22

In commercials and when I go to restaurants (even fast food!) the bacon that I get is a reddish brown color and seems to be mostly meat, or at least meat textured. However, when I buy bacon at the grocery store, it's inevitably almost all fat. It curls badly when cooked, creates a ton of grease, and never looks anything like what "professional" bacon does.

I've tried thin sliced, thick sliced, apple wood smoked, etc. , etc. and I always seem to have the same problem. I try to look through the packages and I can never find anything that has mostly meat (lots of white fat). Even when I find a pack that looks good, it seems like the few slices I can see are meaty, but the rest are again mostly fatty.

So, what is the secret? Where do restaurants get their perfect bacon? Do I need to ask the grocery meet department for a secret stash of pro bacon? Do I need to go out of my way to a special shop? Is there a name for what I'm looking for other than "bacon"?

I'm in the US, Texas. I know other countries have different ideas of what "bacon" is (right?).

  • 1
    As this is not the first question we get about bacon: Advice on how to prepare should go in cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/29776 and other preparation-specific questions. This one should stay for describing styles of bacon and their differences. – rumtscho Nov 29 '18 at 16:31
  • 1
    Well, my main concern is the look and feel of the bacon. Even coloring, consistent texture, and more meat content. I don't think it's only a cooking technique because of the amount of white gristly fat that I can't seem to avoid in store-bought bacon. If I'm way off base, an answer could be "You need to change your cooking techniques and that will solve your issues because...", but right now I feel like there is some "restaurant grade bacon" that I can't find. – JPhi1618 Nov 29 '18 at 16:52
  • 4
    @JPhi1618 I would definitely consider looking for local butchers, especially those that process for home farms and hunters. They will typically either smoke and cure themselves or work with a smokehouse and will tend to work with hand selected bellies. Curing will vary, so you may need to try more than one, The will often have sliced in the counter though so you can see exactly what you are getting and may well be using lighter curing and less artificial coloring and may well custom slice it for you to your desired thickness. It will come at a price, but that is to be expected. – dlb Nov 29 '18 at 19:47
  • 1
    How are you cooking it? If you cook it too fast, the fat won't have time to render, which will leave a lot of rubbery fat. The bacon your getting in the restaurant may appear more meaty because the fat is fully rendered. – cad Nov 29 '18 at 19:51
  • 1
    Co-incidentally Epicurious put up a video all about bacon today. I don’t think it answers your question, but you might find it interesting. – Spagirl Nov 29 '18 at 20:33
21

In the UK there are two main cuts of bacon.

There's "streaky bacon", which is cut from the pork belly. This is mostly what you get in the US.

There's also "back bacon" which is cut from the pork loin. This is generally more popular and is very much leaner than streaky bacon. In the US you call it "Canadian bacon".

You can also get "middle bacon" which is cut from both, i.e. a contiguous cut from belly to loin - a piece of streaky bacon and back bacon combined.

  • 4
    In the US, there is another cut typically called cottage bacon that is from shoulder. It is typically more fatty than back bacon, but far less than belly, or streaked as you would name it and has a consistency somewhat mid between the two, closer to meaty bacon than ham of back bacon. I have never seen it produced commercially, only at home and a few custom smoke houses. Here at least most back bacon tends to be cured like a semi-hard ham with little to no fat and used for things like pizza and breakfast sandwiches, not often as a side. We seem to have more of an addiction to bacon fat. – dlb Nov 29 '18 at 21:49
  • 1
    As well as streaky bacon and back bacon, there is also collar bacon and neck bacon (not sure if these last two are the same). – Ed Avis Dec 2 '18 at 16:45
16

More explicit answer for the USA: USDA says that bacon is not graded.

Is bacon inspected and graded?

All bacon found in retail stores is either USDA inspected for wholesomeness or inspected by State systems that have standards equal to the Federal government. Each animal, from which the bacon is made, is inspected for signs of disease. The "Inspected and Passed by USDA" seal ensures the bacon is wholesome.

Bacon is not graded.

10

I am going to say that in most cases, labels like premium, artisan, etc. are marketing gimmicks. I do not know of any labeling rules that will tell you a given bacon is from a better quality pork belly than another. But, there is certainly a difference, and cheap bacon is just that, cheap and been made from the cheapest pork bellies obtained in mass. In general, they come from large hogs that are fatty and have little lean in their bellies. Meatier bacon, more lean tends to be from younger animals which are less economical for mass producers so will cost much more and tend to go to restaurants at a higher price. Family restaurants like breakfast houses will mostly use common bacon, and the will also tend to oven prep it as offered in comments which allows for more even cooking, cooking in quantity and controlling curling.

If you want leaner, that is with a higher amount of muscle tissue, that is what typically the windows on bacon packs are for, taking a look. The cheaper, mass produced will seldom be high meat content though. The specialty (read expensive) ones will have a better shot at lower percentage of fat. If however you find a butcher shop, especially one that cures and smokes their own meats, that is when you will likely find bacon that has been made from hand selected bellies with the highest muscle content.

I have been lucky in that local stores have started carrying raw pork bellies, so I make my own and can hand pick my own bellies and get the meat content I want. One thing you should know though, if you go over a certain level, some people do not like the results. At the highest level of muscle, the bacon can start to be too lean for many people's taste and start to become tough. More muscle content can sometimes also increase the tendencies to curl as well because the muscle can contract more during cooking than the fat. Again, going to the oven might be the easiest approach to reducing this.

  • 5
    "windows on bacon packs" are in my experience strategically abused to show all meat and no fat. There are probably whole departments that design ways to push as much meaty parts into that window. Similar gimmick to "artisan" label. – aaaaaa Nov 29 '18 at 17:52
  • 3
    @aaaaaa The windows on the back of commercially packed bacon Is in no way strategically abused. – Cindy Nov 29 '18 at 18:10
  • 2
    I've certainly seen cases of window to bacon alignment that made it look like a better cut than it really was. I won't go so far as to say it's intentional, but it does happen on certain package styles. – JPhi1618 Nov 29 '18 at 19:37
  • 9
    @aaaaaa Sorry, I didn't mean it to sound sarcastic. I should have elaborated. What I was aiming at is that in most commercial production the process is automated. And while some of the windows are larger than others, what you can see is just what happens to land there. – Cindy Nov 29 '18 at 20:12
  • 2
    In addition to the ovens used at restaurants, many fast food joints cook their bacon in a press, which renders the fat quicker and prevents curling. You can get a similar effect at home using a bacon press like this one: amazon.com/Norpro-8-75-Inch-Bacon-Press-Handle/dp/B0000DDVV9 – Wolfgang Nov 30 '18 at 14:12
3

The bacon you see on tv has been cooked. Once you cook the fatty bacon you can buy, you will see that it is pretty uniformly brown. If you cook it correctly that is, so it's crisp, and don't just try to microwave it or something :-)?

You're assuming that fat is bad. In meats at least, it's the primary vector of flavor. You're not in any case generally meant to keep ALL the fat thrown off in the cooking process for the rest of the dish. People frequently drain bacon which will be eaten separately on a paper towel on a plate, for instance.

So test bacons out, see what level of additives you can stand, personally I prefer mine uncured, not a legal term but usually means nitrate-free. But don't try to pick by eyeballing the fat content, that's if anything counter-productive.

1

In my experience, 'center-cut' bacon tends to have a much higher meat/fat ratio than major brand bacon. It's also more expensive.

1

"Irish" Bacon is made from the back of the pig, not the pork belly; it's much leaner, but hard to find in Minneapolis where I live.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.