The Skinny on… Bacon

Salty, a little sweet, often smoky, and always flavorful, bacon is a culinary wonder.

The world of bacon is enormous. Forget just strips. There’s Canadian bacon, turkey bacon, even “fake” vegetarian bacon. Did you know reduced-fat bacon is really a PointsPlus® saver? No matter how you slice it, it still comes up a winner for most of us. There are several key terms you need to know — and then you can start exploring more kinds of bacon than you ever dreamed possible.

Everybody loves bacon! Sure, it’s a splurge. But a little added to soups and stews makes a world of difference. And who could turn down a strip with scrambled eggs in the morning?

Believe it or not, there’s a world of food products that fall under the name “bacon.” Some of them aren’t even made from pork! So let’s run down some terms before we get to the different kinds of bacon.

Bacon 101
Pork bacon is usually made from one of two cuts:

  • the fatty belly
  • the leaner loin

That said, some types of loin bacon — like Irish rashers — are made from the leaner loin with untrimmed bits of bellylike fat still attached to one end of each piece.

And, of course, there are lots of kinds of bacon made from things besides pork: beef, turkey, and even soy-protein derivatives.

So what are the most important words to know when talking about bacon?

The 4 Basic Terms
Cured
The meat has been treated with salt to preserve it and enhance its texture, making it firmer. Other preservatives may or may not have been added.

Uncured
You’d think it means that there’s been no salt treatment on the pork — but actually not so. The USDA allows U.S. producers to label bacon “uncured” if certain chemicals are missing in the still-salty cure. More on this shortly.

Smoked
The meat has been hung in an environment where it’s exposed to large quantities of smoke for varying amounts of time. The type of wood used to create the smoke will affect the flavor of the bacon: applewood, hickory, mesquite, pecan, etc.

Unsmoked
This cured pork product has not been subjected to smoke but may or may not be fully cooked.

Which Brings Us to a Bigger Question
Some bacon is fully cooked and ready to eat. For example, most Canadian-style bacon sold in the United States can be eaten right out of the package like lunch meat. In general, if the bacon was smoked in a warm environment, it was also cooked through and can be eaten without cooking or even reheating.

However, warm environments for the smoke are the exception, not the rule. Most bacon is not ready to eat. A cool-temperature smoking process has not brought the bacon up to a safe temperature and has not cooked it through.

Read the labels of products carefully to determine if the bacon is edible as it stands or must be cooked. Or speak to the butcher at your supermarket for more information.

Bacon 201
Beyond questions of cured and smoked, here are some other important words for bacon lovers everywhere:

More Bacon Lingo
Center-cut
In general, it’s a term to indicate slightly leaner belly bacon. The ends have been trimmed, resulting in slightly shorter slices with less fat.

Reduced-fat
This is another term for center-cut belly bacon. It’s much lighter on the PointsPlus®-values front.

Double-smoked
Extra smoke has been added for a deeper taste.

Nitrates
The basic cure along with the salt. They keep the meat pink, even when cooked — like Canadian-style bacon and many kinds of strip bacon. They’ve been added to meat for centuries to preserve them by forestalling bacterial growth. However, nitrates quickly degrade into nitrites, which are known carcinogens.

Nitrate-free
No industrial nitrates have been added to the meat, but naturally occurring nitrates may well have been used to cure it. The most common is celery-juice powder, which does the same thing as the more aggressive chemicals but dissipates more quickly after curing.

Peppered
Belly bacon given a thick coating of cracked peppercorns.

Thick-sliced
Again belly bacon, this time cut into thicker slices. Thick-cut bacon is best for oven-roasting rather than pan-frying — or can be cubed into soups and stews for more flavor.

One Final Tip: Cooking with Bacon
No doubt about it, bacon is salty. While it adds great savory notes to dishes, it can also pump the saltiness over the top. Omit the salt from most recipes when you add bacon. If you find the final dish bland, you can always add a pinch more salt at the table.

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