July 3, 2018

Bacon 101: Your Complete Guide to Bacon (Your Bacon Me Hungry)

It's no secret that we love bacon. In 2016 we ate nearly 1 billion pounds of it in the US alone. We love it for breakfast, lunch dinner and even for snacking on (thanks bacon candy). 

But why do we love it so much? Is it that it goes well with practically everything? The fact that it is really easy to cook? or is it just simply we can't get enough of that salty, fatty, chewy delight?

'' The amount of bacon sold in the U.S. increased 5.4% year-over-year in 2015, with sales totaling $4.21 billion, according to data from the North American Meat Institute. At more than 908 million pounds sold, and a U.S. population of roughly 321 million people, that's closing in on an average of three pounds of bacon for every American. ''  - AOL.COM

We all love eating it, but what do you know about bacon? In this article, we will explore the history and all the other facts you need to know about bacon. We will start off with the basics:

- Where does bacon come from?
- What actually is bacon?
- What different kinds of bacon are there?
- Is Turkey bacon good for you?

Where Does Bacon Come From?

According to food historians, bacon can be traced back to around 1500 B.C. This is when the Chinese first started curing pork belly with salt so it would last longer.

It is also believed that the Greeks and Romans had their own early version of bacon which they learned through their conquests of the middle east. This way of making bacon and pork, in general, was refined by The Romans and an early form of bacon production as we know it today was formed.

The Ancient Romans were also known to have their own version of bacon. This was called ''petaso''. This was the shoulder of the pig boiled down with dried figs, browned and only served with wine.

Where Did The Name Bacon Come From?

The name bacon is believed to have come from the Old High German ''bacho'' which means ''buttock''. This term was derived from the Proto-Germanic term ''backoz'', which means back. 

In the 14th century, the French had the word ''bacun'' which translated to ''back meat''.

This was adapted into Middle English around the 16th century as ''bacoun'' which over time turned into the ''bacon'' we know today.

September 3rd is International Bacon Day

What Part of The Pig Is Bacon?

We love eating it, and we now know where the name comes from, but we still need to know what part of the pig is bacon made from.

In short, bacon can be made from any part of the pig, except the hind. However, where the meat is taken to create bacon does differ from country to country. 

Image from erstwhilefarm

The Different Types of Bacon: 

Side Bacon

Side bacon is the most common bacon in the United States, and often referred to as 'American Bacon' It comes from the belly of the pig. It is the fattiest cut of bacon and the fat runs parallel to the rind.

Pancetta

Pancetta is Italian side bacon, however, Panchetta is smoked and has a very strong flavor. Delicious thinly sliced.

Back Bacon

A very lean cut of bacon with far less fat than the other cuts. Back bacon comes from the loin in the middle of the back of the animal.

Most back bacon is consumed in the UK and is also known as Irish bacon, bacon rashers and Canadian Bacon here in the US.

Middle Bacon

Has an average fat content and a very mild flavor. Stuck somewhere between back bacon and streaky bacon. Middle bacon comes from the side of the pig.

Cottage Bacon

Strictly made from the shoulder cut of the pig. Cottage bacon is typically thinly sliced and very lean. It is cured and then sliced thinly into round pieces. This cut is best for frying or baking. Also known as buckboard bacon.

Slab Bacon

Can be made from fatback, side cuts or the belly. Typically has a high fat content.

Jowl Bacon

Can only be made form the cheeks of the pork

What Is Australian Bacon?

Australian bacon what we call middle bacon. It is made from the middle cut of the pig. It is less fatty than the belly and is often cut a little thicker than other bacon cuts.

When cooked Australian bacon is generally not as crispy as the American bacon and doesn't have such a smoky flavor.

What Is American Bacon?

According to the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book The term —bacon“ is used to describe the cured belly of a swine carcass. If meat from other portions of the carcass is used, the product name must be qualified to identify the portions, e.g. — Pork Shoulder Bacon.“

Which basically means that American bacon can only come from the belly of the pig. American bacon is thin, crispy and has a beautiful smoky flavor.

What Is Canadian Bacon?

Canadian bacon is different from the streaky bacon and smoked strips that we are accustomed to here in the US. It is more like the Australian bacon.

