Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bacon Tasting

What do Mr. & Mrs. BBQ Snob do for their anniversary? We organize an all out Big D bacon tasting. The rules were simple. It has to be available in DFW, and we had to test your standard grocery store varieties against the artisinal bacons around town. Of course the taste was of utmost importance, but value also had to be considered. Value becomes very important to someone with over $50 of bacon in the fridge.

Each bacon is compared below based on the cost per bacon strip as well as the cooked weight percentage of the raw weight. This not only shows the value based on cost, but also based on the amount of fat you have to pour into the old grease bucket.

Jimmy's $0.21/strip 44%

Rudolph's $0.48/strip 33%

Ham I Am $0.53/strip 27%

Nueske's $0.64/strip 33%

Hormel Black Label $0.29/strip 29%

Oscar Mayer $0.18/strip 24%

Pederson's $0.54/strip 33%

Central Market
$0.37/strip 25%

Boar's Head $0.35/strip 33%

Applegate Farms $0.45/strip 25%

The most beautiful piece of food documentation I've ever done.

I know you're salivating, so enough with the formalities. How did they taste? Here they are from left to right on the board.

Jimmy's - This bacon is from Columbia Packers in Dallas, which is also the bacon carried by Kuby's. It was by far the worst sample of the tasting, but I can't blame that on Columbia Packers since the meat was simply spoiled. Jimmy's kept these strips in their case far too long, and the result was rancid tasting bacon that I instinctually spit out before it could contaminate my palette further.

Rudolph's - This bacon is cured and smoked in house, and only huge slabs of bacon were displayed in the case. This allows the customer to determine the thickness they prefer when ordering, and I asked them to slice some thicker strips. I may have gone a bit too thick since these strips had a hard time crisping up. It had a strong meaty flavor which was not overpowered by excessive salt. There was a light smoky flavor and the strip was chewy, mainly due to my request for thicker strips. Altogether a fine bacon.

Ham I Am - Imported from Arkansas, this Ozark Trails brand bacon has been called the best bacon in America by some. It's hard to argue given it's strong showing in this tasting. While they had one of the lowest weight retention percentages, the meat that was left was a beautiful specimen of meat. These thin slices melted on the tongue spreading the smoky and salty goodness. This bacon can be ordered by mail or purchased at the companies small unofficial storefront in Plano. Call ahead.

Nueske's - Based on a Cook's Illustrated tasting, this one was not recommended because it simply tasted too smoky. I knew I'd like it. There is definitely a punch of smoke in these thick slices. They held their shape well and had a good chew with moderate saltiness. While the flavor was pleasing, it did not taste like traditional bacon, but more like a smoked pork chop. It's available at Central Market.

Hormel Black Label - This is my standard grocery store bacon, so I was anxious to see how it stacked up to the expensive stuff. It ended up being a decent value with high fat content, and decent bacon flavor. It began a long line of generic tasting bacons whose flavors varied only based on saltiness and texture. This one had a nice chew, and will remain my standard choice for inexpensive bacon.

Oscar Mayer - This bacon was so thin that it couldn't help but melt in the mouth. Extreme saltiness was overpowering in these brittle strips and it lacked any sort of smokiness.

Pederson's - The first of the uncured bacons received high marks. It had a good texture with just enough chew. A nice level of smoke and moderate saltiness didn't make me miss the nitrites at all. Nitrites and nitrates are added to most bacon varieties during curing to act as a preservative. They also lend a familiar bacony flavor and help the strips retain their reddish hue. There are a few smokehouses out there that tout there nitrate-free bacon because of the negative health effects of adding these preservatives.

Central Market Brand - Given its relative cost to other grocery store brands, I was expecting a lot out of this one, but it ended up being a generic tasting bacon. The brittle strips had little smoke and moderate to high saltiness. Simply a one note strip of pork.

Boar's Head - I enjoy their deli meats, so I assumed the bacon would be good too. Well, other than the pleasing texture, it was nearly identical to the Central Market bacon.

Applegate Farms - Another uncured variety available at Central Market and Newflower Market. I tried the "Sunday Bacon" which was thin with a nice meltiness. It was full of flavors, but they competed for attention. Between the high salty notes, bold smokiness and sweet flavor, my tongue wasn't sure which one to enjoy. Even given that, it was a quality bacon.

So how would I rate them?
1. Pederson's
2. Ham I Am
3. Rudolph's
4. Nueske's
5. Applegate Farms
6. Boar's Head
7. Hormel Black Label
8. Central Market
9. Oscar Mayer
10. Jimmy's

Before I knew it, I had eaten all ten slices of bacon, but there was more to cook, lots more.

The grease jar was empty when I started.

In addition to retail bacon, Smoke in Dallas cures and smokes their own bacon, but I don't know of any other area restaurants who do the same. I hope this list will help guide you on your next shopping expedition for some quality bacon. I'm also eager to hear if any of you have a favorite out there that didn't make the list. Happy frying.

Other great bacon resources:

Ministry of Bacon

Grateful Palate


- BBQ Snob


Blue Moon said...

Nice article. I guess I never really considered how different bacon can be. Having said that, my favorite bacon comes from Benton's Hams (they have a website), which is either in TN or NC. Very nice, very thick --we oven broiled it in a pizza stone cookie sheet and it was mighty fine.

roland said...

i love this... I may even print a wallet sized pic of the "chart" to carry it around... at home we buy the thick Tom Thumb/Safeway brand - but I will now look for some of your higher rated brands -- new to your site and I find myself visting daily...Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Wright Pepper Bacon--available at Sams in large 4#
(?) packs. Wrights have been around since 1922 so practice makes perfect. Well worth a try, have been cooking it for years and always find it `wonderful.

Read your posts daily, great work, and Thanks

Anonymous said...

Wright Pepper Bacon--available at Sams in large 4#
(?) packs. Wrights have been around since 1922 so practice makes perfect. Well worth a try, have been cooking it for years and always find it `wonderful.

Read your posts daily, great work, and Thanks

BBQ Snob said...

I needed to give Columbia Packing bacon a fair shot, so I headed to Kuby's for a few strips. The meat fried up beautifully and the end product had a nice chew with great flavor. A moderate to high saltiness hid some of the smoky flavor, but this is a tasty bacon. It would rank right in the middle of the previous entrants.

Kevin said...

Tillmans roadhouse in both Dallas and FW cures and smokes all their own bacon and has been for some time.

Tom said...

Kirsch's meat market on Parker at Alma has a great store slab bacon cut to order.

veeral said...

Awesome post, just came across it. If you ever get the chance, Niman Ranch puts out an incredible bacon that we used to get at Trader Joe's in Chicago. Not sure if they are the only distributor. Looking forward to trying some of Big D's Big Bacon offerings.

Anonymous said...

This is f'ing "The Best" piece!


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.