Searching for America's best bacon, the expert tasters at Cook’s Illustrated magazine sampled pork from six leading mail-order companies, as well as two high-end supermarket brands. While some believe that terrible bacon does not exist, all the experts agree: certain brands stand "snout and tail" above the competition.
Vande Rose Farms Artisan Dry-Cured Bacon, Applewood Smoked
Tasters raved that this bacon — which scored a distinct few notches higher than the rest of the lineup — has it all: “Nice balance of sweetness to salt, great deep complex ham flavor, very meaty,” with a “faint fruity taste, sweet and salty.” Extra-big slices and “genuine” smoke flavor were big hits with our tasters. ($13.95 for 12 ounces, plus shipping, www.gratefulpalate.com)
Nodine’s Smokehouse Apple Smoke Flavored Bacon
“Wow, this is some huge piece of amazing bacon,” gushed one happy taster. Slices are very wide and thick and weighed more than the competition. Panelists commented on “nice meatiness” and subtle apple flavor without too much smoke. ($8 for 16 ounces, plus shipping www.gratefulpalate.com)
Applegate Farms Natural Uncured Sunday Bacon
One taster praised this nitrite-free supermarket brand for a “subtle smokiness, sweetness of pork, but not sugary. Woodsy but not overly smoky. This is log cabin bacon.” Another noted, “You get the sense this is right off the pig; natural-tasting.” ($5.39 for 8 ounces, available in supermarkets)
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Farmland/Carando Apple Cider Cured Bacon, Applewood Smoked
Some tasters found this “sugary” supermarket bacon far too sweet. Others described the flavor as “caramelized,” with cinnamon and maple syrup notes— “like it’s been hanging with French toast already.” ($5.99 for 16 ounces, available in supermarkets)
Oscar’s Smoke House Applewood Smoked Bacon
A few tasters noted an “almost Asian” flavor to this bacon, describing it as “like teriyaki bacon, sweet and tangy,” or “soy sauce.” Several noted a “chewy” (a few said “tough”) texture and “relatively meaty” consistency, with “good pork flavor but not really bacon-y,” according to one taster. ($9.95 for 16 ounces, plus shipping, www.gratefulpalate.com)
North Country Smokehouse Applewood Smoked Bacon
According to our tasters, smoke flavor dominated, and those who like smokiness liked this bacon. “Pretty smoky, and very meaty and chewy. Thick, hearty and fairly ham-like,” said one taster. “Delicious.” But the majority disagreed: “Wow, a lot of smoke, like barbecued bacon. Too much for me.” ($11.95 for 16 ounces, plus shipping, www.gratefulpalate.com)
Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Dry-Cured Bacon
Tasters were not terribly impressed with this widely available gourmet brand. “A fairly average piece of bacon,” “thin,” and “needs more sweetness” were typical complaints. One taster noted it “tastes like smoke, but not much else; very fatty.” Another agreed: “I felt like I was eating straight fat with no flavor. ($5.98 for 12 ounces, plus shipping, www.nimanranch.com)
Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Bacon
Despite the company’s claims of using particularly lean hogs, our tasters found this bacon “very fatty” with “hardly any meat,” and many complained of its “overwhelming smoke flavor,” which was akin to eating a “wood-burning stove,” or “ashtray.”($19.95 for 2 pounds, plus shipping, www.nueskes.com)
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