Canadian bacon comes from the loin of the pig and is less fatty than the belly. It comes in more of a rounded slice and is far leaner than streaky bacon.

Canadian Bacon vs Ham

There is a little bit of controversy over what the difference is between Canadian bacon and ham. Keeping in mind that both Canadian bacon and ham are salt-cured and without getting too technical the basic difference between ham and Canadian bacon is:

Canadian bacon is (usually) made from the loin of the pig. Whereas ham is made from the thigh, leg or rump of the animal. So the only real difference between the two is what part of the pig the meat is coming from.

A big visual difference is that Canadian Bacon is also covered with cornmeal or peameal.

Is There A Difference Between Pork Belly and Bacon

Yes, there is a difference between pork belly and bacon. Both are products of the pig, however, pork belly is the belly of the pig in its most basic form. Unsmoked, uncured and unsliced. Whereas bacon is created from pork belly.

You can not eat raw pork belly, but you can eat 'raw' bacon since it has been smoked, or brined.

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Smoker Types

What Kinds of Smokers Are There?

  • Electric smokers
  • Gas smokers
  • Pellet smokers
  • Charcoal smokers

Electric Smokers


Many individuals like use electric smokers are they are easy to set up & pop on. Electric Smokers are the perfect answer for people who want to plug in the smoker, create a genuine smoked flavour without the hassle of wood or smokers. Using an electric smoker also means you don’t have to worry about tending to the fire and don’t have to spend the whole night outdoors with it.

Electric smokers are great for beginners as well, as long as you can access a power outlet this smoker will a great choice for you and you will find they don’t require much maintenance. They usually come with a simple manual with instruction for setting up and use. That way you can get started smoking delicious meat straight away.You can get both a small smoker or large electric smoker which makes it great for just singles, couples or those throwing a big party.

cookshack elite smokette

You do have to add wood chips to produce smoke, however; you don’t have to worry about charcoal or gas. Many people prefer electric smokers because they don’t like burning fuel or dealing with gas. It could also be that the area you live doesn’t allow it, such as an apartment. Using an electric smoker might be the answer you have been looking for.

So if you have decided that you simply want to season your meat, place it on the rack and forget about it until it’s a delicious meal for you or the family, let’s check out the best electric smokers available in the market today.

  • Electric Smokers
  • Gas SMokers
  • Pellet Smokers
  • Charcoal Smokers

Electric Smokers


Many individuals like use electric smokers are they are easy to set up & pop on. Electric Smokers are the perfect answer for people who want to plug in the smoker, create a genuine smoked flavour without the hassle of wood or smokers. Using an electric smoker also means you don’t have to worry about tending to the fire and don’t have to spend the whole night outdoors with it.

cookshack elite smokette

Electric smokers are great for beginners as well, as long as you can access a power outlet this smoker will a great choice for you and you will find they don’t require much maintenance. They usually come with a simple manual with instruction for setting up and use. That way you can get started smoking delicious meat straight away.You can get both a small smoker or large electric smoker which makes it great for just singles, couples or those throwing a big party.

You do have to add wood chips to produce smoke, however; you don’t have to worry about charcoal or gas. Many people prefer electric smokers because they don’t like burning fuel or dealing with gas. It could also be that the area you live doesn’t allow it, such as an apartment. Using an electric smoker might be the answer you have been looking for.

So if you have decided that you simply want to season your meat, place it on the rack and forget about it until it’s a delicious meal for you or the family, let’s check out the best electric smokers available in the market today.

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How To Cook Bacon

There are many ways that you can cook bacon, and in my experience, they are all bloody delicious.

Cooking Bacon On The Stovetop

Now I hear most of you saying 'I know how to cook bacon on the stovetop', however, I bet you are missing one essential ingredient. Water. Thats right, good old water. Let me explain the process. 

  1. Place your bacon in a medium-large sized skillet, and turn your stovetop to a high heat. Slowly add regular tap water to your skillet. You are looking to just cover the bacon. Using water maintains an even, lower temperature and ensures your bacon doesn't dry out and go over crispy (burnt)
  2. Once the water reaches boiling point, turn down the heat to medium. The fat should have almost all rendered out, this is a good thing. This will keep your bacon from burning.
  3. Once all the water as boiled off, turn your heat down to a low-medium heat.
  4. Cook your bacon for a further 5 - 10 minutes until browned and cooked to the crispness that you like. The result should be a nicely browned crispy piece of bacon that is not chewy or too hard.

