It’s hard to find fault in a well-fried strip of bacon — crispy enough to maintain structural integrity when lifted, with grease pooling along its ridges. If the most basic of bacon can be so deeply satisfying, though, the really good stuff — small-batch, smoked pork belly — is downright transformative.
Better bacon is the cumulative effect of three critical elements: the pig, the curing technique and the smoking method. Many small-batch purveyors will seek out heritage pigs for richer flavors and denser marbling, and most everyone who makes their own bacon claims a secret curing technique. Others boast further differentiators, which can range from working with alternative cuts of pork to serenading meat as it cures.
William (Bill-E) Stitt spent three years perfecting his bacon by testing curing methods and smoking techniques and searching for the best possible breed of pig. The result is something that’s decidedly porky, substantial enough to hold its own as a protein, rather than serve as an accompaniment. The bacon’s real secret ingredient, however, is soundwaves. The smokehouse sits behind the stage of his restaurant, which features live performances by local musicians, so that the pork bellies are serenaded as they cure.
Cure: pink curing salt, molasses-based brown sugar
Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon
Benton’s Bacon lays the foundation for the ramen broth at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and mingles with Bourbon in the Benton’s Old Fashioned at renowned New York speakeasy Please Don’t Tell. For more than four decades, Allan Benton has produced a bacon revered for its distinctly potent, smoky, salty flavor. While demand continues to increase with time, Benton keeps his operation small as a means of quality assurance.
Cure: salt, pepper, brown sugar
La Quercia Tamworth Smoked Pancetta
There’s a lot that makes La Quercia’s pancetta (which, while called pancetta, is comparable to bacon) noteworthy. It’s the prized marbling of heritage Tamworth pigs, the sweetness imparted by applewood smoke, the herbaceous addition of rosemary. But it’s the act of dry curing that makes all the difference, extracting moisture to yield more concentrated flavors and resulting in a crispier texture when the bacon is fried.
Cure: salt, bat leaf, rosemary, pepper
Tender Belly Signature Blend Dry-Cured Bacon
It’s Tender Belly’s signature spice blend that sets its bacon apart — most notably the Vermont maple sugar, which imparts caramelized notes upon the crispy pork belly. The bacon’s exceptional meat-to-fat ratio, a product of Iowa-raised heritage pork raised on a vegetarian diet, isn’t too bad, either.
Cure: Vermont maple sugar, juniper berries, proprietary spice blend
Smoking Goose Jowl Bacon
The applewood smoked bacon that Indiana-based salumeria Smoking Goose produces is certainly notable, but it’s the meat specialist’s jowl bacon that’s really worth hunting down. Not for the faint of heart, jowl bacon is fattier, richer and more delicate than its belly counterpart. Cured with a simple black pepper and coriander rub, this one’s all about celebrating the uncommon cut.
Cure: sea salt, brown sugar, maple sugar, coriander, black pepper