Until very recently, beef bacon has only been available through Halal butchers, but lately it’s been creeping its way onto supermarket shelves more and more. You can find it at your local Whole Foods. Beef bacon is typically made from the navel (the same fatty cut used for pastrami), and is treated basically the same as pork. The resulting product actually tastes pretty close to beef jerky.
The original non-pork bacon, turkey bacon gets no respect. As opposed to whole pieces of meat, turkey bacon is made from turkey that’s been smoked, chopped up, and re-formed into strips. It has a low fat content (around 10 percent), and doesn’t shrink when cooked like regular bacon does. It tastes fine, but isn’t much of a substitute when served alongside eggs. The best application for turkey bacon is on a sandwich like a BLT or club, where it can add its nice smoky flavor without being too dominant.
Yes, someone figured out how to create coconut bacon. A company called Phoney Baloney’s raised money to produce this via an Indiegogo campaign, and voila, now it exists. Made from coconut, tamari, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and grapeseed oil, it actually looks a little like chopped up bacon. It doesn’t respond well to heat or liquid, though, so the producers advise topping salads, sandwiches, or baked potatoes with it.
Companies like MorningStar have figured out a way to produce a semi-reasonable facsimile of bacon using textured soy protein as a base, mixed up with other stuff like egg whites, soybean oil, wheat gluten, vegetable protein, sodium tripolyphosphate, monocalcium phosphate, and cyanocobalamin. For vegetarians desperate for something vaguely resembling bacon, we see how this can come in handy, but meat-eaters might want to stick with, well, meat.
Duck bacon, made from duck breast, is some seriously good stuff. The most popular variety is uncured and produced by D’Artagnan, and to make it they take whole moulard duck breasts, give them a salt and sugar rub, smoke them over wood chips, and thinly slice them. The result is smoky with a great meaty texture, and is supremely versatile. Smoked duck breast in general is pretty great.
Tempeh is an Indonesian product made from fermented soybeans, and Tofurky and Lightlife produce varieties that contain far fewer ingredients (and chemicals) than the soy protein bacon. You can also make your own; there are plenty of recipes online. Lightlife won out in a recent taste test, and while nobody will be fooled into thinking that this is real bacon, if you like tempeh you’ll probably like these. And if you’ve never had tempeh, this might be a good gateway.
Seitan is essentially 100 percent wheat gluten, and has a mild flavor and pleasantly chewy texture that makes it a popular meat alternative. Upton’s Naturals sells a bacon seitan, and it’s apparently pretty good: smoky, chewy, and nicely crunchy if you cook it for a little bit longer. You can also make your own fairly easily. If you’re in the market for a meat-free bacon product, seitan appears to be the way to go.
You can technically make bacon out of any meat, and Wisconsin-based Crescent Quality Meats sells bacon with ground and formed elk. Hey, why not?
Venison bacon is pretty popular in certain circles (especially hunters), and a company called Curley’s even sells a package with curing salt, seasonings, and instructions. Just about every version calls for a combination of ground venison, ground pork, and pork fat to offset the leanness of the deer, and from what we can gather the resulting product is pretty delicious. Certainly not kosher, though.
Lamb bacon is quickly becoming very popular, and is on the menu at New York’s new Bar Bacon as well as at Brooklyn’s famed butcher shop The Meat Hook. Lamb bellies are quite small, so The Meat Hook rolls theirs up like pancetta, with tasty results. Indianapolis-based The Smoking Goose also sells and ships lamb bacon, hot smoked over applewood after being rubbed with salt, brown sugar, and maple sugar. It’s rich, strong on lamb flavor, and cooks up just as nicely as pork bacon, so if you like lamb you’ll most likely love this. Heck, we’ll go so far as to predict that within a year lamb bacon really takes off.
There are a couple companies out there, like Sayersbrook Bison Ranch and Yankee Farmer’s Market, that produce buffalo bacon, and while it’s hard to tell what part of the buffalo the latter uses to make theirs, the former appears to be using the brisket. We have a feeling that it’s probably smoky and quite tasty, but is probably nothing like the real thing. That said, we’d certainly try it.