Ah, bacon. Is there any food more American, and more delicious than that? Crispy, savory, salty and absolutely alluring!
There is no dish that cannot be made better by bacon. Even writing about it has set my mouth to watering…
But as much as we all love bacon, and I know we do, have you ever wondered where exactly this cherished delicacy comes from? Pigs, of course! But which part of the pig does bacon come from?
Bacon is usually prepared from pork belly, but it can also be made from other cuts. Pork loin, jowls, and even the back of the pig can all be used to make bacon.
Though this is certainly a surprise, all it means is that there are even more tantalizing and delectable cuts of bacon to enjoy!
In this article I’ll tell you’ll about the origins bacon, the various cuts, regional variations, and even more fascinating facts. All this and more just below – if you can keep your appetite in check!
Is Bacon Just Pork Belly?
Yes, and no. Most bacon we eat in the U.S. is taken from pork bellies, and it is pork belly strictly speaking, but not all pork belly is bacon, if that makes sense.
Think of it another way: most bacon comes from pork belly, but not all pork belly is bacon and bacon might not be from pork belly.
Despite their similarities in taste and appearance, the terms cannot be used interchangeably. Let’s break down the differences between these two tantalizing cuts, specifically how they’re prepared…
Bacon, as we discussed earlier, is a popular cut of meat that comes from the pig. More specifically, it is typically derived from the belly but also the side or back of the pig, where the fat content is relatively high.
This fat content contributes to bacon’s distinctive flavor and texture, making it a favorite ingredient in many dishes.
Bacon, though, is typically cured to preserve and enhance its flavor. After curing, bacon may be smoked to add another layer of flavor and aroma.
On the other hand pork belly, proper, is a specific cut of meat that comes from the pig’s belly area, which is located below the loin and behind the spare ribs.
As the name suggests, this part of the pig has a generous amount of fat, which gives the meat a succulent and tender texture when cooked.
Unlike bacon, pork belly isn’t necessarily cured or smoked; instead, it may simply be braised, roasted, or grilled to bring out its rich, meaty flavors.
So, while both bacon and pork belly share some similarities, and bacon may indeed be cut from pork belly, they are not the same thing in all contexts.
But I’ll tell you this: both are indeed undeniably scrumptious. Geeze, I’ve got to hurry this up and have some dinner!
Is Pork Belly Always Considered Bacon?
No. As described above, pork belly is only considered bacon when bacon is cut from pork belly and prepared accordingly: only when it has been cured. Otherwise, it’s just regular ol’ pork belly!
What Other Cuts from a Pig are Considered Bacon?
While bacon is traditionally made from the belly, sides, or back of a pig, there are other cuts that can be used to create delicious bacon.
One such cut is the jowl, which comes from the cheeks of the pig.
1. Jowl Bacon
Jowl bacon has a similar taste and texture to traditional bacon but is richer and offers a slightly different flavor profile.
This cut is especially popular in the southern United States, where it’s often used in dishes like jambalaya and gumbo.
2. Shoulder Bacon
Another alternative cut for bacon with many variations is the shoulder. This cut is leaner than the belly and offers a firmer texture.
Shoulder bacon can be smoked and cured just like traditional bacon, resulting in a deliciously tender and flavorful experience. Greatly beloved due to its meatier flavor and lower fat content.
3. Loin Bacon
The loin is another part of the pig that can be used for bacon, and is one you’ve probably already tried: Loin bacon is much leaner than traditional bacon and has a more ham-like texture.
It is a regular fixture in dishes like eggs Benedict or pizza. Sound familiar? That’s right: it is usually Canadian bacon.
Loin bacon is a great option for those looking for a healthier alternative to traditional bacon without sacrificing flavor, but arguably does not taste like the “genuine article” very much.
4. Cottage Bacon
And if you’re looking for a truly unique cut of bacon, consider trying cottage bacon. This is another cut is taken from the shoulder near the neck.
Cottage bacon is cured and smoked, which gives it a distinctively savory “umami” taste, and though it looks kinda like Canadian bacon it is still typically fried crisp like regular bacon.
How is Bacon Made?
What makes bacon bacon is not so much where it is taken when you butcher the pig (though that certainly matters!) but rather in how it is prepared.
After the cut is chosen, makin’ bacon starts with the curing process. Curing is an essential step in bacon making, as it preserves the meat and enhances its flavor.
There are two main methods of curing used: dry curing and wet curing.
In the dry curing method, a mixture consisting of tons of salt, along with sugar, and other seasonings is rubbed all over the slab of the pork.
The exact blend of ingredients varies widely depending on the desired flavor profile, but common ones include pepper, maple, and sometimes herbs.
The pork is then left to rest, allowing the cure to penetrate the meat.
This process can take several days to many weeks, depending on the thickness of the cut and the desired level of saltiness.
During this time, the salt continually draws out moisture from the meat, concentrating its flavors and inhibiting bacterial growth; important for flavor but also safety!
Wet curing, also known as brining, is similar but different as you’d think: wet curing involves immersing the pork in a liquid solution containing salt, sugar, and all the other flavorings.
This method allows the cure to be absorbed more quickly and evenly throughout the slab. The pork slab will usually be soaked in the brine for a few hours to several days.
In either case, after the curing process is complete the next step in bacon production is smoking.
Smoking is optional, but it adds a rich, smoky flavor to the bacon and also helps to further preserve it.
Remember, bacon was once considered a ration for long journeys because of its shelf life, and this is part of the reason why!
The now-cured pork is placed in a smoker and exposed to smoke generated from burning wood chips or sawdust, usually from flavorful hardwoods like hickory, maple, or apple.
Once the smoking process is finished, the bacon is ready for slicing and packaging. Bacon is typically sliced into thin, even strips and then vacuum-sealed to maintain its freshness.
This is how you find it at the grocery store, but you might get an intact slab you can slice yourself from your local butcher.
At this point, the bacon can be stored in a refrigerator or freezer until it’s ready to be cooked and enjoyed.
In all cases, throughout the entire process of making bacon, careful attention is paid to factors such as temperature, humidity, and timing to ensure safety and a delicious finished product.
What are the Various Kinds of Bacon?
There are tons of various bacon types and preparations, some from around the world. Turns out us “Yanks” aren’t the only people crazy about the stuff.
Check out the following and you might just find your new favorite for your own recipes:
- Streaky Bacon- This is the usual pork belly bacon you are used to. Thin, flavorful with distinctive alternating fat and meat, hence the name.
- Back Bacon- Lean bacon taken from pork loin. A healthier option for folks who like it lean or with more “tooth.”
- Canadian Bacon- Fully-cooked loin bacon. Looks, and tastes, like ham. Which it is, technically!
- Slab bacon- How bacon is prepared, and how it ends up after curing and smoking prior to slicing. Thick and can be used for various cooking preparations.
- Thick-Cut Bacon- Exactly what it says. Perfect for folks who love the classic stuff but want more to chew on!
- Pancetta- This is Italian pork belly bacon. Often rolled and tied for curing. A staple of Italian cooking, often used for dressings and sauces. Super savory!
- Cottage bacon- A specialty product made of large pork shoulder slices that are cured like bacon but cut into slices like Canadian bacon before being fried crisp like streaky bacon. Unique, and delicious!
- Guanciale- Another Italian cut, this time jowl meat. Taste and texture is best described as bacon-like cured meat, like American country ham, but different.
- Lardon- A $5 culinary term for flavor-enhancing bacon cubes or chunks used in cooking and preparing stock. Bacon bits for the rich, or for aspiring home chefs.
- Rasher- British term for a single bacon slice. Sometimes refers to particular Irish preparations.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.