Feeling inspired by Chef Tucker’s Bacon Marmalade, I dove deep into the belly of the bacon to get a Chef’s take on America’s most undervalued meat (just kidding, everyone loves bacon!!!!).
What is bacon?
In the US, bacon is a fatty cut of meat taken from the belly or side of the pork. In the UK, bacon is typically cut from the relatively leanner loin found in the middle of the pig towards the back. This is what we stateside refer to Canadian bacon!
Both sides of the pond then cure, smoke, and package their respective cuts of meat to be purchased and cooked to golden brown deliciousness.
Where does bacon come from?
Culinary geniuses in China began curing pork belly way back in 1500 BC! From there, Romans (27 BC to 1461 AD) and Greeks took a break from trying to conquer the Middle East to figure out what this delicious salty meat everyone was eating was and began domesticating pork, making bacon, and even cooking with pork fat.
While Christopher Columbus’ ship carried eight pigs, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto is largely credited with bringing pork to America when he brought 13 pigs in 1539, which he grew to 700 over the next 3 years.
Fun Fact: These pigs went absolutely wild in what we now know as Wall Street, and continued to dominate the area into the 19th century!
For a more in-depth look at the history of bacon, I recommend checking out Camilo Velasquez’s article, The Definitive History of Bacon, from Romans to Hipsters here.
Why is bacon so delicious?
According to the BBC, humans and bacon have good chemistry, so to speak. In other words, bacon is scientifically delicious!
When we cook bacon and break down its fatty acids, a number of compounds are released that give bacon an irresistible flavor. Namely:
- Furans: sweet, nutty, and carameley, these are those GBD (Golden Brown & Delicious) flavor compounds
- Aldehydes: a slightly grassy note for complexity
- Ketones: give that irresistibly buttery flavor
Together, these compounds yield the trifecta of tastiness that makes bacon so delicious.
Fun Fact: the diet and breed of the pork has an effect on the fatty acids! From there, we manipulate the way the bacon tastes with curing and smoking. All the more reason to do it yourself!
What’s the difference between bacon and pork belly?
While (most bacon) is pork belly, pork belly is not bacon. 🤔
Fun Fact: Dry-cured bacon, especially if unsliced, stays good for up to three weeks unrefrigerated.
What’s the best way to cook bacon?
While I expected this to be a hotly contested topic, all three chefs were in agreement: in the oven. Check out a simple technique here.
Though they all agree on the oven method, Chef Jeremy did weigh in with a hot take: if you’re making a BLT, make a lattice with the bacon, or the cross over pattern you’d use for a pie crust (classic Chef Jeremy, I know). Not only does it look cool, it holds together better in the BLT, making for a more enjoyable sandwich journey.
And, if you’re in a hurry, camping, or just feel like cooking your bacon in a pan, Chef Connie recommends in a cast iron on medium-low heat. This allows the fat to render and the bacon to crisp up without burning. And, like any meat, don’t forget to temper first!
What to do with leftover bacon fat?
Do not throw away that leftover bacon fat! Use while warm to make salad vinaigrettes more delicious, or seal and store in your freezer to have on-hand to use for special occasions as a more delicious version of any high heat cooking oil (like canola oil). Eggs, potatoes and vegetables become easily more flavorful and delicious.
Crispy or Floppy?
Okay, maybe floppy isn’t a fair word! Let’s go with extra tender. Either way, the Chefs agree yet again: bacon should be somewhere in between: not charred, but able to hold a shape. Think “soft peaks” of the meat world (that one was mostly for Chef Jeremy 😉).
Thank you for coming on this bacon journey with us! If you love pork, check out our upcoming deliciousness featuring pork in all of our favorite ways: