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Report from a bacon tasting


iguana
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Last Saturday, a group of intrepid friends gathered at our place to taste the following varieties of bacon:

1. Boczek Domowy (Polish Home-style Bacon); Andy's Deli, Chicago IL

2. Boczek Pieczony(Polish Smoked & Cooked Style); Andy's Deli, Chicago IL

3. Tocino Original Mexicano de Corazón; FUD

4. Kolozvári (Hungarian Smoked Bacon); Bende & Son Salami Co. Inc. Vernon Hills, Il

5. Boczek Wedzony Mysliski (Double Smoked Hunter Style Bacon)" Bobak Sausage Company

Chicago, Il

6. Classic Dry Rubbed Organic Bacon; Wellshire Farms Swedesboro, NJ

7. Kirkland Signature Naturally Hickory Smoked Bacon; Costco Wholesale Corp.

8. Tyson Thick Cut; Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ar

9. Farmland Thick Sliced Bacon; Farmland Foods Inc.

10. Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon; Niman Ranch,Oakland, CA

11. Nueske's Applewood Smoked Thick Cut Bacon; Nueskes Hillcrest Farms,Wittenberg, WI

12. Scott Petersen Premium Hardwood Smoked Bacon; Scott Petersen & Company

13. Smart "Bacon" Meatless Low Fat Strips; Lightlife FoodsTurners Falls, MA

14. Oscar Mayer Hearty Thick Bacon

You’ll note that the selection is heavy on supermarket bacon. Were I to do this again, I would eliminate all the supermarket bacon except Farmland and maybe one other. Then I would concentrate on the interesting locally produced ethnic bacons and cool mail-order bacons. Samples 3,6,7,8,9,12, and 14 all were almost indistinguishable.

You’ll also note that sample #13 is false bacon. It was awful and will not be mentioned again.

Here is a picture of M. cooking one of many pounds of bacon. He was stuck in the kitchen cooking most of the party—if we did this again, we would do more pre-cooking.

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Here is the table of bacon:

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Here is our vegetarian friend:

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What is a vegetarian doing at a bacon tasting? Drinking mimosas! Also, we needed someone there to call 911 in case of bacon overdose.

We presented the samples with numerical labels and gave out a tasting sheet to allow people to score each sample on saltiness, meatiness, smokiness, fattiness, mouthfeel, and overall ranking. At the end we asked each person to rank their three favorites. And the winners are:

Nueske’s

gallery_9502_2467_135251.jpg

Our favorite even before the tasting garnered the most favorite votes and comments such as "YUM-O". It's been reported to be too smoky for small children, but all our adults liked it.

Home-made style Polish bacon from Andy’s Deli:

gallery_9502_2467_74143.jpg

This local bacon was succulent and meaty, but less smoky than the Nueske's. If you live in Chicago, it's worth seeking out. Note that the label on the deli wrapper is not the same as the label on the meat in the deli case; it's actually the Boczek Domowy. Regardless of the label, you will know it by its ominous black color.

Hungarian bacon:

gallery_9502_2467_65800.jpg

This salty bacon had its proponents. It was the only bacon cured with garlic and would be a wonderful ingredient in bean or egg dishes. On its own it was too strong for some!

Thanks to all our hearty tasters for helping with this event! And a bit hurrah for M, who cooked all that bacon!

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Nice job. I'm sure it was difficult, but someone had to do it!

Were the bacons served in a blinded or double-blinded fashion? I am curious since you stated that the Nueske was already the crowd favorite.

Was therre anything about the Tocino that made it mexican besides the name? You said it was indistinguishable from most of the supermarket brands.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Ummmm Bacon! I can feel my ankles swelling already! As much as I consume and cook with bacon, I've always wanted to do a taste test with some of the small batch local brands and compare them to the supermarket big shots...although I'm not so sure mimosas are the best drink to pair with bacon...but I'm hard-pressed to come up with a better alternative!

Sara

Edited by SJ Shappee (log)
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It certainly looks like fun, but I think a bacon tasting is inherently flawed. Flawed for two reasons.

First, bacon lacks the quality control required to stage an effective/useful tasting. The amount of marbling changes from belly to belly, it's ability to absorb the marinade is altered, the length of time in the package impacts the marination- the variables impacting the taste of bacon are numerous. If I open two packages of the same brand I get two completely different tastes. These are packages I've purchased at the same time from the same store. A particular brand may taste phenomenal one week and only good the next (bacon NEVER tastes bad :) ). I guess you could track bacon over a few months and zero in on brands that taste good consistently, but a one shot deal, nope.

