Types of bacon can be found all over the world.
Some say that bacon is as American as apple pie. Except apple pie was baked and eaten long before the colonialists came to the Americas. Similarly, bacon is not native to America. Many countries and cultures have their own types of bacon.
The bacon that eaten here in the United States is referred to in other countries as “streaky bacon”. This is from the fatty streaks that run through each strip. The difference between the bacon primarily has to do with the kind of cut, the way it is seasoned, as well as the way it is presented (sliced, rolled, diced, etc.).
There is so much to learn about this seductive American obsession.
Instead of sticking to an old favorite, why not expand your palette by trying out different types of bacon.
While American bacon is cut from pork belly, most types of bacon found in other countries comes from the pork loin and is a much leaner cut. Italian bacon is the exception.
More commonly known as pancetta (pan-SHEH-ta), Italian bacon is cured pork belly that is sliced and rolled in a spiral shape.
You can find it in a slab (uncut) form or can can purchase pre-sliced pancetta. It is typically seasoned with nutmeg, fennel, and pepper.
Pancetta is a great way to add some extra flavor to Italian dishes. Sometimes I’ll fry a few slices in the skillet, crumble them up, and add it to some Chicken Fettucini Alfrado. What makes it such a appealing substitue to American bacon is that, unlike American bacon, pancetta is not smoked.
Irish bacon is not cut from the pork belly but from the back. It a leaner type of bacon. It is cured and sliced into “rashers” (the term for individual slices).
It is very similar to Canadian bacon with one main difference. Irish bacon comes with a layer of fat still attached. It is commonly boiled and served with cabbage and potatoes. I have to admit that I’ve never had Irish bacon before, but it is on my “to do” list. And it should be on yours as well.
Because it is not as common as other types of bacon, you may have a hard time purchasing it. If you would like to purchase your own to have with a traditional Irish breakfast, you can find it here.
In the United States, Canadian bacon is somewhat different than what is found in other countries. Across the U.S., Canadian bacon is simply a stack of round slices of smoked ham. However, this is not so in Canada.
Like Irish bacon, Canadian baconn is cured pork loin (back bacon). It is distinguished from bacon cut from pork belly. As mentioned above, Canadian bacon is much leaner and the fat and rind is removed.
If you have done any reading on bacon, you are certain to have come across the term “peameal bacon”. At first glance, you will wonder what it is (I know I did). Peameal bacon is a popular type in Canada, but what is it? Simple enough, it is Canadian bacon that is covered in a layer of cornmeal.
Years ago, Canadian bacon was rolled in grilled, yellow peas. This was done to help the curing process as well as act as a preservative warding off bacteria. Today it is more common to roll Canadian bacon in cornmeal.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, bacon that is not cured using a chemical process of sodium nitrates or nitrites cannot be labeled as cured. Curing is the process of preserving the meat and leeching out the moisture. Usually this is done by a mixture of salt, sugar, and sodium nitrates.
Because soddium nitrates are believed by many to be harmful, some leave them out and depend on the salt itself for the curing process. Most manufacturers will use the sodium nitrates naturally found in celery juice by using celery juice in the curing process. Uncured bacon is also known as nitrate free bacon and organic bacon.
Unless it says “nitrate free” or “uncured” on the label, it will have sodium nitrates. If you are looking for some uncured, nitrate free, bacon, you can find it here.
Pancetta is an Italian-style bacon that is cured with salt, peppercorns and cloves. Traditionally, pancetta is not smoked. Usually, pancetta is packaged in a roll–like a sausage–and is sold to order by the slice.
This smoke-cured bacon takes on the appearance of a boneless pork loin roast. Irish bacon is lean meat obtained from the “eye” part of a piece of pork loin. This bacon can be sliced to any thickness desired.
Similar to Irish bacon, Canadian bacon is also obtained from the pork loin. It contains less fat and calories than American-style bacon. This bacon is also sometimes referred to as “back bacon” because the meat for the bacon comes from the back of the pig.
Virginia bacon is one of the most common types of American-style bacon. This type of bacon comes from the stomach of the pig. American-style bacon is cured in salt and then smoked; before slicing, the rind is taken off.
Slab bacon is a large, single piece of bacon with the rind left on. This type of bacon receives additional flavor when it’s smoked over roasted corncobs.
The name of this bacon says it all: The bacon receives a spicy coating of coarsely ground black pepper.
Apple Wood-Smoked Bacon
Smoke from burning pieces of apple wood is the key to curing this bacon and infusing it with a slightly sweet, rich flavor.
3 pounds slab pork belly
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoons pink salt (sodium nitrite), optional
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
3 bay leaves, crumbled
1. Combine the sugar and salts in a bowl to make a dry cure. Rub it into all sides of the meat. Combine the herbs and spices in another bowl, and then press them into the pork belly as well.
2. Place the pork belly in a large Ziploc bag, and leave it in the fridge for about seven to 10 days, or until it is convenient to smoke it. Turn it about every other day and rub the salt and seasonings into the flesh.
3. After the time period has passed, rinse the dry cure off of the pork belly and pat it dry with paper towels. Smoke it until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
4. Allow the bacon to cool to room temperature, and then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. It will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks.
Green Chile Chicken Sausages
3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 1/2 pounds pork belly, diced into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3/4 cup chopped, roasted mild green chiles like Poblano or Hatch
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup olive oil
10 feet hog casings (optional)
1. Combine the chicken, pork belly, salt, pepper, garlic, cilantro, and chiles. Refrigerate until ready to grind.
2. Using a meat grinder, thoroughly grind the mixture into a bowl.
3. With a sturdy wooden spoon, mix the ground meat until it is uniform in appearance. Add the tequila and oil and mix to distribute it evenly.
4. Form the sausage into patties or stuff it into casings and twist into 8-inch links. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook.