Great bacon, believe it or not, can be difficult to find. All bacon is not created equal, and aside from the obvious things like taste and texture, the best is made from high quality ingredients, humanely raised pigs, and choice cuts of meat.
Bacon isn’t cheap, so get the good stuff the first time around with this ultimate buyer’s guide.
What to Avoid
Bacon is made from the fatty underbelly of pigs (or sometimes other animals), and is made by curing these strips of meat to essentially preserve them, either by using salts, smoking, or a combination of curative preservatives. It can be sold as a slab straight from the butcher so you can slice it yourself, your can buy it in a variety of thicknesses.
How good your bacon is really depends on what’s in it, the quality of the meat, and the process it goes through to become bacon. Here are a few things to watch out for in the “below average” bacon.
Why, oh why do they have to put MSG in everything?
It’s maddening how many foods this artificial flavor enhancer shows up in, and bacon is no exception. Aside from doing nothing but tricking your senses into liking something (instead of just making it taste good in the first place), MSG has also been linked to everything from obesity to migraine headaches.
Not good — avoid it if you can, because it doesn’t do much of anything but stand in for real food flavor anyway.
So here’s the deal — everything is made out of chemicals, and even natural flavors are processed in a lab a lot of times. That being said, the concern with artificial flavors is that they’re often made from some pretty yucky synthetic ingredients, like petroleum.
For a whole slew of reasons, this is something you need to try to avoid in your bacon. ‘Smoke flavoring’ is not the same thing as smoked bacon.
Most bacon has sugar in it because there is nothing better than that sweet and salty combo. Of course, not all sweeteners are created equally, and a shocking number of brands use corn syrup in their recipes.
Look for more easily digestible and safer sweeteners, like good old fashioned cane sugar or brown sugar.
What You Should Seek Out
The best bacon is made with the best ingredients, from happy pigs, and cut just right. Depending on your preference, that might mean a pack of thin sliced mesquite-smoked bacon, or it could mean a thick cut package of Applewood smoked goodness.
One thing’s for sure, though: the most discerning bacon shoppers know what to look for. Here are a few things that make a winner in my book:
Bacon by definition is a preserved pork product, and that’s okay, but that doesn’t mean it has to be full of chemical preservatives and processed sweeteners. Look ingredients on the label you can pronounce, and none of the junk mentioned above.
Celery juice is commonly used as a natural preservative, and is a great natural source of nitrates and nitrites if the synthetic stuff freaks you out
This one is a bit trickier to do your research on, and your best bet (as in most cases with sourcing your food) may just be to talk to the farmers directly.
Ask about what kind of feed they offer their pigs (are they pasture raised, or is the feed GMO-free?), and whether the animals are allowed to graze or are kept in confinement. If you can’t find a brand you trust in your local grocery store, start asking around for local pork farms — you’d be surprised how easy it is to get meat straight from the farmers!
It’s Not Cheap
Yikes. I’m not even crazy about including this in here, but honestly, it’s the truth: great bacon is very seldom cheap. Expect to pay at least $8 for a decent package of the high-quality stuff (trust me, it’s worth it).
Raised Without Antibiotics
Antibiotics are typically only necessary when raising livestock if they’re in particularly high concentrations and in unsanitary conditions. Pigs that are raised with plenty of space and fresh air are much less likely to need them than the factory-farmed variety, which is better for them and you.
So, What Exactly Is Side Pork?
Technically uncured bacon isn’t really bacon, it’s side pork. If you ever see that on a package, it’s actually a contradiction.
Semantics aside, side pork is the same cut of meat from the underbelly of a pig, just without all of the curative spices and salts. Still delicious, but it’s not going to have that same bacon-y flavor that you’re used to.
Side pork is also a different color because it lacks the preservatives, typically more of a grayish color than the pink you’re used to seeing. It’s completely normal, and I promise, it’s still pretty tasty, even without the brown sugar and dry rub.
If you’re really sensitive to seasonings and flavors, side pork is a great mild option that allows you to control how much salt and sugar goes into it. Just throw it down in your skillet, and season it as you go.
Our Picks for “Best in Class” Bacon
Great bacon can be hard to come by, and if you don’t know what to look for in the store, you could spend a long time reading labels at the store. Use this list as your shopping guide, and know exactly what to look for when you hit the supermarket.
#1 — Beeler’s
One of my personal favorite brands when my stash of local side pork runs out, Beeler’s Pork Products are made with all natural ingredients, no antibiotics, and crazy good natural flavor.
#2 — Vande Rose Farms
Another antibiotic-free variety, Vande Rose Farms makes bacon with real, natural ingredients, and has even been dubbed the “best bacon in America.”
#3 — Rain Crow Ranch
Available for ordering online at some seriously reasonable prices, this one takes the cake. Rain Crow Ranch bacon is made with all natural ingredients from happy, pastured piggies that are raised without hormones.
What’s your favorite bacon brand? Drop some brand love on Facebook or Instagram and tag us in your happy bacon selfie with @AvocadoMattress or #AvocadoGreenMagazine!
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