Cooking Bacon In The Oven

Cooking bacon is the open is your best option when making a big batch. It is the easiest method and doesn't even require you to do any flipping what so ever!

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F and place your rack on the lower 1/3 of the oven.
  2. Line your baking tray with aluminum foil. This will make your clean up a breeze. In a single layer arrange your bacon on your baking tray, make sure none of the bacon strips are touching and have a little bit of breathing room so they don't end up sticking together.
  3. Place your baking tray in the oven and bake for around 12 - 20 minutes. At this stage, your bacon should be a golden brown and crispy.  
  4. Once the bacon is at your preferred crispness, remove from the oven and place on a plate lined with paper towel. This will help catch any access fat and help keep a crisp finish.

''During the cooking, tip out any access fat that has built up. This will stop the bacon from being soggy.''

If you have thinly sliced bacon start checking at around 10 minutes and adjust cooking time from there.

Cooking Bacon On The BBQ

Cooking on the grill is my first choice, nothing beats the smell (or the taste) of cooking on a BBQ. However, when cooking on the BBQ one thing you do need to keep in mind is flare-ups. To avoid flare-ups while cooking bacon on the grill is to place a sheet of aluminum foil with folded edges down on the grill before the bacon. This will stop the access fat from dripping down and flaring up.

  1. Set up your drip pan on your grill. Without a drip pan, you are going to run into trouble with flare-ups.
  2. Preheat your grill to a medium-high heat. Once at temperature give your grill a quick clean and place your bacon down. Make sure your bacon is not touching and laid flat.
  3. Grill your bacon for around 5 minutes, until it has started to develop pools of fat, and the bottom and become brown.
  4. Cook with your grill closed for a further 5 minutes or until your ideal browned / crispness level has been achieved.
  5. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with plenty of paper towel, this will help absorb any access fat and help the bacon stay nice and crisp.

Cooking Crockpot Bacon

Cooking bacon in a slow cooker is possible, however, the result can be chewy, soggy bacon. This is because the bacon fat has nowhere to go during the cooking process. If you are cooking bacon in the slow cooker I would highly recommend browning it in the pan first.

The other option is to wrap the bacon around something like a chicken breast. This method of cooking bacon in the slow cooker does also result in soggy, chewy bacon but you have the added flavor of the bacon-infused chicken If you are going to do this I would recommend wrapping the bacon around the chicken then rendering the fat off in the pan before finishing in the slow cooker. 

Simple Bacon Wrapped Chicken Slow Cooker Recipe (without pre-cooking the bacon) 

  1. Season your chicken breasts with salt & pepper.
  2. Wrap your chicken breasts with 4 - 5 rashes of bacon.
  3. Place your chicken breasts in the slow cooker and cover with your favorite BBQ sauce, hot sauce, onions, garlic, and favorite herbs.
  4. Cook on low for 5 - 6 hours or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165°F.

Cooking Bacon In The Microwave (Yuck)

Cooking bacon in the microwave is not something that I enjoy, like the taste of or endorse in general. However, I know some of you out there like to cook in your microwaves, and that is fine. So here we go:

  1. Line a microwave-safe plate with 2 layers of paper towel.
  2. Lay your bacon out flat on top of the paper towel. Be sure to not overlap any of the bacon strips.
  3. Add 2 more layers of paper towel on top of the bacon.
  4. Microwave your bacon oh high for 4 - 6 minutes. The time will depend on how thick your bacon is, how many slices of bacon you have and also how powerful your microwave is. The best thing to do is just have a trial run with one or two pieces.
  5. You will hear a fair bit of popping, don't stress your microwave will not get covered in bacon fat, the paper towel will absorb most of the excess fat.

What Does Bringing Home The Bacon Mean?

You may have heard or even used the phrase 'bringing home the bacon' before. But have you ever wondered where the phrase actually comes from?

The phrase can be traced all the way back to the twelfth century. In the English town on Dunmow, the local church promised a reward of a side of bacon to married men who swore before God that he would not quarrel with his wife for 1 year and 1 day. If you were a husband who could bring home the bacon you were highly regarded in your community.

