Whether you eat it as a side for breakfast, pile it high on a BLT, mix it into a fat-washed cocktail or, hell, just eat it for eating’s sake, bacon is one of life’s greatest pleasures (as evident by its prominent role in The Manual podcast and in our lives in general). That mixture of salt, fat, and crunch is downright addicting, especially if you’re biting into a piece of top-notch, quality meat. These porcine delights are at the top of their game, so you’re getting the very best when you fry up a strip.
Then, once you’ve picked out your favorite brand of bacon (or done the democratic thing and ordered a little bit of everything), make sure to pick up this bacon cookbook so that you can really make the most of your bacon-filled life.
Better known for the delicious hams they’ve made since 1947, Benton’s smokes all their meats in a small smoker out back of their facility in Tennessee. The hand-rubbed bacon is cured for weeks before undergoing 48 hours of smoke on each side for pig perfection.
Buffalo Gal produces some of the finest buffalo meat in the country — but right now we’re talking about bacon. The brand’s wild boar bacon is maple-smoked and has a rich, porky flavor with an earthy game quality. Plus, an overpopulation of wild boars in the American South causes tens of millions of dollars in agricultural damage per year, so frying up these strips is doing some good for the ecosystem.
The heritage hogs used in the dry-cured bacon from Tender Belly are raised in Iowa free of hormones, antibiotics, and the use of farrowing or gestation crates. Happier hogs mean better bacon, especially if its smoked with cherry wood like this glorious stuff is. Don’t believe? Hear straight from the source.
Peregrino Ibérico de Bellota Bacon
This melt-in-your-mouth bacon is made from acorn-fed Spanish Ibérico pork that’s hand-rubbed with salt and slow smoked over hickory in Kentucky. Ibérico pigs roam free in the dehasa forests of southwest Spain where they get plenty of exercise and nutrients from the antioxidant-rich acorn diet. Nutty, smoky, savory and sweet, the bacon from Peregrino Ibérico de Bellota Bacon is like an adventure for your palate.
Bill-E’s Small Batch Bacon
Cutting corners isn’t something that Bill-E’s Small Batch Bacon does. Bill-E’s mouth-watering bacon starts with Berkshire Red and Chantilly White pigs raised on 25 Midwestern family farms. He then cures the bacon for eight days in pink salt and brown sugar for a meaty treat that makes our mouths water before it even hits the skillet. It took him three years to perfect the recipe, and now it’s available for carnivores everywhere to enjoy.
Allen Brothers supplies some of the best steakhouses in the country, so you know you’re getting top-notch quality when you buy their meat. Their thick-sliced, English-style Bakers Back Bacon is cut from the loin and belly, so it’s leaner and meatier than some other brands. Allen Brothers uses sustainably-raised heritage pork from small family farms and cures it naturally without nitrates, so you can feel extra good about indulging in this bacon.
Vande Rose Farms
The craftsmen at Iowa-based Vande Rose Farms slow-smoke their thick-cut bacon with brown sugar, salt, and pepper. But perhaps more importantly is what their family farm suppliers don’t use. The heritage breed Duroc hogs their bacon is made from aren’t given antibiotics or hormones and eat a vegetarian diet of corn and soybeans. Oh, and you won’t find any water or phosphates — cheater ingredients used to get the flavor of artisanal bacon — in these strips.
Snake River Farms
Coming in both uncut (slab) and cut form, Snake River Farms Kurobuta bacon is lightly cured and made from 100 percent Berkshire pork belly and offers a wonderful amount of both marbling and meat. The Japanese term for the pig, Kurobuta, is akin to Kobe beef and indicates the high quality of the meat. We prefer the slab bacon as it allows us to customize the cuts that we need, from slices for burgers and sandwiches to thick cubes for soups and other dishes.
North Country Smokehouse
Made by one of the last family-run smokehouses in the country, North Country Smokehouse bacon is a farmhouse-style bacon that is first cured in real maple syrup and spices before being smoked over Applewood and Cherrywood to create a rich, rustic flavor. North Country uses antibiotic-free pork and eschews preservatives and nitrites. Our pick is their thick-cut Applewood smoked bacon.
A leader in both sustainable and humane agriculture, Niman Ranch has been producing meat used by a veritable who’s who of chefs since the 1970s. Their pork products are fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet and are free of hormones and antibiotics. While they do a dry-cured Applewood smoked bacon, our favorite is the uncured pepper bacon, which is the perfect amount of smoky and spicy.
Known primarily for their country hams (which they’ve been producing since 1909), Kentucky-based Broadbent’s also makes some damn good bacon. We opt for their hickory smoked bacon, which is dry-cured and slow-aged. One thing we also like about Broadbent is they offer “Bargain bacon packs,” which feature fatter cuts of bacon from end slices and irregular cuts at a lower price.