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Please Define Bacon For A British Visitor

p
pinchy Oct 25, 2008 03:51 PM

Hello, I'm a newbie UK chowhound and I was just wondering what people from manhattan mean when they say Bacon? I am going to be visiting Manhattan for the first time in a couple of months (very excited about all the food adventures I am going to have) and although this is a question that has been on my mind for a while, it seems particularly relevant now. You might think it's a very odd question, but in my experience US bacon has always been very different to UK bacon. The US bacon I have had has always been very streaky and very crispy. UK bacon tends to be leaner and much meatier. Soz if this is a bit of a derail, but I have difficulty picturing it all otherwise...

  1. k
    kathryn Oct 25, 2008 05:40 PM

    In the USA, the most commonly available bacon is streaky bacon. This is typically thinly sliced pieces of slab bacon. Slab bacon is cured and/or smoked pork belly with rind and streaks of lean meat. It's about 2/3rds fat, and 1/3rd meat. Smokiness varies.

    English bacon aka "back bacon" is different. It is meatier and leaner. It's the cured and/or smoked part of the lower pig loin, with a ring of fat. It's hard to find UK style bacon in the USA. In the USA, the closest you get to UK style bacon is Canadian bacon, BUT Canadian bacon refers to only the lean part of the lower pig loin.

    1. a
      adamshoe Oct 25, 2008 06:22 PM

      Definition: Bacon in the U.S. = deiciousness and depth of flavor. Used in so many dishes (clam chowder, baked beans, BLT's- You MUST get a good BLT while you're here, though tomato season is near an end..........) There are probably 200 or more brands to try, from artisanal style to supermarket crap, but they're all good. Never met a bacon I didn't like!! I'm partial to the thinner and leaner variety, but it's all a matter of taste. Enjoy your Bacon Tour 2008- Bacon-palooza!! Adam

      7 Replies
      1. re: adamshoe
        applehome Oct 25, 2008 10:21 PM

        Most Bacon actually ruins clam chowder because it's smoked and the smokiness becomes overwhelming. The best fish and clam chowder is made using fat back or salt pork (from the sides).

        Also - for the OP - there are a number of styles of US bacon, some are cured using nitrites, others only with salt, they are smoked for varying times and cut to varying thicknesses.

        1. re: applehome
          Karl S Oct 26, 2008 02:01 AM

          Because American bacon typically has a marked flavor of hickory, that's especially why it doesn't belong in a proper seafood chowder.

          1. re: Karl S
            Will Owen Oct 27, 2008 10:43 AM

            ...unless you LIKE it that way! I once got into a protracted argument with a food writer on this subject, I in Tennessee and he in Maine (and this was back in the snail-mail days!). To the Southern palate the taste of smoke enhances seafood flavor, just as saffron does for the Iberian aficionado.

            The ultra-mild applewood-smoked stuff I'm now getting in SoCal would barely overwhelm the flavor of potato!

            1. re: Will Owen
              applehome Oct 27, 2008 11:42 AM

              Tra-di-tion. Not that I think Tevye would care about some treif soup. But traditional clam and fish chowders in New England are not thickened with roux and are not made with bacon. I've made it with store-bought bacon when I haven't had any salt-pork or fatback, and I think it really suffers. But Karl is right - it's the strong hickory smoke flavor of most commercial bacon that doesn't belong, perhaps applewood or lightly smoked bacon would do just fine. But so many chowders being served here in New England (even those that win the chowder contests) are anything but traditional, so at this point, you could probably pass off tonkotsu ramen thickened with corn starch as chowder and win a contest or two.

              1. re: applehome
                Karl S Oct 27, 2008 02:29 PM

                Hickory-smoked bacon for New England clam chowder is as appropriate as...boiling ribs for BBQ. Both are common and beloved by them that do them. Both just ain't right.

                1. re: Karl S
                  Will Owen Oct 27, 2008 03:44 PM

                  Unless you happen to believe, as I do, that whatever tastes really, really good to YOU is precisely right. If I were going to make a seriously authentic chowder, whether clam or fish, I would never use anything but salt pork. I have done this and probably will again. And if I were cooking ribs for a contest or something I'd be damned sure to do them 100% in a proper dry smoker, with a slow wood fire going, NOT in the oven and NOT over gas or charcoal. But I never do that. I cook the ones my wife and I like to eat, and to hell with authenticity.

