Bacon. Say it with me now: "bacon." Feel happy? Hungry? Of course you do.
Because really, what's better than bacon? It brings salt to the savory, crunch
to the flaccid, "B" to the "L" and the "T." Could you ask more of anything? I
think not. And yet, bacon has more to give, asking for nothing in return but a
fat scallop to wrap, a salad to be crumbled upon, a burger to dress. Bacon can
open up new worlds, give new meaning to things as simple as peanut butter or
brown sugar, take you on amazing journeys of piggy goodness.
journey begins with a single step, and to go on a journey of bacon discovery,
that step is bacon selection. So I hit up some local supermarkets and collected
an array of brands and types to take home and fry up. From Publix Greenwise, I bought some Coleman Natural Uncured Hickory
Smoked, from Whole Foods I scored Wellshire Thick
Sliced Dry Rubbed All Natural Uncured, and from a standard Publix I bought some
Oscar Mayer Bacon (the standard type), some Publix Naturally Hickory Smoked
Center Cut, and the one that's intrigued me for months, Luter's Genuine Dry Cured Bacon.
Each bacon was
cooked three ways: fried in a pan, baked in the oven, and (thanks to a
suggestion from the New Times editor) covered with brown sugar and baked. I
don't remember much after that: just waking up from a pig coma and seeing that
hours had gone by. Thankfully, I was able to locate some notes I had apparently
written while in my pork black out:
Coleman Natural Uncured Hickory
Smoked: Slices are consistent and of average thickness. Fries up well, with
average curling. First impression is quite nice: there's a burst of sweetness up
front followed by a nice, balanced smokiness. After finishing a full piece,
however, I find it a bit too sweet. Might go well with eggs, though I'd
keep it away from a pancake platter, if, like me, you pour pure maple syrup on
everything on the plate. The fact that it's uncured doesn't make the same impact
on the flavor that it does with hot dogs; if you hadn't told me it was uncured,
I wouldn't have guessed. A good bacon in small doses.
Oscar Mayer Bacon:
Ah yes, the bacon you probably grew up with. Quite a relief after that
dry-cured crap. Slices are considerably wider than other brands,
primarily due to the copious amounts of fat. That's not a bad thing;
the fat content makes the bacon feel less dense than other brands,
provides plenty of coverage if you're dressing a burger or making a
sandwich. And the fat keeps the slice from exploding into a million
pieces when you bite into it (the flip side is that it's not your best
choice if you want to break it up for bacon bits). Mr. Mayer fries up
nicely and tastes less salty than other brands, something that
surprises me. This is bacon that tastes like "bacon," and it's tough to
go wrong with that. My choice for every-day, all-around bacon.
Wellshire Thick Sliced Dry Rubbed
All Natural Uncured: I'll admit to a prejudice here: I didn't want to like
this. I wanted the most expensive bacon I bought to be no better than the rest.
I wanted the fancy stuff to be all talk and no action. Their label says it's
"seasoned and massaged with natural spices" and that "slabs stand for up to 7
days" before being smoked with a combination of "natural apple and hickory wood"
(are there unnatural apple and hickory woods?). Apparently though, that shit
works, because it's great bacon. It's sliced well and fries up with a minimal
amount of curling. Delicious from the first bite to the last with a great
meat-to-fat ratio, it has a perfectly balanced smokiness without too much salt.
Would be my choice on pretty much anything I'm making with bacon, and was the
best with the brown sugar. Will I pay six bucks for 12 more ounces of it?
Probably not, unless I'm entertaining the Queen, especially since I'd have to
trek to Whole Foods to get it - but all things being equal, it's No. 1 on
my swine hit chart.
Publix Naturally Hickory Smoked Center Cut:
Flavor-wise, it's the least bacon-y of the bunch, and a bit short on salt.
Slices are shorter than the other brands, and there's no advantage I can see to
it being "center cut" (it's supposed to be a leaner cut, though the Wellshire looked meatier to me). A serviceable bacon,
though it fits more on a plate at a cheap diner than at my house. Any other brand
here is a better choice, with the exception for the hated Luter's.
I'll be back sometime in the future with
another batch of bacon reviews (after the blurred vision and slight dizziness
dissipates); there are just too many tasty-looking ones to ignore. Until then,
though, grab the Wellshire if you're in Whole Foods
and don't mind dropping the dosh for $8-a-pound bacon, and grab good ol' Oscar Mayer if you're anywhere else.
Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and has been known to make clothes out of bacon.