To understand what beef bacon is, it helps to remember what ordinary bacon is: a slab of pork belly that is cured and smoked, and then sliced thinly.
Fortunately, cows also have bellies, and that's where we get beef bacon.
Beef belly, sometimes known as the "navel," is located just below the brisket, in what we might think of as the beef plate, or the underside of the short ribs. Chances are you'll have to order it from your butcher, or online.
What Makes Bacon Bacon
The key is the fat because it contributes both flavor and moisture. Since beef is leaner than pork, beef bacon can tend to be drier than pork bacon. Beef fat has a higher melting point than pork fat, so it can be chewy, and it won't crisp up as well.
Still, whether you're eschewing pork for any number of reasons, or perhaps simply because you love bacon, but want to opt for something leaner, you might not be ready to abandon all hope and settle for turkey bacon.
Apart from the fat, what makes bacon bacon is that miraculous combination of salty and sweet flavors that come from the cure, as well as the smoky flavor that comes from smoke.
Buy Beef Bacon at the Store
This technique is much less labor intensive than making it yourself, and the only device you need to use is the little swiper for your debit card, as opposed to figuring out how to operate a smoker, which, let's face it, if you haven't used one before, it can be a little daunting.
For a product, you may not have known existed, beef bacon is fairly widely available, everywhere from Whole Foods and Trader Joes to Wal-Mart.
Just remember that when you cook it, don't just throw it in a hot skillet, because it will burn. Beef bacon has less fat to begin with and, because it has a higher melting point than pork fat, it will take longer to render, which means the bacon will spend longer in the pan.
Make Your Own Beef Bacon
If you're feeling adventurous or just like making your food from scratch, we've provided a quick how-to on making beef bacon at home:
Step 1: Cure the beef. A basic dry cure recipe follows:
Pink salt is a special curing powder that goes into all kinds of cured meats, including sausages, hot dogs and corned beef.
Mix the ingredients together and rub the mixture all over the beef. Seal it in a ziploc and refrigerate for 3 to 5 days. Turn it every day. Liquid will seep out: this is a normal part of curing.
Remove from the bag, rinse in cold water, dry off and refrigerate one more day, unwrapped and uncovered, so that it's dry.
Step 2: Smoke the beef: Applewood, maple, cherry, or hickory are great choices. Set your smoker to 200 F to 250 F and smoke until the meat's internal temperature reaches 150 F to 160 F (about 4 hours). Use a digital probe thermometer.
Chill overnight, then slice thinly and cook on a pan from a cold oven. Slow cooking helps the fat render without burning.
Cooking Beef Bacon
Slow, indirect heat is a better cooking technique. Arrange the bacon slices on a pan, place it in a cold oven, close the door, set the temperature to 400 F and then don't touch anything for 15 minutes. In fact, this is the best cooking technique for ordinary bacon as well.
Getting it right largely depends on how thinly sliced the bacon is. But as long as you cook it slowly you should be fine. Let it cook 15 minutes and then check it every minute after that until it's just right. Remember, transfer the cooked bacon to paper towels right away, otherwise, the hot fat in the pan will continue to cook it.
Beef bacon won't have the same porky flavor that ordinary bacon does. But it does have its own unique flavor. If you're old enough to remember the days when french fries were fried in beef tallow, you might recognize the characteristic flavor profile of beef bacon.