                  1. re: Will Owen
                    applehome Oct 27, 2008 05:58 PM

                    I think that's absolutely right.

                    When you've had a chance to try it all, to see what the authentic is all about and understand the variations - why the traditional versions became what they are over time... even to the understanding of the science (eg - boiling meat extracts meat flavor), then all you can argue about is personal taste. When it comes to chowder, I like lots of pieces of clams to chew, and I really enjoy the flavor of the sea and of the clams. Some folks actually prefer not to taste or feel the clams in clam chowder - they use cans of minced, rather than chopped sea clams, and more water and chicken stock than clam juice, they want adjunct flavors to mask the clams. (Like Long John Silver's old logo - Fish That Doesn't Taste Like Fish!)

                    It's when someone makes pronouncements of authenticity with non-authentic product that I get ticked off. The use of labels, like barbeque (barbecue, BBQ, cue, que, q, etc.) or New England Clam Chowder ought to carry a meaning. Despite the many variations of these products, certain traits ought to be consistent with the labels, something you obviously recognize.

                    Other than that, it's just a matter of taste. A matter of opinion. While I have not liked any version of hickory smoked bacon chowder or par-boiled ribs I've ever had to date, I might think that yours are delicious. Unfortunately, we'll never know, and it doesn't matter - you're not trying to please me. It matters here only insofar as people listening to us might decide to try something or another - and of course that's easily decided - it's the chowhound ethos - try everything, and make up your own mind!

      2. b
        beth1 Oct 25, 2008 06:31 PM

        American bacon is a slaob of cured smoked pork belly heaven. It is best with anything. Or alone. It comes from the underside of the pig, is cured in sugar and salt, and smoked, sometimes in hickory, other times in applewood. I prefer the thick cut type, cooked until it is very crispy.

        1. starlady Oct 25, 2008 07:13 PM

          US bacon is streaky bacon.
          That's all you need to know.
          Don't forget all the other things that are different too - a "pint", chips = crisps, etc.
          Have a great time!

          1. Das Ubergeek Oct 26, 2008 02:27 AM

            It's streaky bacon. And we don't call them rashers, we call them pieces or strips. As others have said, it's very very difficult to get British bacon here -- save the bacon butties till you get back home (but do try a BLT).

            Remember too, a pint in the US is 454 mL of liquid, unless you're in a place that specialises in "proper British pints" of beer.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Das Ubergeek
              JungMann Oct 27, 2008 06:32 AM

              Actually we do have back bacon, Irish bacon and what not in Manhattan. Not to mention Canadian bacon, tocino, maple-flavored bacon, fresh bacon...NYC is a very pork-obsessed town.

              1. re: JungMann
                Das Ubergeek Oct 27, 2008 09:20 AM

                Sure, and you can get all of those things in LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami or Chicago... but it still requires a special trip and potentially a bunch of research.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek
                  Will Owen Oct 27, 2008 10:45 AM

                  UG, the Fresh & Easy markets now opening here in SoCal are carrying an American-made British-style back bacon that is very good.

                  1. re: Will Owen
                    Bill Hunt Oct 27, 2008 06:17 PM

                    Will,

                    Thanks. In AZ, we've had a bit of the Tesco Fresh & Easy openings. My wife (who shops Tesco, London, Mayfair) has picked up some items, but I've yet to go. Now, I must, just to see what bacon they offer in the AZ shops.

                    Personally, as a yank, who dines in the UK often, I still favor most of the US bacons, but then I grew up in the Deep South, and cannot help myself.

                    Hunt

                2. re: JungMann
                  Bill Hunt Oct 27, 2008 06:14 PM

                  Thank you for the additions (and maybe clarifications).

                  I have seen "bacon," and similar creeping into more menus around the globe, and especially outside the "traditional" South.

                  Hunt

              2. h
                Harters Oct 26, 2008 11:48 AM

                I've never had "Canadian bacon" in the US - although I've had bacon in Canada. Assuming it's the same thing, then it's very similar to our back bacon.

                American bacon is our streaky - and always served crisp (which is why I don't eat it on trips to the US)

                5 Replies
                1. re: Harters
                  k
                  kathryn Oct 26, 2008 12:33 PM

                  Correct.

                  In Canada, the most common bacon is peameal bacon which is unsmoked, sweet-pickled cured, and coated in peameal or cornmeal.

