In the United States, streaky bacon made from the belly of the pig is the most commonly eaten type of bacon. Long, narrow slices are cut crosswise from the belly, a part of the animal that contains pink meat and white fat. Streaky bacon, also known as side bacon, is very fatty due to the long layers of fat that runs parallel to the rind.
U.S. style streaky bacon can be pumped or dry cured, and is often smoked or smoke-flavored. Traditional wet curing does exist, but is fairly rare.
U.S. bacon can be purchased unsliced (a slab of bacon) or sliced (bacon slices / bacon strips).
A product labeled just bacon in the United States must be cured pig belly. If it is not, e.g. because the product is made from another part of the pig, that information must be added to the label, e.g. “Poker Shoulder Bacon” rather than just “Bacon”.
The label must also tell if the bacon is cooked. Without any descriptor, you can assume that the bacon is uncooked and you need to cook it before eating it.
In the U.S, a majority of all bacon comes from pigs younger than eight months.
Many different types of streaky belly bacon exists in the U.S, reflecting varying traditional production methods and available resources in the different geographical areas that make up this large nation.
Twelve species of hickory is native to the United States, and in regions where hickory is commonplace, it has traditionally been a popular choice for smoking bacon. Hickory wood has a very high energy content and also adds a distinct flavor to the meat.
In parts of the U.S. where corn is a dominating crop, it comes as no surprise that bacon smoked over corncobs is a popular dish. The U.S. Corn Belt is a region of the Midwest where corn has been the dominant crop since the 1850s. The Corn Belt region includes Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, southern Michigan, western Ohio, eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, southern Minnesota and parts of Missouri.
Apple tree wood is used to make smoked bacon with a mild, fruity flavor. If a stronger and heartier flavor is desired, oak or hickory is a better choice.
Adding something sweet when preparing bacon is a widespread practice in the United States. It can for instance be molasses, brown sugar, honey or maple syrup.
Making your own U.S. style bacon
There are many detailed recipes available online if you want to make bacon from specific parts of the country, using locally available product. Below, we will just outline the main steps involved in making U.S. style smoked streaky bacon.
- Skin the pork belly. Trim any ragged edges.
- Cure with salt. Sodium nitrite is a commonplace addition, since it makes the bacon look more pink and delays the development of the Clostridium botulinum toxin (botulism).
- Smoke the bacon.N.B! Large-scale commercially produced bacon is typically heat processed in big convection ovens at this stage instead of being smoked. This is a quicker method than smoking the bacon. To give the bacon a smokey taste, the meat can be sprayed with liquid smoke extract. Exposing the bacon to smoldering wood chips is another solution.
- Chill the bacon down to 40 degrees F.
- Slice the bacon. (A majority of all bacon sold in the United States is sliced.)
The two primary methods of curing bacon in the United States is dry curing and pumping. Traditional wet curing is much less common.
Dry curing involves rubbing dry cure mixture (typically salt and nitrite) onto the pork surfaces and leaving the pork to cure for several days, adding more salt during that time if needed. Wet curing on the other hand involves dissolving the cure mixture in water and then leaving the pork to cure submerged in that liquid for several days. Both methods are considered traditional curing methods since they have been around since before the advent of large-scale industrialized cured meat production.
Pump curing is a modern invention where curing ingredients are injected directly into the pork. This speeds up the curing process. Pump-cured bacon is usually cured for less than 24 hours in the United States, and some bacon is only cured for 6 hours. If not property drained, pumped bacon will still contain a lot of liquid when you cook it and that’s why it splatters and pops so much in the skillet.
In the United States, pumped bacon must contain either ascorbate or sodium erythorbate (isoascorbate). Either of these two additives will accelerate the reaction of nitrite within the meat, thus reduce the formation of nitrosamines.