The Bacon Buying Guide

Learn about the different varieties of bacon so you know which slices to look for at the store.

Which cut?  

Bacon comes from pork belly, but the cuts vary:

Standard

Regular bacon is sliced about 1/16 inch thick. It's all-purpose — great for frying in single strips and for most other applications.

Thick-Cut

These strips are about twice as thick as standard bacon, so small pieces hold their shape much better in pastas and soups. Use some as the base for spaghetti carbonara. 

Center-Cut

Made from pork belly cut close to the bone, this bacon has about 30 percent less fat than standard bacon. Use it in recipes like Sunny Anderson's bacon-wrapped bratwursts — they're plenty moist without the extra fat.

Slab

This bacon has not been sliced, so you can buy just the amount you need and chop it into any size piece. Ask for it at the butcher counter.

 

 

Which cure?

Pork belly must be cured in salt to become bacon, but the type of curing varies. Here's how to decode a label:

  • Wet-Cured Most commercial bacon is wet-cured, meaning it is brined in salt water with sodium nitrite, a preservative. (Some manufacturers inject the brine into the meat, which is called pumped bacon.)
  • Dry-Cured For this traditional but less common method, bacon is rubbed with salt, sodium nitrite, sugar and spices. Learn how to dry-cure bacon from Michael Symon.
  • Uncured This is a misnomer: All bacon is cured in salt. Bacon labeled "uncured" has been preserved with naturally occurring nitrites from celery juice or powder, not chemical additives.

Bacon Cousins

Canadian bacon is smoked, fully cooked pork loin; it tastes more like ham than standard bacon and can be used like deli meat. Although it's ready to eat, Canadian bacon is usually warmed before serving. Food Network Magazine uses it in their meatball appetizer.

Pancetta, sometimes called Italian bacon, is cured pork belly like American bacon, but it is not smoked. It's rolled into spirals, then sliced or diced for cooking. Try tossing it in a salad.

 

 

 

Does the wood matter?

Some large producers use liquid smoke as a shortcut, but Food Network Magazine has noticed more and more bacon on the shelf with labels touting different types of wood-smoking. In their research for this issue, they found hickory-smoked bacon to be the most classic tasting. But the editors also loved the mild flavor of cherrywood-smoked bacon and thought applewood-smoked bacon had a nice, subtle fruity taste.