A Guide to Cuts of Bacon

Bacon is the kind of food that a lot of people just love. As a component in a dish or just by itself, bacon is one of the most popular ingredients being used in today's culinary world. Made from the cured side, back, or belly of a pig, bacon is consumed around the world in all sorts of cuts and varieties. Here are a few useful things to keep in mind when buying, cooking, and eating bacon. 

There are several different cuts of bacon, some of which come from different parts of the pig. In the U.S., "side bacon" (also known as "streaky bacon" or "standard bacon"), is the most common variety and considered the standard bacon. It's made with the belly of the pork and is usually cured or brined and then smoked. It often comes with the rind, or skin, trimmed.

There are varying thicknesses of side bacon. Thin sliced is around 1/32 inch thick and will contain about 28 to 32 slices per pound. Regular sliced is about 1/16 inch thick and will have around 16 to 20 slices per pound. Last, thick sliced will be roughly 1/8 inch thick and will have 10-14 slices in a pound. Sometimes, thick bacon that has been heavily smoked and salted will be called "country bacon."

"Pancetta" is an Italian bacon, similar to side bacon, that has been rolled up into cylinders after it's cured. It is typically salt cured, and seasoned with spices and then left to dry for several months, but it can also sometimes be smoked. Some eat it raw if thinly sliced, but it's often thickly diced and used for cooking.

"Slab bacon" is made from the belly and side cuts of pork and can have a medium or high amount of fat. It can be smoked or cured and usually comes with the rind still on the meat to lock in the flavor.

In the United Kingdom, "back bacon" is a very popular choice. It comes from the loin in the middle of the back of the pig and it very lean, with a little fat around the outside of the meat, making it very similar to common ham.

In Canada, however, "back bacon" is what many people think of as "Canadian bacon." It is precooked and like English back bacon, it's very lean, cured and lightly smoked, and cut from the loin of the pig.

When buying bacon, you should pay attention to the difference between regular bacon and nitrite-free bacon. Some studies have concluded that too much of the preservative sodium nitrite found in bacon can lead to pulmonary disease. Nitrite-free bacon is available in most supermarkets, but is often higher in salt and saturated fat and is, according to some bacon purists, lacking in flavor.

Cooking with bacon can be a great way to add a little bit of flavor to a dish. You can chop some side bacon or pancetta and use it to enhance your favorite pasta, or in a banana bread or leave the strips whole and wrap them around fruits for a great appetizer like tapas or "Devils on horseback" or wrapped around oysters to make "Angels on horseback." But take note of how much fat and salt is in the bacon your cooking with. You can often get all the fat and salt you need for your dish by just cooking down the bacon and releasing its flavors.

How do you use bacon in your cooking?

Photo: joyosity on flickr