Second, you could never recreate the same cooking conditions/degree of doneness for every batch of bacon. Without perfectly consistent cooking conditions, the bacon can't be judged fairly. I can't fit a whole package of bacon on the same baking sheet, so I break it up into two batches. No matter what I do, the second batch NEVER tastes the same as the first. Slight changes in temperature/doneness creates a different end product. It's like the difference in taste between a white and a blond roux. You're talking only seconds difference but the taste changes drastically. With bacon the window is just as small, maybe even smaller because of the sugar involved. 5 or 10 seconds longer and you're talking about a completely different tasting bacon. I guess you could put all the types of bacon on one cookie sheet, but even then, if you're oven has hot spots, the results will be skewed.

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It certainly looks like fun, but I think a bacon tasting is inherently flawed. Flawed for two reasons.

First, bacon lacks the quality control required to stage an effective/useful tasting. The amount of marbling changes from belly to belly, it's ability to absorb the marinade is altered, the length of time in the package impacts the marination- the variables impacting the taste of bacon are numerous. If I open two packages of the same brand I get two completely different tastes. These are packages I've purchased at the same time from the same store.  A particular brand may taste phenomenal one week and only good the next (bacon NEVER tastes bad :) ). I guess you could track bacon over a few months and zero in on brands that taste good consistently, but a one shot deal, nope.

Second, you could never recreate the same cooking conditions/degree of doneness for every batch of bacon.  Without perfectly consistent cooking conditions, the bacon can't be judged fairly. I can't fit a whole package of bacon on the same baking sheet, so I break it up into two batches.  No matter what I do, the second batch NEVER tastes the same as the first. Slight changes in temperature/doneness creates a different end product.  It's like the difference in taste between a white and a blond roux.  You're talking only seconds difference but the taste changes drastically. With bacon the window is just as small, maybe even smaller because of the sugar involved. 5 or 10 seconds longer and you're talking about a completely different tasting bacon. I guess you could put all the types of bacon on one cookie sheet, but even then, if you're oven has hot spots, the results will be skewed.

Disagree - it's possible to comment on different styles, provided that there is significant difference between them. Furthermore, the difference between good quality and poor quality within the same style tends to be immediately obvious.

You get variations within styles - taste tests are great for spotting the difference.

All produce varies slightly, but that's the one of the arts of the producer to take random variations and create consistency

Also, It's impossible to create exactly the same conditions for any cooking experience - that's just the way of the kitchen , yet somehow I manage to cook my bacon just the way I like it every time!!

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Three of my college buddies and I (we've known each other an embarrassingly long time) get together for a getaway at a post resort every year. In 2005, we did a bacon taste testing (only 6 varieties), all locally smoked bacons. What we discovered is that unless the bacon is all cut to the same thickness, the test was way skewed.

So, we talked to one of the butchers about the thickness of their bacon (half way between thick and supermarket regular -- read thin) and there were two in contention.

What it boiled down to was not just the bacon on it's own, but the bacon in a BLH (Bacon Lettuce and Hummus), a BLT (with cherry tomatoes), plain and on its own. And, we didn't discount the grease factor. As in eggs fried in the grease.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Thanks for all the comments!

The tasting was single-blind; only the cook knew what each bacon was.

I'm not sure about the provenance of the Tocino's Mexican bacon, but the labeling said "Mexicano de Corazon" over a Mexican flag. M. noticed the slice thickness varied significantly in this sample. Even though there was garlic on the label, we didn't notice any taste of garlic and I forgot to check the ingredients.

gallery_9502_2467_15588.jpg

As for reproducibilty, there are definitely sources of variability, but I would argue that the variation between bacon brands is greater than the variability introduced by cooking, except for the store brands. With more carefully controlled cooking, we might be able to separate the store brands. We used thick-cut bacon for all the samples, although some came as slabs and had to be hand-sliced. Here is the Hungarian again:

gallery_9502_2467_437559.jpg

I think the two biggest sources of variability were the marked preference three of the tasters already had for Nueske's and the amount of alcohol guzzled by the tasters. There was also order bias-- some of the later bacons may have been victims of tasters' bacon overload (or drunkness). That said, this ain't rocket science and I'm not planning to submit it to Science or Nature! Is there a journal of Bacon Studies?

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My friend and I have discovered one of the great things about a bacon taste-testing like this is finding the flaws or variables so we can repeat it again every year. We just love bacon. :wub::wub: It wouldn't be nearly as much fun if it were rocket science.

Someone uptopic asked about the leftover grease. We shared it, each taking home a portion to use for hash browns, fried chicken, etc.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I agree that the variations among supermarket bacons tend to be minor, even when you get into most of the premium supermarket brands (the big difference there is the slices tend to be thicker). This is a significant issue because these supermarket bacons, which are also pretty much the same as the standard bacon a restaurant gets delivered from Sysco or US Foodservice, surely account for something like 99% of the bacon consumed in the US. Therefore they establish the bacon taste preference baseline among the population.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steven, wasn't it you who introduced me to the Bacon of the Month club from Gratefulpalate.com several years back?

