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Taste Test Tuesday

Taste Test: Best Bacon

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Bacon taste test

Bacon taste test / © Kerianne Hansen

Depending on its smokiness, saltiness, fattiness and flavor, bacon can range from basic breakfast staple to pure porcine perfection. Food & Wine editors sampled both nationally available and mail-order artisanal brands to find out which bacon is truly the best.

Bacon taste test: Vande Rose Farms

©Maggie Mariolis

Top Pick: Vande Rose Farms Artisan Dry Cured Applewood Smoked

Food & Wine editors loved this thick-cut mail-order bacon—made from well-marbled heritage breed Duroc pork belly—for its meaty texture and balanced flavor. The artisanal bacon is dry cured for six days with brown sugar, black pepper and salt, then slow smoked for 12 hours over applewood chips.

vanderosefarms.com

 “Very meaty, pleasant salt level.” “Good texture—more ham-like. Good flavor, too.” “Nice chew.” “Nice and hammy. Probably my fave.” “Crispy and smoky.”

 

Bacon tast test: Trader Joe's Uncured Apple Smoked

©Maggie Mariolis

Top Pick: Trader Joe’s Uncured Apple Smoked

Editors particularly enjoyed this slow-smoked, thick-cut bacon— available at 381 Trader Joe’s locations across the country—for its chewy texture and smoky sweetness.

“Good balance of fat to meat.” “Like the chew and crispness.” “Nice smoke, with a bit of a sweet touch. Good!” “Great maple flavor.” “Thick cut­—nice.”

 

 

D'Artagnan Uncured Applewood Smoked ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

D'Artagnan Uncured Applewood Smoked

For its applewood-smoked bacon, available online and in select supermarkets, D’Artagnan uses meat from breeds including Berkshire, Tamworth, Duroc, Landrace and Hampshire. Our editors liked its mellow smoke and pleasant saltiness.

dartagnan.com

“Fatty, but nicely balanced flavors.” “This bacon tastes like what I grew up with—salty, smoky and crisp.“ “Great smooth, smoky flavor. Slightly sweet.” “Faint smoky flavor. Edges crisp up well.” “Not overly salty.”

 

Tender Belly Dry Cured Maple Bacon ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Tender Belly Dry Cured Maple Bacon

Erik and Shannon Duffy make their bacon with Iowa Hampshire pork belly, known for its ideal meat-to-fat ratio, which they hand-rub with a maple and spice mixture then slow smoke over cherrywood. Some editors liked its fresh flavor and smoky-sweet balance, while others though it was too fatty and thick.

tenderbelly.com

“Salty, hammy, artisanal-type curing.” “Great pepper rub, smoky and sweet.” “Big meaty bacon with good flavor.” “Sticky, fatty. Not bad.” “Too thick—not for me.” “Would be amazing in a sandwich.”

Applegate Farms Hickory Smoked Uncured Sunday Bacon ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis



Applegate Farms Hickory Smoked Uncured Sunday Bacon

The majority of our editors liked this nitrite- and nitrate-free supermarket brand for its rich pork flavor and meatiness, though some were displeased by its aftertaste.

“Yum. Nice smoke and salt level.” “Plenty of meaty flavor.” “Pleasantly sweet.” “Nice rich start, but slightly tinny aftertaste.”

 

Trader Joe’s Classic Sliced Dry Rubbed All Natural Uncured Bacon ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Trader Joe’s Classic Sliced Dry Rubbed All Natural Uncured Bacon

Trader Joe’s uses pork raised without antibiotics for this very lean, unsmoked bacon that’s dry rubbed with sea salt, raw sugar, celery powder and spices.

“Sweet. Maple-y. Salty.” “I like how the fat and meat are well incorporated.” “Canadian bacon-like.” “Bacon as it should be.” “No fat. Too dry/crumbly.”

