If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a bacon lover.
With the average American consuming 18 pounds of bacon per year, it’s definitely one of the most popular cuts of meat. But just how much do you know about the different types of bacon?
Ready to try something new? Let’s take a look at what’s available as well as some novel bacon alternatives and flavoring ideas.
What you need to know about bacon
Let’s start with the basics, what actually is bacon?
Bacon is typically salt-cured pork belly. While it can, in theory, be made from any animal, including duck or beef, pork is renowned for its high fat content, which makes great traditional bacon.
You can make bacon with other cuts of pork, veering more toward the sides and loin, which results in different bacon types. You can also change how your bacon is cured and add a variety of different flavorings.
This can make two bacon types markedly different from one another, so if you’ve not tried them all yet, you really should get tasting, you may come across a new favorite.
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, eating bacon actually has some health benefits – so now you have the perfect excuse!
Read more – The best mail-order bacon companies
Types of Bacon
Bacon can vary significantly in terms of flavor, texture and common recipes. Here’s our selection of the most popular bacon types.
1. Streaky bacon
Streaky bacon, also known as American bacon or side bacon, is the regular bacon you’ll find in pretty much every store.
It generally comes from the fattier belly of the animal and consists of around one part meat to three parts fat. Hence its name, streaky bacon, due to the long layers of fat that run parallel to its rind.
Streaky bacon is often injected with a mixture containing salt and sodium nitrate to cure it. However, you can also find varieties that are dry cured with a dry rub, or left to marinate in a curing solution. After being cured, the bacon is then smoked, if required, and sliced thinly.
Thanks to its high fat content, streaky bacon crisps up well when cooked, which is ideal if you like crispy bacon sandwiches. It also works well with most dishes that can accommodate its strong flavor and firm texture.
We have a guide to smoking your own bacon at home, which you can easily slice into streaky bacon.
2. Back bacon
More common in the UK and Canada, back bacon comes from the leaner pork loin cut, giving it a much higher meat to fat ratio.
Think of it as taking your standard tenderloin or loin roast pork cuts and then curing them as you would do for streaky bacon, before slicing finely.
Back bacon tends to be cut a little thicker and has a chewier texture than streaky bacon. Although it is more commonly unsmoked, there are also a variety of smoked versions available.
If you are looking for a meatier type of bacon, then try out back bacon next time you stock up at your butchers, or you could even try making your own bacon at home.
3. Collar bacon
Collar bacon isn’t as easy to come by nowadays, although it was once a staple for many families.
It comes from the shoulder cut of pork, which gives it a darker color and stronger flavor. While shoulder meat is leaner than the belly, it does still have some marbling running through it for moisture and flavor.
If you’d like to try this traditional bacon cut but can’t find any near you, you can try your luck with mail order meat companies and order it online. Or, you could always purchase a full collar and make your own. Thanks to its full flavor and firm texture, it makes an excellent bacon for sandwiches and pasta dishes alike.
Jowl bacon comes from cured and smoked pig’s cheeks.
An often forgotten cut, pig’s cheeks make excellent bacon and are a popular staple of soul food. Rich in flavor, with just enough fat for taste and texture, pork jowl bacon is an excellent choice fried and eaten as a breakfast meat or on a sandwich.
Traditionally served with leafy green vegetables, it is also good chopped up as a garnish or used as a binding ingredient in pork liver sausages.
Lardons are small strips of fatty bacon.
They are used in many classic French dishes such as coq au vin, beef bourguignon and quiche Lorraine, but you can add them to any dish you feel would benefit from their salty flavor and chunky texture.
If you can’t find any lardons locally, simply purchase some slab bacon and slice into 1/4 inch chunks.
Use them in salads, pasta dishes and omelettes, or try them with potato dishes and grilled vegetables. They really are truly versatile and go with pretty much anything.
Pancetta is an Italian version of cured pork belly.
Whereas bacon is usually smoked, pork belly for pancetta is salt-cured then dried. Pancetta can be consumed raw, usually finely sliced, or it can be wrapped around meat or vegetables and then cooked.
You can also add cooked cubed pancetta to soups, sauces and pasta dishes where it’s meaty, salty flavor adds taste and depth.
Speck originally comes from Europe, more specifically from Northern Italy, Austria and Switzerland. It appears similar to classic bacon in that it is a thinly sliced cured pork cut, but it also has plenty of differences.
For a start, speck comes from the leg rather than the belly, and therefore contains a higher percentage of muscle. This cut, from the boned, opened up and flattened leg, gives speck its characteristic elongated, narrow slices.
Speck is brined, smoked and air-dried, resulting in a cured meat that is finely sliced and eaten raw. Enjoy it wrapped around fruits, in sandwiches or salads, or as part of an antipasti platter.
Speck has a strong flavor, a relatively firm texture and an immediately recognizable dark color, with a good percentage of meat to fat. This makes it instantly recognizable from other similar bacon-style delicacies such as pancetta.
8. Smoked and flavored bacon
Bacon is often smoked with different types of wood chips for extra flavor.
Hickory is a popular choice for its sweet yet strong smoky flavor, while maple has a mild, sweeter flavor. You’ll find different varieties available in most stores, or you could smoke your own.
Aside from smoking, adding flavorings to bacon during the curing process is a common way to impart an extra taste dimension, without overwhelming the taste of the bacon itself.
You can also make your own flavored bacon by adding spices and other ingredients to your bacon before cooking.
Here’s some of our favorites to try at home:
- Brown sugar and pepper
- Honey with a sprinkling of chipotle
- Maple syrup and chilli glazed bacon
Simply coat your bacon before cooking and enjoy some new flavor sensations.
9. Non-pork bacon
If you don’t eat pork, or you just fancy trying something new, bacon made from other animals is well worth a try.
Beef bacon is often touted as being fairly similar. However, while it looks the part, it does have an undeniably “steak-like” flavor. Something which can make for great sandwiches.
Aside from beef, here are some other pork bacon alternatives.
- Turkey – reconstituted turkey meat, formed into rashers.
- Duck – duck breast strips, finely sliced with plenty of fat left on.
- Salmon – a good alternative for a sandwich or bagel, but salmon “bacon” really has very little in common with your standard bacon slice.
- Dulse – this seaweed is marketed as having a strong bacon flavor, however, the jury is really out on this one. It is, however, a good source of protein and has a high nutritional value.
We could have also covered the various different types of meat-free bacon, but since this is a barbecue website, we figured none of the people reading this would be interested in vegan bacon!
Other bacon factors to consider
When choosing bacon, it’s not just the type you need to consider.
Should you opt for cured or dry-cured bacon? And what about the thickness?
In this section, we help you decide which is best.
Cured vs dry-cured bacon
Which one do you go for? Of course, this often depends on your personal preference, but first, let’s take a look at what these terms actually mean.
Curing is simply a way of preserving meat. The main types of curing are wet and dry curing.
While the differences in the end result are not really that visible, they can have huge implications for your bacon’s texture and flavor.
- Wet curing – wet cured bacon is basically brined. The bacon sits in a mixture of water, salt and seasonings. This helps to preserve your bacon, as well as adding a mild flavor and helping it to retain its moisture.
- Dry curing – dry cured bacon is renowned for its stronger flavors. The bacon is rubbed with a blend of seasoning ingredients, then left to sit in its own juices, without any added water.
If you enjoy strong, flavorsome bacon that crisps up well, then go for the dry cured variety.
On the other hand, if you prefer milder flavored bacon that remains moist and juicy, we recommend opting for a wet cured brand.
A standard slice of bacon is around 1/16th of an inch thick.
You can also find thick-cut bacon that is around twice the thickness of a regular slice. If you are looking for bacon to add to a hearty, slow-cooked dish, you may prefer to purchase a slab of bacon that you can slice up to your desired thickness or to use pre-cut lardons.
Wrapping it up
As this article has shown, bacon is available in a wide variety of different types that can be eaten at any time of the day, in many different styles of dish.
It’s no surprise that this versatile meat is one of the nation’s most popular, so be sure to share this article with your fellow bacon lovers.
And don’t forget to leave us a comment with your favorite type of bacon and how you enjoy it most!