                  Back bacon in Canada is what USA folks call Canadian-style bacon. This type of bacon is lean, cured, lightly smoked, precooked but not rolled in any sort of cornmeal/peameal.

                  1. re: kathryn
                    m
                    MrsCris Oct 27, 2008 03:00 PM

                    Umm, I don't know that is the most 'common' bacon in Canada. I've lived my whole life in western Canada, and the bacon in my supermarket is the regular, streaky bacon. Lots of varieties of it such as extra smoky, extra thick, lower salt, maple flavour, etc. If you are in a Canadian restaurant and order bacon, it will be like the kind you would get in an American restaurant. Some restaurants will also offer back bacon.

                    Much more uncommonly found is the cornmeal crusted variety. I've had to go to specialty shops as my local chain supermarkets did not carry it. I see, Kathryn ,you're from New York, so maybe you've experienced this commonly in eastern Canada, but I'd be surprised.

                    1. re: MrsCris
                      ms. clicquot Oct 27, 2008 03:17 PM

                      I live in Toronto where you can easily find peameal (cornmeal crusted) bacon but I still think the streaky kind is the most common bacon here. I had never even heard of peameal bacon before I moved here, having grown up in Eastern Canada and Quebec.

                      1. re: MrsCris
                        Das Ubergeek Oct 27, 2008 07:16 PM

                        I've really only seen peameal bacon in "nicer" places and places that are trying to hearken back to a Canadian past their customers can't remember (cabanes a sucre, for example). It's very common still in the Canadian North, but even there streaky bacon is making big inroads.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek
                          paulj Oct 29, 2008 11:35 PM

                          I've seen various of these alternative 'bacons' in small town groceries in British Columbia. I bought some peameal bacon in the Queen Charlottes, smoked pork jowl in Campbell River (a Port Alberni brand), heavily smoked German style Freybe hams in deli sections of most Save-on groceries. We even get some spillover, so to speak, in Washington state.

                  2. rockandroller1 Oct 26, 2008 04:04 PM

                    If you google "picture of bacon" (not google pictures, just the regular search), you'll see what it looks like.

                    1. Bill Hunt Oct 26, 2008 04:32 PM

                      You have gotten most of the important data on the differences. Also note that there are different qualities and tastes in bacon in the US. Unfortunately, you won't see a "Grade A" sort of label. However, be very aware that the "bacon" at a US fast-food restaurant will likely differ greatly in a lot of respects from what might be served at a high-end inn, like Blackberry Farm (Walland, TN) or the Inn at Little Washington (Washington, VA). Same for many fine-dining restaurants. The flavors and textures can vary greatly.

                      Normally, the cooking methods used are to "fry" the bacon in its own fat in a skillet, of some sort. However, it can also be done in a microwave. (Good bacon done in a microwave is about the only "mic'ed" meat that I can stomach.) Other cooking methods might involve grilling over a fire or even using a "toaster-like" device, that drapes the bacon strips over an inverted "U-shaped" heating element, where the rendered fat drains off into a collection device. Only problem with this method is that the bacon comes out, well "U-shaped," rather than the "normal" flattened, rather "crinkley."

                      If you are having breakfast at a really good restaurant, try their bacon.

                      As also mentioned, it is often used to flavour many other dishes. You might see a variation, that could be refered to as "crispy pork belly," or similar.

                      By my "yank" palate, I find UK "bacon" to be a bit tougher (though it is prepared differently, so that will account for some of this) and having less flavor, than US "bacon." However, one must consider that I grew up with crispy, thick-sliced, applewood smoked US bacon from good butcher shops. Other than the look, it bears little culinary resemblance to the "bacon" you will find at a Denny's, served with their "Grand Slam" breakfast.

                      Enjoy, and do give it a try,

                      Hunt

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                        j
                        James Cristinian Oct 26, 2008 05:49 PM

                        If you are to eat bacon, eat some good bacon as Mr. Hunt suggests. I rarely eat bacon anymore, but if I do, I fry off some good bacon in a skillet at rather high heat, so that the final product is a mixture of crisp and soft fatty bacon. This is just my preference.

                        1. re: James Cristinian
                          Bill Hunt Oct 26, 2008 09:01 PM

                          I do agree. I am a fan of "crisp" bacon, even the "gourmet" variety. For me, cooking over an open fire, but a bit removed from it, is the best way, as the rendered fat drips away and causes a "flare up" on the grill.

