When It Comes To Bacon, This Brand Stands Above The Rest

It goes without saying that the best cooking comes from adventurous people trying something totally different. For example, humans may have started out just drinking alcohol, but someone eventually took it a step further and dipped fish and grilled cheese in beer batter. What about the genius idea of the molten chocolate lava cake, with chocolate oozing out of the center? Thanks to a curious and gutsy pastry chef out there somewhere, we now get to enjoy its ooey-gooey deliciousness with every forkful.

Even foods that would normally be considered mundane are elevated by cooks and chefs testing the limits of ingredients. You may think of bacon, for example, as a fatty meat that comes from different parts of a pig. That basic definition hardly begins to describe the bacon varieties found all over the world and used in an array of recipes. Among the options, as Taste of Home lists, are Italian pork jowl bacon; spicy, campfire-roasted Hungarian bacon; and the round slices that Canadians eat. Given all this variety, selecting the best bacon brand is that much more challenging.

Applegate is seen as one of the best bacon brands

Fortunately, some pork belly enthusiasts are up to the task of declaring the best bacon brand. Arguably, the most critically acclaimed bacon firm is Applegate, which has received many glowing reviews online. Allrecipes names Applegate's Uncured Sunday Bacon as the ultimate brand. Echoing their pork-filled sentiment is Food and Wine, which describes Applegate's bacon as sweet with a meaty flavor. Joining the Applegate fan club is Southern Living, which singled out Applegate as a quality organic bacon. 

According to Applegate's website, the company has more than 30 years of experience in food production. Applegate keeps its bacon free from antibiotics and artificial preservatives — as well as nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates, which can be harmful to humans, per Consumer Reports. The ingredients listed on Applegate's Sunday Bacon product page are simply organic pork, water, and sea salt, with a little bit of organic cane sugar and celery powder. Such attention to detail with the ingredients is likely to influence the taste and quality of Applegate's bacon. No wonder it boasts such a high reputation among foodies and bacon lovers.

Oscar Mayer scores points as a bacon for all occasions

A close contender for the bacon crown is Oscar Mayer, which has far more experience in meat production than Applegate. Oscar Mayer was founded on the north side of Chicago in 1883, according to the Oscar Mayer website. Serious Eats named Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked Bacon the best all-around brand because of its consistency and its middle-of-the-road balance between salty and sweet, and meat and fat.

While Oscar Mayer's long history proves that it knows bacon (and hot dogs, and bologna), it's clear the company isn't trying as hard as Applegate is with its Uncured Sunday Bacon. Oscar Mayer isn't going for high quality so much as mass appeal. As its product webpage says, Oscar Mayer bacon is "always for all ways."

It should be noted that some bacon reviewers positively shunned the Oscar Mayer brand, which helped us decide to give Applegate our accolades. Eat This, Not That! lists Oscar Mayer among the bacon brands to avoid. The food website's biggest beef with Oscar Mayer bacon (if you don't mind puns that reference the wrong farm animal) is simply that it is pump-cured, where the meat is injected with brine. Eat This, Not That! called this a sign of "subpar production practices," but Serious Eats considers pumping more of a shortcut. Most inexpensive, grocery-store bacon is made this way to dramatically reduce curing time, and pumped bacon doesn't imply poor flavor.

Pancetta may be the world's best bacon -- if it counts as bacon

While selecting the best bacon brand, we limited our consideration to mainstream brands widely available in supermarkets. But if you really want some good bacon and your search knows no borders, then some premium options become available. The Manual likes Benton's Country Bacon, which is most definitely not pump-cured. Benton's bacon is hand-rubbed and takes weeks to cure, not hours as with pumped bacon (via Serious Eats). Benton's is then smoked for 48 hours per side.

Buffalo Gal Wild Boar Bacon is billed as America's best "wild" bacon on the Buffalo Gal website, even as the company makes it clear that these porkers aren't wild but are pasture-raised farm animals with certain advantages over the domestic pig. For one, wild boar bacon has less fat and more protein than what its domesticated cousins provide.

Finally, for the crème de la crème of the bacon world, we turn to Italy and its pancetta. Fine Cooking says pancetta is Italy's version of bacon, but that depends on how you define "bacon." Pancetta isn't smoked, so it's not bacon-flavored in the American sense (although it is salty like bacon because it is cured). For some of the best pancetta you can find, per Taste Atlas, try pancetta di Calabria from southern Italy. It's so good, it should be enjoyed with a full-bodied red wine ... not scrambled eggs and hash browns.