is cut from the side of the pig, or pork belly. This bacon usually has the rind (skin) removed and is cut into slices. Thin sliced bacon contains approximately 35 slices per pound, whereas thick sliced bacon has about 16 to 20 strips per pound. This bacon is often smoked and may also be flavored with ingredients like brown sugar, maple syrup, or black pepper.

  • Slab Bacon – Slab bacon is side bacon that has not been sliced and usually has the rind intact. Slab bacon is often diced and rendered down to add flavor to soups, stews, and sauces. Slab bacon usually sells for a lower price than sliced side bacon. The rind should be removed prior to cooking and can be used for other purposes like to make cracklings.

  • Pancetta – This Italian version of bacon is usually rolled and then sliced thinly or cubed for use in soups, stews, and sauces. Although never smoked, pancetta is often flavored with herbs and spices such as nutmeg, fennel, garlic, or pepper.

  • Canadian Bacon – Canadian bacon, or "back ham" as it is known in Canada, is a lean cut of smoked pork that is more like regular ham than traditional American bacon. Canadian bacon is cut from the eye of round (center back), rather than the fatty side or pork belly.

  • Peameal – Peameal is another type of Canadian bacon also cut from the center back of pork. Peameal differs from regular Canadian bacon in that it is brined (or pickled) rather than smoked. Traditionally, peameal was coated in ground yellow peas although today yellow cornmeal is used instead.

Bacon Fat

Bacon fat is highly prized for its distinct flavor and silky texture, particularly in the south where it is used heavily in cooking. Bacon fat, or “drippings”, can be collected and reserved for use at a later time. The fat solidifies at room temperature and is often used like lard or vegetable shortening to flavor biscuits, cornbread, and dressings. Bacon is often wrapped around other meats so that the fat will self-baste the dish during cooking.

Bacon Flavored Products

Bacon’s salty flavor, crispy texture, and heady aroma have earned it an unparalleled popularity and cult following. Bacon and bacon flavoring has been finding its way into a wide spectrum of unorthodox foods, including candy and liquor.

  • Bacon Bits – Real bacon bits are small pieces of cooked bacon that have been preserved and dried. They are a popular, convenient way to add bacon flavor to a variety of foods.

  • Imitation Bacon Bits – These are most often made from dried and flavored pieces of vegetable protein. Imitation bacon bits offer the added convenience of room temperature storage.

  • Turkey Bacon – Turkey bacon is a popular alternative to bacon for those concerned with saturated fat content. Turkey bacon is prepared from lean turkey meat and is cured and smoked to create a similar flavor to pork bacon.

  • Bacon Flavored Salt – This bacon flavored salt allows consumers to add a touch of bacon flavor to any food without changing the texture or composition of a dish. Bacon salt has also become popular with those concerned about the fat and calorie content of bacon.

  • Baconnaise – Baconnaise has earned a cult following among bacon lovers. This bacon-flavored mayonnaise allows consumers to add a creamy bacon flavor to any food. Baconnaise is a one stop solution to the popular BLT sandwich.
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