Turkey Bacon

There are companies out there that will try and have you believe that their bacon is healthier than the original pig bacon. You will find all sorts of different kinds of bacon out there:

Turkey bacon, beef bacon, veggie bacon, coconut bacon, soy protein bacon, duck bacon, tempeh bacon, elk, buffalo, venison.. bla bla bla the list goes on. 

These 'imposter bacons' as I like to call them sound good, however, don't get sucked into an imposter bacon, they are full of nasty ingredients that can be really unhealthy and harmful. I mean what on earth is Autolyzed yeast extract?

Nitrate Free Bacon - What Even Are Nitrates?

There is a lot of talk around nitrates and nitrites, but what are nitrates and nitrites? and furthermore, what do they even do?

Basically, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are naturally occurring minerals which actually exist in fresh fruits and vegetables.

The salts are used in the curing process of bacon, fish and, other meats. They are used for their antimicrobial properties in the production of salami, bacon, hot dogs etc. In products such as bacon, hot dogs and, other cured products sodium nitrite is what gives them their characteristically cured flavor and pink color.

So Is Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite Bad For You?

Once again we don't have a straight yes or no answer. Sorry.

Nitrates exist (in quite large quantities) in most green vegetables out there. When we eat these vegetables our bodies turn the nitrate into nitrite, which then increases the level of nitric oxide in our bloodstreams and actually helps us lower our blood pressure. (which is where the myth eating bacon can lower your blood pressure comes from).

However, what is bad for you is nitrosamine. Nitrosamine is created when the green vegetables react with our bodies acidic gastric juices. When we eat green vegetables we are not at risk of nitrosamine, because green vegetables are also high in anti-oxidants, which keep the nitrosamine production under control.

Here is the thing about nitrosamines, they are created when sodium nitrite is heated to a high temperature, such as grilling, pan frying or baking (cooking bacon). There have been studies linking nitrosamines to cancer, because of these studies, the USDA has put controls on how much sodium nitrite can be in found in cured meats. Furthermore, the USDA requires a certain amount of antioxidants to be added into the cured meats to restrict the number of nitrosamines that we actually consume.

The Bottom Line

You don't necessarily need to go out of your way to eat nitrate free bacon. In reality, unless you are eating tonnes and tonnes of bacon (an almost inhuman amount) of bacon the risk of sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite or nitrosamines causing you any harm is very unlikely. As always it's best to eat bacon in moderation and keep a complete, balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Is Bacon Good For You?

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There is no straight yes or no answer here. The question should be more 'what bacon is better for me than the others' or 'is there good bacon and bad bacon'?

The answer to these questions is simple. Yes, there is bacon that is healthier for you than others.

The Healthiest Bacon

The best bacon is always going to be bacon that you cure yourself. Why is this? This is because you can control everything from what is going in your bacon to the cooking process. My smoked bacon recipe is a really great way to get a healthy bacon.

The Not-As-Healthy-Healthy-Bacon

The next best thing is bacon that has not been processed. You are looking for a bacon that has been cured using all natural ingredients and has come from an organic farm only feeding its pigs the best. This bacon is generally going to be the most expensive, however, you will taste the difference and get the guilt-free feeling of eating bacon that has come from a pig that has been humanely raised.

Healthy-Ish Bacon

This is your second most common bacon. It is generally also unprocessed and will have only a few ingredients - but nothing that sounds like it should not be ingested by humans.

The ingredients should read something along the lines of 'brown sugar, pork, salt, water. This bacon is generally reasonably priced and is not a bad option if you are on a budget and are still looking for a relatively healthy bacon.

Don't-Go-Near-Bacon

This bacon will be the cheapest bacon at your local store. It will generally come in a 'no-frills' type of package and have a list of ingredients that you need a scientist to break down for you. This bacon is what you want to avoid. It will have a large fat content, and be full of unnecessary preservatives and artificial ingredients. 

Final Thoughts

Bacon is a wonderful food and something that I love to cook.

I hope that you have learnt something about bacon in this article.

Do you have any bacon recipes I must try? I love reading new recipes and trying new ways of cooking food. Let me know in the comments below if you have something that I MUST TRY.

Happy Bacon Eating Everyone.

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