 

 

Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon

This widely available brand sources porkbellies from small, family-owned farms throughout the country. Opinions were divided: Some found this bacon displeasingly salty, while others appreciated its meatiness and balanced flavor.

“NYC steakhouse bacon. Thick cut, balanced smokiness and sweetness.” “So fatty, but I kind of like it. Has a nice pork flavor.” “Sweet, salty and smoky, but not harmonious” “Very salty. Tastes a bit like Johnny Walker Black.”


 

D'Artagnan Uncured Hickory Smoked ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

D'Artagnan Uncured Hickory Smoked

Our editors favored this bacon for its pleasant hickory smoke flavor, but deemed it too salty.

dartagnan.com

“Good, smoked, meaty flavor.” “Not too overpowering, not too greasy” “Salty. Unbalanced.” “Odd woodsy aftertaste.”

 

 

Hormel Original Black Label Bacon ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Hormel Original Black Label Bacon

This supermarket staple was one of the thinnest-sliced offerings tasted, making it an ideal for bacon lovers who value crispness over other factors.

“Sort of old-school supermarket, but tasty.“ “Very thin. Not much flavor.” “Mild. Not very distinctive.” “Crisps up nice.”

 

 

Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked

Our editors commented that this ubiquitous bacon was average, if not overly greasy and thin.

“Very thin, like bacon potato chips.” “Unpleasant fattiness.” “Salty, thin, crispy.” “All right, not bad at all.”

 

 

 

Wellshire Smoked Maple Uncured ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Wellshire Smoked Maple Uncured

Located in South Jersey, this family-owned operation flavors its uncured bacon with maple, resulting in a sweet, caramelly flavor.

“Maple-sweetness is awfully strong.” “If you like syrup, this is the bacon for you.” “Respectable.” “Chewy, salty, sweet. OK.”

 

 

Nodine's Smokehouse Apple Smoke Flavored Bacon ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Nodine's Smokehouse Apple Smoke Flavored Bacon

Nodine’s, located in the Berkshires, smokes this bacon over hardwood and apple pomace gathered from a nearby orchard. The unique smoking process gives the bacon a subtle maple flavor that our editors liked, though some found it to be a little bland.

nodinesmokehouse.com

“Nice chew. Light smokiness. Low sweetness.” “Bland but not offensive.” “Thick cut—kind of has a tinge of maple syrup sweetness.” “Dry, which is strange because it has so much fat.”

 

Farmland Foods Hickory Smoked ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Farmland Foods Hickory Smoked


Available in supermarkets across the country, Farmland Foods’ thin-cut, wet-cured bacon struck some editors as a solid, unpretentious standby, but some felt its smoky flavor was too much.

“Nice and thin. Reminds me of good, standard diner bacon.” “Supermarket bacon. Average.” “Way too greasy.” “Heavily smoked. Overbearing and salty.”

 

Nueske’s Thin Sliced Applewood Smoked ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Nueske’s Thin Sliced Applewood Smoked

Wisconsin-based Nueske’s thin-sliced offering is wet-cured, then smoked for a minimum of 24 hours over Wisconsin applewood logs. The heavily smoked bacon made our editors think of ashtrays and peaty booze.

nueskes.com

“Tastes like boozy bacon.” “Charcoal is overpowering—like Johnny Walker.” “Salty, meaty, greasy.” “Way too much smoke. Tastes like a cigarette.”

 

 

Broadbent’s Applewood Smoked Country Bacon ©Maggie Mariolis

©Maggie Mariolis

Broadbent’s Applewood Smoked Country Bacon


This Kentucky-based, family-owned operation hand-rubs each belly with a dry cure of salt, sugar and sodium nitrate. Thebelly is cured for one week before it is smoked for three to five days, resulting in intensely salty and smoky bacon.

broadbenthams.com

“So salty. Holy-moly.” “Too thick and too smoky.” “Fatty, salty and smoky.” “Would be perfect in a breakfast taco.”

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