February 17, 2008

The World's Best Bacon (or The Bacon of Bacons)

Bacon and eggs
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."

Posted by Tony at February 17, 2008 9:46 AM | TrackBack

12 Comments

The best I've had is Lobel's which I just tried last week. They ship nationwide.

www.lobels.com

There's also the bacon of the month club which has some winners.

http://www.gratefulpalate.com/?p=Category_11

These are pricey options but you wouldn't skimp on an engagement ring so why would you skimp on bacon?

Tony, have you tried Vosges' chocolate bar with bacon? I haven't, but have heard it's good:
http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/product/bacon_exotic_candy_bar/exotic_candy_bars

Connie, I've tried the Vosges bar. I keep meaning to blog about it. It was pretty good, but I admit I haven't bought another one.

i tried the niman this weekend and found it a little lacking. i really like a sharp tang to my bacon and this was a little flat. i was thinking of trying a bacon of the month club.

http://www.gratefulpalate.com/?p=Category_11

Sorry to hear you didn't like the Niman Ranch, Chookster. The sharp tang you like is the from the nitrates; Niman Ranch probably uses less nitrates than you prefer -- it's like the corned beef thing I mentioned (weren't you at that St. Patty's Day dinner, Chook?)

If this is the Cooks Illustrated i got months ago, and the piece they're sending via email now, that's NOT what it said at all. Niman placed among 'not recommended' , near bottom, and was called out for tasty off, gamy, yucky. I'm not slamming Niman, it's the one I'd been getting at TJs, but CIllus. def. slammed it, and hard.

I would like to suggest the slab bacon from PATAK meats in Austell, GA. This is by far the best bacon I have ever tasted.
www.patakmeats.com

Farmland bacon has water added as an ingredient, which is a food crime, so I wouldnt even give it to my dog.
That crispy streaky stuff is just ok, but if you want good bacon come to England or Ireland. For a proper bacon sandwich you need "long back", which is the back or "Irish" and belly in one long strip so you get the crispier belly and the meatier back in one slice. Two slices between buttered chunky English farmhouse bread with brown sauce; Heinz tomato will doesnt measure up.

Store-brand bacon is fair, yet good artisan bacon is something I dream of. Both of these are hardwood smoked, and hand made. Here's a tip for two of my favorites that are WELL worth the postage to enjoy.

#1 All-Time Favorite: Mahogany Smoked Meats of Bishop, CA (bacon only available for CA shipments) Smoked with ancient "Mountain Mahogany" it's like nothing you've ever tasted - and is as "Western" as bacon comes. This comes from a mountain meadow in Ca's "Gold Country" and is by FAR my personal favorite. Get the Slab Bacon, and cut your own slices to desired thickness. Other-worldly! ** www.smokedmeats.com ** They also offer the BEST jerky anywhere, try the Indian style.

#2: Nueske's - it's Applewood smoked, and LONG on rich flavor, this bacon stands out against all others. Available in some fine grocery stores, it's my go-to for my every-day bacon bliss needs. ** www.nueskes.com **

Enjoy!
-Kevin

Lots of good(great) pork belly out there. Got some Benton's bacon as a gift............we keep going back. Def worth a taste.

Interesting, but I have just tasted the best bacon ever - and Ive eaten the fantastic food in almost every country in the world - in China of all places. A small but specialist producer in Qingdao owned by a Kiwi food lover amongst other goods produces the most tasty and moreish dry cured apple/cherry smoked bacon ever! His company -Bestwurst-also produces very high quality and some of the best sausages that Ive ever had the pleasure of eating. The bacon is to die for and available in the usual cuts-English, middle and streaky. The expats who manage to get their hands on Bestwurst products are extremely lucky-almost worth moving to China for!!

@Nick - wow, that's interesting! As you may have seen from my blog, I used to live in China so I'm especially sad I didn't know this while I was there. I'll let my friends know.

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