In recent years, there's been somewhat of an obsession with bacon—you've heard the saying, "everything is better with bacon." We see it wrapped around almost anything and even served as part of dessert. But, besides that it is part of the pig, do we really know what it is and where it comes from?
The Fat Facts
Bacon is side pork, meaning it comes from the side of the pig. The meat is cured and usually smoked before you cook it at home. It is the fat in the bacon that provides most of the flavor and allows it to cook up crispy, yet tender. Do not turn up your nose at that fat—a hefty ratio of fat to meat is essential to good bacon, usually one-half to two-thirds fat to meat. Since bacon must be cooked before being consumed, much of the fat is rendered out and can be poured off if need be.
The Way You Slice It
Most bacon is purchased pre-sliced and sold as regular or thick slices. Thin bacon is cut into slices that are 1/32-inch thick, about 35 strips to the pound. Thin-sliced is also referred to as hotel or restaurant bacon. Regular slice is 1/16-inch thick and has 16 to 20 slices per pound. Thick-sliced bacon, generally twice as thick as regular bacon, contains 12 to 16 slices per pound on the average, depending on the supplier. You can also purchase bacon in a block (called slab bacon or flitch in Pennsylvania when unsmoked) and cut it into the thickness that best suits you. Outside the United States, one slice of bacon is often referred to as a rasher.
Bacon's Many Flavors
The flavor of regular bacon can vary widely depending on the breed of the pig, its feed, how it is cut and the processing and curing methods. Let your taste buds be the judge and stick with what you like. In addition to basic no-frills bacon, you'll also find it available in a variety of flavors, including apple, maple, and mesquite. Low-fat and low-sodium versions are options for those on restricted diets.
Instant Bacon Gratification
Fully cooked bacon slices are also now available in most markets for those with cooking time constraints. Canned bacon is a favorite with many as it is pre-cooked and shelf-stable until opened, but it is difficult to find these days. What's still around are bacon bits—pre-cooked pieces of bacon which are then dried. (Once opened, bacon bits must be refrigerated.) Do not confuse imitation bacon bits (such as Bac-O's®) with the real thing! Imitation bacon bits are made of flavored vegetable protein.
More About Bacon
If you just can't get enough bacon, read on for information such as tips on how to cook bacon, the history of bacon and bacon and your health.