BaconBacon — The Other Food Group

Though people have been enjoying the awesomeness that is bacon for centuries, lately it seems that bacon is everywhere. You can find it in chocolate, jerky, and even jam. There is so much bacon available nowadays that it is hard to know which one to buy. Hopefully, we’ll be able to help…

Uncured  vs. Cured
The first question you should be thinking about your bacon Uncured or Cured? The term Uncured, however, is a little misleading. All bacon is preserved by either using smoke or salt, so by definition, bacon is a cured meat. If it were not cured, it would just be pork belly (or loin, or fatback…).

Flavor-wise, the difference between the two is difficult to discern. The real distinction between Cured and Uncured is how it is cured. So that means the only real difference between the two is the manner in which the pork is preserved.

Cured bacon is made by adding artificial nitrates, generally sodium nitrate, to the salt and brine mixture. The added nitrates help prevent the growth of bacteria on the meat so they are an important part of the process but they may have a negative impact on your health.

Because of those health concerns, uncured bacon has become much more popular. Though Uncured bacon does not have any added artificial nitrates, it is not nitrate-free because you are using the naturally occurring nitrates in celery extract or sea salt to cure the bacon. So while you may not be eating artificial nitrates, you are still eating nitrates.

The argument for or against curing basically comes down to preference. Uncured bacon hasn’t been fooled with as much, so it has been left in a much more natural state than cured bacon. And sometimes has a flavor closer to pork belly. It can also be saltier because the meat has to be in the brine longer to get the same preservation result as the cured bacon.

So you may be asking “If the cured vs. uncured doesn’t make that much of a difference in taste, why the explosion of the different bacon products?” The answer my friends is all in the smoke.

Once you’ve cured the pork it’s time for the smoke. This is what gives bacon that smokey-good flavor and also makes the bacon easier to slice.

Traditionally smoked bacon is put in a smoker and heated to 130 degrees. Some industrial producers though will skip the smoking and apply liquid smoke to the cured meat before heating it. To avoid this product, look for the label that says Hardwood Smoked or Naturally Smoked as this means it has actually gone into a smoker.

Taking things a step further, you can look for labels that say Applewood Smoked or Mesquite Smoked. Obviously, this means that the product was smoked using the specified wood. The average bacon eater will probably not notice the flavor difference between various smoking woods. But to a bacon connoisseur, the difference is similar to the wine lover who can taster the black cherry notes in his Zinfandel.

The good news in all of this is that you get to try each and every version of bacon to find your favorite. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it…

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