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Who's makin’ the best bacon?

Tests of regular and thick-sliced uncooked, precooked, and turkey bacons

Published: September 2013
Photo: James Worrell

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Chocolate-covered bacon, bacon martinis, bacon ice cream, bacon-of-the-month clubs—Is there any doubt that bacon is beloved? Unfortunately, there’s also no doubt that bacon is not health food. Just two slices of pork bacon can have about 80 calories, 7 grams of fat (about a third saturated), and 200 to 400 milligrams of sodium. Eat turkey bacon and you can cut those numbers in half, but you’ll cut taste too, our tests showed. We tested regular and thick-sliced uncooked bacon, precooked bacon, and turkey bacon.

Kirkland Signature was the only excellent product. It crisped up nicely and consistently had balanced fat and meat flavors complemented by wood smoke and a hint of sweetness. The other pork bacons were close in quality and very good overall. Niman Ranch, Trader Joe’s, Wright, and the two precooked bacons were smokier than some others; the two Hormel Black Labels were a bit sour.

The turkey bacons, cheaper but lower rated than the rest, were uniform slices of seemingly re-formed meat. They tasted low in fat, with a flavor of liquid smoke.

Bottom line. Enjoy bacon occasionally. Kirkland Signature Regular tastes best. It’s sold as four 1-pound packages, so you may need to freeze some. (In general, you can keep opened bacon in a refrigerator for up to a week.)

Very good alternatives include Great Value Lower Sodium or, for thicker slices, Oscar Mayer Thick Cut. A higher price didn’t mean better bacon: The priciest product of all, Oscar Mayer Fully Cooked, rated lower than many others.

Heating bacon in a microwave oven is quick and convenient; pan-frying gives you control over crispness; and broiling or baking lets you cook for a crowd.

Bacon 101

100% real bacon! Huh? That’s a claim on Oscar Mayer Fully Cooked.

Fully cooked. Eaten from the package, in a BLT sandwich for example, it’s not very crisp. You can crisp it by cooking, but that defeats the purpose. The fully cooked pork bacons we tested didn’t taste as good as the others.

Nitrites, nitrates. They help in curing bacon—a preservation, flavoring, and coloring process—but can form nitrosamines, chemicals found to cause cancer in lab animals.

No antibiotics ever. The animal wasn’t fed antibiotics for illness or to promote growth, a practice that can lead to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Niman Ranch is the only tested brand claiming to raise pigs without these drugs.

Thick cut. Some bacons boast of thicker slices, and they have a serving size of one slice instead of two. Niman Ranch is thicker than most but doesn’t advertise it.

Uncured. Curing is done with salt, sodium nitrite, sugar, and sometimes other ingredients. Uncured bacon contains no synthetic nitrites or nitrates, but (as with the Trader Joe’s and Niman Ranch bacons) it has them in natural form—from celery powder, for example.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

   

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