I recall ordering them all in one fell swoop (was like 18lbs or something rediculous like that) as opposed to taking them in multiple shipments. I really need to do that again. Now those were some really distinctive bacons.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Man, the Seattle area is sadly bereft of all these different types of bacon from delis and butcher shops. We don't have near the variety as seems to be produced in the Chicago area. Then again, I wonder what the job market is for interventional cardiologists in the Chicago area.....pretty good, I suspect....

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

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Gave The Bacon of The Month Club to a friend last year and doubled the order so that I could have some "new" bacon experience also. The selections for the year did NOT include Nueske's. We both agree that Nueske's would have been the winner had it been included in the program.

Since this bacon is already smoked it cooks relatively fast and doesn't have the shrinkage of many of the other types of bacon that look lean when purchased.

I use a "Ton" of Nueske's for many different dishes:clam chowder,baked potatoes,fried oyster/bacon wraps,starter for red beans,topping for seven layered salads,Southern Style bacon gravy for fried grits, and so on.

All in all a GREAT product, check out their 10z smoked pork chops,WOW!!!

:cool:

Edited by byron (log)
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I generally purchase from "Russian Shops" in Seattle when it's available the "Bobaks" Double Smoked Hungarian Hunters Bacon.

It comes in a whole one piece slab individually cryovac packed weighing over 3 pounds requiring slicing. Since it's been double smoked without any fluid added it can be eaten without additional cooking as Bobak's verifies that it completed cooked ready for eating.

We treat it like regular Bacon, preparing it on a Flat Bakers Pan after slicing it thicker then most retail sliced bacon and cook it to remove most of the fat in a oven at 375 degrees, removing it from the heat after it begins to look like regular cooked bacon, putting it on paper towels to drain. If not allowed to overcook by being very attentive it taste better them almost any Bacon Product available anywhere. I have compared it to most of the Bacons used in this comparison and will reiterate that it tastes much better if not cooked as long as required for regular smoked raw bacon.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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Man, the Seattle area is sadly bereft of all these different types of bacon from delis and butcher shops.  We don't have near the variety as seems to be produced in the Chicago area.  Then again, I wonder what the job market is for interventional cardiologists in the Chicago area.....pretty good, I suspect....

No offense intended here, honey, but I don't want to hear about "limited" food resources from you guys in Seattle! (Yeah, I'm still jonesing for even the limited resources that were available a couple of years ago when I lived in Savannah, Ga. Lately, I've moved back to my hometown to help care for my grandmother -- 100 miles south/west/inland of Savannah -- and "gourmet" groceries are a distant memory!)

Happily, I'm learning to take advantage of my renewed rural locale: No, none of my local grocers stock specialty bacons, but an old friend of the family is a master of the smokehouse. Each spring, I give elderly farmer friend the cost of a couple of shoats, and like magic, several hundred pounds of fresh and smoked pork become available to me in the autumn. This makes me happy, since I don't face the moral dilemma of being too soft-hearted to enjoy the bacon provided by hogs I'd've probably named, tamed, trained, and become attached to if required to raise them myself. Another dear friend - a butcher - carves great slabs of pork in the manner I prefer each fall, since I'm notoriously clumsy and likely to eviscerate myself while frenching my Christmas pork roast. Happily again, the fees for these services are small: a nice autumn meal of pork roast, greens, sweet potatoes, cracklin' cornbread, cornbread dressing, and pecan pie.

Back to subject, though: The aforementioned butcher is wonderful about slicing bacon to my preference. I find that most bacons are at least acceptable with proper slicing (3/8 inch in perfect by me.) Oh, heck. Who am I kidding? Bacon is like consensual sex: Even if it's bad, it's pretty darned good! (And who must one kill or sleep with to snag an invitation to a booze-fueled bacon-tasting party? :wink: )

"Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress."

Charles Pierre Monselet, Letters to Emily

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Disagree - it's possible to comment on different styles, provided that there is significant difference between them. Furthermore, the difference between good quality and poor quality within the same style tends to be immediately obvious.

You get variations within styles - taste tests are great for spotting the difference.

All produce varies slightly, but that's the one of the arts of the producer to take random variations and create consistency

Also, It's impossible to create exactly the same conditions for any cooking experience - that's just the way of the kitchen , yet somehow I manage to cook my bacon just the way I like it every time!!

