Bacon is one of America’s favorite foods! It’s versatile, plentiful, and so rich in flavor! It should be no surprise that the market for bacon, currently around $10 billion per year in North American alone, is growing and expanding. Traditional pork-based bacon consumption is increasing 4-5% per year. Many people forgo pork bacon due to religious or other diet restrictions, but they have many other options including turkey and beef-cheek bacon to enjoy bacon while maintaining a “no pork” diet. Alternative plant-based versions are steadily improving and makin’ bacon accessible to everyone. If you’re into food, you need to be into bacon!
How To Prepare Bacon
Bacon can be prepared in many different ways. Imagine cowboys out on the trail, frying up sizzling slices of bacon in a cast iron pan over an open fire with a pot of beans. Or a grill full of bacon slices crisping at your favorite greasy spoon. You can grill it, microwave it, or even buy it pre-cooked. You’ll want to give some thought to how crispy or meaty you want the finished bacon to be. Pre-cooked tends to be on the meatier side, even if you originally prepared it yourself to be crispy, so if you want really crisp bacon, you’ll need to apply some heat.
The best way to cook bacon probably depends on your intended use, but one of our favorites is to lay out the strips flat on a cookie sheet and bake it in the oven at around 350F-375F. Cooking it in the oven will provide a more even cook, with less curling. This will also give you better control over how crispy it will be and allows you to save the excess grease for other uses.
If cooking it on a grill, you’ll need to be careful the grease doesn’t ignite, especially if over an open flame. You’ll get better results if you use a grilling mat so the grease doesn’t flame up and burn your meat. A smoker provides great flavor and a meatier slice. Sprinkle on some brown sugar and ranch powder for a special treat!
There are specially made bacon trays for cooking in the microwave, Or hanging style cookers like the Makin Bacon Cooker but if you’re only making a few slices, wrapping the slices in a folded paper towel on a microwave-safe plate works just fine. Some people believe THIS is the best method, while others prefer the texture of baked or grilled bacon. If you are using pre-cooked bacon, the microwave can be a convenient way to crisp it up some more or at least soften and release any excess grease that may be lingering.
Types Of Bacon
There are several prominent types of bacon you should be aware of. The first is thin cut versus thick cut. Thin cut bacon cooks very quickly and gets crispy fast, and if you’re cooking for the masses or just some impatient kids, this can be an excellent choice. Pre-cooked bacon slices you find in the store will usually be thin. Thin sliced bacon is also preferable if you’re wrapping other food in it. Thick cut will work better if you’re adding bacon into something else.
Thick cut bacon takes longer to cook but gives you more control over the crispy/meaty ratio. For breakfast bacon, it’s possible to achieve the crispy outside and meaty inside that is my favorite bacon of all! Thick cut bacon holds up better if you’re mixing it into other foods, say Brussel sprouts or as a topping for salads, pizza, or appetizers.
In recent years, consumers have become more conscious of foods that contain nitrates or nitrites, and curing salts traditionally used to cure bacon are high in and nitrites. Nitrates/Nitrites in appropriate small amounts can prevent botulism and prevent rancidity, with little or no impact on most people’s health. Some people are unusually sensitive to them, but this is the exception. Regardless, nitrates/nitrites have become a consideration for many consumers. Bacon producers have responded to this preference by producing “uncured” products. Uncured bacon does not use curing salts to add nitrates/nitrites, but rather, uses other products (celery salt is commonly used) that naturally contain them. I frequently buy Wegman’s brand of thick-cut uncured bacon, and it is excellent. I also buy Wright bacon, which is cured, and it too is excellent. Nitrite free bacon is also available; the taste is slightly different, and the color is more brownish than pink, but it’s still tasty.
What can make a difference is flavoring. You may see “maple” bacon, which is different from maple-smoked bacon. Maple bacon alludes to maple-syrup flavor (real or fake) and will be sweeter, as will honey bacon. Peppered bacon (usually thick cut bacon covered in course-ground black pepper) is fairly common, and I’ve had good and not-so-good experiences with it. When done well, the crushed black pepper accentuates rich bacon flavors and crispy/meaty textures. While peppered bacon can be really good, it is not as versatile as regular bacon as the pepper can overpower milder flavors.
Traditionally, bacon is smoked over hardwood, and the type of wood can impact the flavor – even from the same producer. Hickory smoked will have a stronger smoke flavor than hardwood or maple smoked, which will have a stronger smoke flavor than apple or cherry wood smoked bacon.
Uses For Bacon
The bacon and eggs breakfast is a classic! Add a side of home fries and toast, and it hard to start the day of better. Or pile it up on the toast or a buttermilk biscuit and you’re mobile. And the same can be said for lunchtime with a BLT or turkey, cheese, and bacon sub! Subway featured bacon as an add-on to their subs, and nearly every sandwich shop in America followed suit. A few slices of bacon add huge flavor and texture improvements to your handheld mid-day meal.
Crispy crumbled bacon adds similar pizazz to a number of salads and appetizers. Where would the famous Cobb Salad be without bacon? Potato skins… gotta top them with a dollop of sour cream and some bacon. Cheese fries? Add bacon! Macaroni and cheese… with bacon, scrumptious! Bacon topping can make almost any app or side dish that much better.
Bacon on pizza is a wonderful thing. Chicken bacon ranch pizza is one of our faves! It’s not a meat-lovers pizza pie without bacon on top. Cheeseburger pizza (with ground beef on top) is ok, but make it a bacon cheeseburger pizza and now we’re talking flavor!
Want to get more creative? Make poppers by stuffing jalapeno halves with cheddar and cream cheese, and wrap them in bacon! Make “Shotgun Shells” by stuffing manicotti shells with shaved Philly style steak, onions, and Cheese Wiz, and then wrap them in bacon! Want to keep that fillet mignon from burning on the outer edge? Wrap it in bacon! Wrapping food in bacon makes for a sensational looking and tasting presentation! You can take this idea next level by weaving a bacon mat. This works great for swineapple (a pineapple stuffed with pork and wrapped in a bacon mat) or wrapping up a large hunk of meat.
Ground bacon is a versatile ingredient as well. Venison burger can be too lean, add some ground bacon to both add juicy flavor and control the gaminess. In homemade sausage, you typically add some fat to the ground meat… use ground bacon! And chicken bacon ranch sausage is a home run every time!
To make chicken bacon ranch sausage, mix ground chicken thigh meat with ground bacon at a 2:1 ratio. Mix in ranch powder, thyme, and black and red pepper to taste. This is sausage is great as patties, links, or ropes…it’s a real crowd pleaser!!!
Meat desserts on your mind? Sprinkle a little brown sugar the bacon as it’s cooking, and you’ve got candied bacon. Ever had chocolate covered bacon? The salty-sweet flavors are absolutely amazing together! Want something a little more complex, bacon cheesecake provides something unique and delicious!
You really can’t go wrong with bacon. If you’re looking for a new recipe idea, try adding bacon to your favorite dish, and you never know, your innovation just might become the next bacon trend. What are you waiting for? Go get some Bacon!