Bacon testing info.

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Master of the Pit
Original poster
OTBS Member
Jun 21, 2009
The North Coast of Ohio
I got this info from a newsletter that I recieve...some good info in here.

Does it matter which brand of supermarket bacon you buy? Absolutely.

[h5]products tested (listed alphabetically)[/h5]See Product Comparison Chart

ASP: Article content
Given bacon’s unquestioned—and growing—popularity, we posed the question: How would ten popular national brands stack up in a side-by-side blind tasting? To answer, we focused our tasting on the lowest common denominator -- plain, regular-cut bacon -- leaving aside center cut, thick and thin cut, flavored, specialty wood smoked, low salt, reduced fat, precooked, and microwave-ready. We did, however, include one nitrite-free -- natural-sample because it is popular at our local natural foods market.

All bacon, with the exception of turkey- and tofu-based products, is made from pork belly. One fresh belly can weigh from ten pounds to 25 pounds, though most fall between 12 and 18 pounds. The spare ribs are removed from the belly's interior, the skin is taken off the exterior, and the remaining slab is trimmed for further processing into bacon.

The next step is curing, which is generally done in one of two ways. Many small producers of artisan (aka smokehouse or premium) bacon choose to dry-cure by rubbing the slab with a dry mixture of seasonings (which always includes salt and sugar). Large producers usually inject the slabs with a liquid brine containing salt, sugar, and sometimes liquid smoke for flavor; sodium phosphate for moisture retention during processing and cooking; sodium ascorbate or sodium erythorbate to accelerate the curing process and promote color retention; and a curing salt that includes sodium nitrite to stave off bacteria and set flavor and color characteristics. Once the cure has been applied or injected, the slabs are hung. If a dry cure has been applied, this process could stretch up to one week. Curing with an injected brine can be completed in a mere one to three hours and so is quite cost-efficient.

The final step is thermal processing, which can take as few as four to five hours or as many as 24, depending on the processor. During thermal processing, the cured pork bellies are smoked and partially cooked to an internal temperature of roughly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, after which they finally merit the term bacon. The bacon is chilled to approximately 24 degrees, pressed to square it off for uniform slicing, sliced to the processor's specifications, and packaged. A package of regular-cut bacon usually contains between eighteen and twenty-two 1/16-inch-thick slices per pound, whereas a package of thick-cut bacon, sometimes called country style, contains twelve to sixteen 1/8-inch-thick slices per pound.

In the tasting, the nitrite-free product took tasters by surprise. Complaints arose about its unexpectedly pale color and particularly mild flavor, which led to a rating of "not recommended." A little knowledge of nitrites explains these characteristics. Sodium nitrite helps fix the red shade of the meat from its raw state by combining with the pigment myoglobin. Nitrites also contribute to bacon's characteristic cured flavor. It makes sense, then, that nitrite-free bacon neither looked nor tasted the way most tasters expected. Having conducted hundreds of blind tastings over the years, our test kitchen has found that most folks prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. For most of us, nitrite-free bacon is clearly an acquired taste.

Tasters liked the nine other brands well enough to recommend them all. (Bad bacon is something of an oxymoron.) The highest rated product among them was picked out as particularly meaty, full flavored, and smoky. Furthermore, neither of the two other prominent flavors in this top-rated bacon -- salt and sweet --dominated, and tasters appreciated the balance. We wondered why our tasters rated this brand as the meatiest bacon in the pack. Our cadre of experts pointed out that because pork bellies are a natural product, there is no way to guarantee a perfectly consistent ratio of meat to fat from pound to pound to pound of bacon. A simple check of many packages of the same brands of bacon confirmed that fact -- differences were obvious.

To get an accurate measure of the relative meatiness of our winning brand and to see how it stacked up against the least meaty brand in the group we sent both samples to our local food laboratory. The lab ground 3 pounds of each brand and then analyzed them for protein (lean), fat, and moisture. Sure enough, the lab confirmed our tasters' observations. Our winner had 15 percent more protein and almost 17 percent less fat than the other brand.

Smoky flavor, which is a defining characteristic of bacon, was another important factor in rating success. Tasters appreciated assertive smoke, which processors can give in one (or both) of two ways: adding liquid smoke flavoring to the liquid brine or applying real smoke during thermal processing (the thermal processing "unit" is also sometimes referred to as the smokehouse). Our winner uses the "real smoke" method.

What did we learn from this tasting? First, bacon, like wine, is an agricultural product and therefore subject to variation from hog to hog and from cut to cut. Second, the ratio of protein to fat as well as the smokiness factor are key to success. Finally, a good balance of salt and sugar is important. Texture, however, is a matter that is largely under the control of the home cook and therefore hard to judge based on brand.
Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon
This "very meaty," "full-flavored" bacon led the pack. Tasters gave high marks for its favorable balance of saltiness and sweetness, "good smoke flavor," and "crispy yet hearty" texture.
Boar's Head Brand Naturally Smoked Sliced Bacon
Both flavor and texture were repeatedly described as "meaty." Tasters appreciated the "good balance" of flavors and the thick slices, which some claimed were "more like ham than bacon.
Hormel Black Label Bacon, Original
Comments focused largely on the "hearty, balanced flavor," with a meatiness (second only to Farmland) that some likened to Serrano ham and prosciutto. A couple of tasters noted "sweet," "maplelike" flavors.
Armour Original Premium Bacon, Hickory Smoked
For many, "too much sweetness" overshadowed what some characterized as a "nice smoky flavor." An especially low salt score, which may explain comments such as "quite bland."
Smithfield Premium Bacon, Naturally Hickory Smoked
While many tasters appreciated the smokiness of this sample, some objected to it, with comments such as "chemical," "fake smoke flavor," and "like eating a campfire."
Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked Bacon
Nearly as expensive as some premium bacons, yet slices were considered so thin that they "disintegrate on your tongue." Did find fans for its "good saltiness" and "nice full flavor," but others found it lacking in meatiness, yawning, "plain Jane."
John Morrell Hardwood Smoked Bacon
Tipped the scales in perceived fat and considered not terribly meaty. Many tasters noted a favorable balance of salt and sugar, but others felt it was "too rich," "greasy," and "fatty."
Plumrose Premium Bacon, Old-Fashioned Hardwood Smod Premium Bacon
According to the label, this bacon had less sugar than most others. Salt fanciers thought it had "great flavor," but others found it "too salty." The slices were also too thin for many tasters.
Jones Country Carved, Hickory Smoked Sliced Bacon
What some tasters considered "balanced" and "very mild" struck others as bland, with comments such as "not very assertive." Thin slices cooked up "very crispy" to some and "dry" to others.
Not Recommended
Applegate Farms Applewood Smoked Sunday Bacon
The only bacon in the tasting without nitrites, Applegate’s "gray-green" color set it back. Though this "mild," "meaty" bacon did "taste like pork," the flavor couldn’t compensate for the "muddy" color and "heavy smoke."
Great post Mark good info
Interesting test,  the discussion included dry cured, slow smoked "artisan" procedures but it looks like only mass marketed bacons where included in the test.  I'd be curious to see if the testers could pick out dry cured vs wet or long smoke time vs short smoke time or liquid smoke vs natural.

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