Bacon makes the world go ‘round. OK, not really, but it definitely makes our mouths water. Let’s learn more about it — the different types and how to use it for recipe magic.
Bacon is like chocolate in that you’ll find very few people who don’t like it, and when you do, you won’t believe them. What’s great about bacon is that it can stand up to both sweet and savory dishes (hence why we eat bacon with our pancakes, but we also use it to wrap pork loin). Since it’s such a beloved food, why not get to know it better?
If someone asked you what a traditional American breakfast was, this is the bacon you’d picture next to a short stack of pancakes or a few eggs — long, narrow strips that are cooked crispy or chewy depending on your personal preference. It comes from the pork’s belly and produces a lot of greases.
If you already cook with bacon a lot and use it in a variety of ways, you might try purchasing slab bacon. That’s right, you can buy an actual slab of bacon; you just may have to go to a farmer’s market or local butcher to get it. Essentially, it’s just American-style bacon before it’s sliced. Purchasing it this way allows you to control how thick or thin to cut the bacon based on what you’re cooking.
Unlike American-style bacon, Canadian bacon is made from pork loin. It has less marbling and therefore won’t render as much fat and grease, but it still makes a tasty addition to omelets and other breakfast dishes. You’ll also notice that it’s sold in thicker round slices rather than long strips.
Like American-style bacon, pancetta is cured and comes from pork belly. However, pancetta is not smoked after it’s cured (Amerian-style bacon is). It’s usually sold in small, prechopped cubes. You can also find it at the deli counter where the butcher can produce thin slices. This is ideal if you plan to wrap it around another meat or vegetables before cooking.
Also referred to as British bacon or back bacon, it differs from American-style bacon in a few ways. It’s not smoked like American bacon often is and it comes from the loin instead of the belly (like Canadian bacon). However, it has little more fat than Canadian bacon does.
Irish bacon is similar to British bacon (aka rashers) but slightly less fatty and leaner. It looks more like a thick slice of pork loin; it’s similar to Canadian bacon in that way.
What can you do with bacon fat?
The possibilities are nearly endless. Anything that calls for butter or oil, use bacon fat. You can use it to fry, saute, or simmer whatever you’re cooking. It goes great with Brussel sprouts, and I’ve used it to make creamy risotto dishes. If you’re not using it right away, you can reserve it for later. Use it instead of butter when eating corn on the cob, melt it over your steak, and cook your eggs in it. Some people even bake with it (for example, instead of lard in pie crust, use bacon fat).
1/16 of an inch is the standard thickness of bacon slices. Thick-cut bacon is about double that.
Uncured versus cured bacon
Bacon is cured in salt and/or artificial sodium nitrates to add flavor and prevent odors and bacteria. But when the label reads “no added nitrates,” this can be considered uncured bacon. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s nitrate free. It was likely still cured using a smoking process and the naturally occurring nitrates in celery powder and other seasonings.