                          Heck, we even order "gourmet" bacon in, just for the taste.

                          Hunt

                        2. re: Bill Hunt
                          k
                          kathryn Oct 26, 2008 09:28 PM

                          If you're interested in bacon, pick up a copy of the Bacon cookbook by James Villas, where the author goes into the difference between bacon in UK/USA/France/Spain/Italy/etc. as well as the history of bacon, the curing and smoking of bacon, some great regional bacon recipes, as well as where you can get some of there premium bacons online.

                          Or hunt around on Grateful Palate's web site for more bacon education on the differences between difference varieties. Viva bacon!
                          http://gratefulpalate.com/?p=Category_12

                        3. alkapal Oct 27, 2008 06:16 AM

                          if you order the u.s. bacon "not crispy" (or slightly underdone, or "soft"), you'll find it closer to the typical british streaky bacon preparation.

                          get a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich on toasted sourdough bread with mayonnaise. delicious! here, you want the bacon medium crispy, at least, in my opinion. (make sure they are serving locally-grown, or heirloom tomatoes -- though it probably *is* too late in the season for good local tomatoes.)

                          a classic "club" sandwich is similar, but with turkey, and two layers (three slices of bread, totally). http://images.google.com/images?clien...

                          hip hip hooray! for the club sandwich -- my childhood favorite when i ate with mom at the walgreen's restaurant at the shopping mall.

                          1. p
                            pinchy Oct 27, 2008 07:22 AM

                            Thanks for the all the responses. I think I prefer our UK bacon, but then I also think I have only ever had the dirt cheap version of US bacon so maybe if I had a more gourmet version I woud like it better.

                            It's interesting that you see bacon and pork belly as pretty much interchangeable. In the last few years in the UK, it has become quite trendy to serve roast pork belly in restaurants. It is a non cured piece of meat so isn't like bacon at all and it's considered the mark of a good chef to be able to make a good dish out of such a cheap lump of meat

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: pinchy
                              l
                              Louise Oct 27, 2008 09:54 AM

                              It's become trendy here too. Small plates out, pork belly in. And it's always in fashion in Chinatown.

                              1. re: pinchy
                                Bill Hunt Oct 27, 2008 06:23 PM

                                Pinchy,

                                Before you pass final judgement, you really do need to try some of the artesinal bacons from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia (all USA). These can be "mind altering" experiences. Still, in NYC, they may be impossible to find.

                                Last, should you venture south, "country ham," will be unlike anything you have experienced - again, Carolinas, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

                                Most of all, have a wonderful trip and enjoy every dish, however different they might be.

                                Hunt

                                PS, if you see me at Butler's at The Chesterfield, London, Mayfair, trying to explain how I want my "steaky bacon," please do not throw a scone at me.

                              2. steakman55 Oct 27, 2008 03:03 PM

                                ....and if you go to a NYC steakhouse, the bacon appetizer will be unlike any other breakfast bacon these hounds are mentioning.....

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: steakman55
                                  applehome Oct 27, 2008 03:18 PM

                                  So what is it like? It's something I've never had at Peter Luger's - in fact I don't consider that a place for pork even if they have some delicious chops. Seeing as how virtually all the meats called bacon throughout the world have been mentioned above, what DO you get at the steakhouses?

                                  1. re: applehome
                                    k
                                    kobetobiko Oct 27, 2008 07:56 PM

                                    This is what Peter Luger's bacon is like (it's on their website):
                                    http://www.peterluger.com/ourporsteak...

                                    Craft also serves some fantastic bacon as appetizer.

                                2. l
                                  laliz Oct 29, 2008 11:43 AM

                                  Since I am from California and you are visiting Manhattan, this may or may not be relevant, but IMO a slice of good whole wheat bread, toasted and spread very lightly with Best Foods Mayo (Hellman's east of the Rockies) and then topped with 1/2 of a ripe Hass avocado, lightly "smushed" and then topped with a couple of slices (as many as you can get on that sucker) of crisp bacon = heaven on a slice of bread.

                                  Bacon dipped in brown sugar and baked until crisp = pig candy

                                  Bacon cheese dip = love lard.

                                  Have a wonderful trip.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: laliz
                                    applehome Oct 29, 2008 12:27 PM

                                    You had me worried, starting out with California and whole wheat bread. But boy, oh boy, did you ever finish with a bang... please post your love lard under recipes!

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