Regular readers know that I have a special part of my heart (and my waistline) reserved for bacon. I've written about the world's best way to cook bacon, linked to bacon humor, and even had my son aspire to bacon art.
However, I haven't written much about great bacons yet. My friend Chooky describes the best of something as "the bacon of xxx" (like his posts on the "bacon of yogurt" or the "bacon of pens".) This lead me to wonder what the "bacon of bacon" is.
Since I seem to inhale any bacon in front me too quickly for a thoughtful taste test, I turned to Cooks Illustrated, my favorite food magazine ever. They're the Consumer Reports of food. They'll test a hundred variations of a recipe to get it right; they also compare brands of foods and tools and give you the low-down. Their stuff is almost always gold. (They're also known as America's Test Kitchen on TV and in some cookbooks.)
Cooks Illustrated did two taste tests for bacons, one for supermarket brands and another for premium brands. (Note, CI requires a subscription to get to this content; they have a free 14-day trial offer though.) The winner of the supermarket brand is Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon, topping stalwart brands like Boar's Head, Hormel Black Label (which I had yesterday morning and thought was lovely), Armour, and Oscar Mayer. Tasters described it as "meaty", "full-flavored", and "crispy, yet hearty".
On the premium side, Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon won the day (I mentioned Niman Ranch in my post on cooking bacon.) Here's their description:
Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon Oakland, California $8 for 12 ounces Tasters found this bacon hearty, rich, balanced, and smoky. One taster said, "Yum . . . what bacon should be."
This is our "house bacon" whenever we can swing by Trader Joes.
One note for the organic, free-range, no-preservative crowd: CI observed in their reviews that nitrate-free bacons did not fare well. Turns out that people are used to the color and taste of nitrate in their bacon, so it doesn't taste right when the nitrates aren't there. This is consistent with a taste test we did between corned beefs a few St. Patricks' Days ago. We ordered a nitrate-free corned beef that was excellent except that everyone liked the regular supermarket one better. The nitrate-free corned beef was grey instead of the familiar red and missing the tang that we've come to associate with corned beef.
CI also noted that there is a visible variation in meat-to-fat ratio between different packages of bacon. This seems obvious since bacon is a natural product (well, it starts off natural anyway and then becomes ethereal). It's worth a few extra seconds in the store to pick your package of bacon carefully, just like you would pick out good apples.
So, go give these brands a whirl and let me know what you think. Of course, as CI notes, "Bad bacon is something of an oxymoron."