I'm not saying that over time cooking variables cause bacon to go from good to bad, or even good to mediocre, just different. Unless you burn it, bacon is always great. Occasionally I get melt in your mouth mind blowing bacon. I've given this many many hours of thought. I've come to the conclusion that it's the net effect of a multitude of variables. Teensy weensy relatively uncontrollable variables. A cut from a different location in the animal, an extra couple of days in the package, a degree hotter, a degree colder, increased fat content, decreased fat content, an extra second in the oven. It's like trying to hit the lottery. It's always great but once in a blue moon the bacon gods shine down upon me and I end up with a mind blowing experience. I don't think there's anything else in the kitchen that's as fleeting and unpredictable. Choosing the right brand or the right style won't guarantee it. I wish it would.

Buy the exact same brand of bacon with two different sell by dates. Bake them up and serve them. 100 bucks says that your tasters will swear that they're eating different brands. 100 bucks. If the same brand is that inconsistent, how can taste testing produce useful information?

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Buy the exact same brand of bacon with two different sell by dates.  Bake them up and serve them.  100 bucks says that your tasters will swear that they're eating different brands. 100 bucks. If the same brand is that inconsistent, how can taste testing produce useful information?

I get your point that there is variablity among bacons, even within the same brand. Do you get my point that some sources of variability will produce greater effects than others? For example, there is plenty of variability in winemaking and you can easily get two bottles from the same 'brand' that taste quite different. But you can still tell a shiraz from a merlot.

There are statistical tools to address this type of question and we will consider it specifically in the experimental design of our next bacon tasting. Can we declare this horse dead?

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Disagree - it's possible to comment on different styles, provided that there is significant difference between them. Furthermore, the difference between good quality and poor quality within the same style tends to be immediately obvious.

You get variations within styles - taste tests are great for spotting the difference.

All produce varies slightly, but that's the one of the arts of the producer to take random variations and create consistency

Also, It's impossible to create exactly the same conditions for any cooking experience - that's just the way of the kitchen , yet somehow I manage to cook my bacon just the way I like it every time!!

I'm not saying that over time cooking variables cause bacon to go from good to bad, or even good to mediocre, just different. Unless you burn it, bacon is always great. Occasionally I get melt in your mouth mind blowing bacon. I've given this many many hours of thought. I've come to the conclusion that it's the net effect of a multitude of variables. Teensy weensy relatively uncontrollable variables. A cut from a different location in the animal, an extra couple of days in the package, a degree hotter, a degree colder, increased fat content, decreased fat content, an extra second in the oven. It's like trying to hit the lottery. It's always great but once in a blue moon the bacon gods shine down upon me and I end up with a mind blowing experience. I don't think there's anything else in the kitchen that's as fleeting and unpredictable. Choosing the right brand or the right style won't guarantee it. I wish it would.

Buy the exact same brand of bacon with two different sell by dates. Bake them up and serve them. 100 bucks says that your tasters will swear that they're eating different brands. 100 bucks. If the same brand is that inconsistent, how can taste testing produce useful information?

Don't know whether I'm used to European bacon, but we don't seem to be getting the inconsistencies you seem to be getting. However, on the basis of what you are saying, taste testing in general is totally impossible... I can't agree.

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Buy the exact same brand of bacon with two different sell by dates.  Bake them up and serve them.  100 bucks says that your tasters will swear that they're eating different brands. 100 bucks. If the same brand is that inconsistent, how can taste testing produce useful information?

I get your point that there is variablity among bacons, even within the same brand. Do you get my point that some sources of variability will produce greater effects than others? For example, there is plenty of variability in winemaking and you can easily get two bottles from the same 'brand' that taste quite different. But you can still tell a shiraz from a merlot.

There are statistical tools to address this type of question and we will consider it specifically in the experimental design of our next bacon tasting. Can we declare this horse dead?

Will be expecting tests of probability, and ruthless and rugged methodology... Nothing else will do damn it!!!! :biggrin:

P.S. If the horse is dead, can we rub the flesh with salt, sugar and spices, and try making horse bacon from it?? hmmmm... What do you call horse bacon?

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This is a significant issue because these supermarket bacons, which are also pretty much the same as the standard bacon a restaurant gets delivered from Sysco or US Foodservice, surely account for something like 99% of the bacon consumed in the US. Therefore they establish the bacon taste preference baseline among the population.

Just a note that Sysco carries an amazing variety of bacons. None of them are along the lines of a Nueske's, but the more expensive premium Sysco bacons are generally fresher and much tastier than your usual supermarket lines. I was very pleased with the bacons I got from Sysco--especially the thick-sliced applewood-smoked bacon. (It comes frozen, so maybe this accounts for my sense that the bacon is fresher...it's probably flash-frozen right after it's sliced.) If you ever get a chance to visit a Sysco trade show, be sure to try all the bacons they have out as samples and you'll see what I mean.

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