America has been bacon-crazy for quite some time now. We’ve got not just bacon itself in countless forms, but a host of wild bacon-based concoctions: bacon chocolate; bacon, egg, and French toast martinis; sweet potato pie with candied bacon; bacon-jalapeño stuffed mushrooms; bacon cotton candy; and even bacon caramel apple pie. It’s not a new craze, but it is still a growing one.
The word bacon has its origins in Old High German — it referred to the “back” of the pig, where some bacon meat comes from, especially in certain countries outside the United States (we like ours from the fattier belly of the animal).
Domesticated pigs were introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus (he brought eight with him on his first big trip), and then again by Hernando de Soto — who brought mainland America’s first 13 pigs to Tampa Bay, Florida — but bacon really hit it big in 1924 when Oscar Mayer introduced pre-packaged portions of pre-sliced bacon to consumers. Since then, it’s been America’s favorite breakfast food.
But bacon and similar meats are a big deal all over the world. In Germany, bacon (or speck) is sold in chunks and browned in a pan. The meat is first cured with salt, then cold-smoked with beechwood before being air-dried. The Germans choose beech to create a specific flavor — you won't find maple- or hickory-smoked bacon here. Koreans flame-grill their pork belly, or samgyeopsal-gui, much like barbecue. Since it is not cured or smoked, the natural flavor of the meat is revealed after cooking.
Want to get your pork belly fix while traveling? Here’s what to look for.
Middle bacon is the most popular style of bacon in Australia. It includes the streaky, fatty selection of the belly along with a piece of the pig’s loin at one end. Sold in rashers, or thick hunks, it can be grilled or broiled and served alongside eggs.
In China, bacon is called lop yuk; it’s air-cured with soy sauce, brown sugar, and spices for seven to ten days, until it is very firm. If it’s cured for a shorter cure time, say four days, it has to be smoked for five hours before consumption. It is used to flavor Chinese dishes.
French bacon is a slab of cured fatty pig belly that is used in bistro dishes like petit sale (pork with lentils). Often, the slabs are cut into cubes called lardons, which are fried and added to salads and quiche.
The Germans enjoy speck — a cured, smoked, air-dried pork belly. It can be eaten as it is or used to cook dishes like German bacon cookies and roulade — an entrée made with bacon, onions, pickles, and slices of flank steak all rolled up together and browned in butter.
Hungary loves its garlic bacon. Essentially, this is bacon brined in garlic saline solution for five days, then dry-cured in salt, coated with beef blood and paprika, then smoked to burn off the salt-blood coating. That is probably not what you thought when you first read “garlic bacon.”
In Italy, bacon is more of an ingredient than a main course. Called pancetta, the Italian version of bacon is cured but not smoked, is generally cubed and sautéed to add flavors to classic dishes like spaghetti carbonara, or rendered down to flavor pizzas. There is also guanciale, a dry-cured pig jowl, and lardo, a white, delicate fat from the pig rump section that is cured for months with salt, spices, and herbs. It is served raw, sliced paper-thin to eat on toasted bread.
Called beikon, Japanese bacon is cured and smoked pig belly. Instead of long strips that Americans are used to, Japanese beikon is shorter and served in smaller portions. Uncured belly slices are called bara; they’re used as an ingredient in entrées.
Samgyeopsal-gui, or Korean bacon, is pork belly and is neither cured nor smoked. Instead, slices of the meat are grilled over an open flame and cooked barbecue-style. They sit on a grill alongside vegetables, potatoes, and other meats and are eaten without condiments.
In Russia, bacon is known as salo. Salo is mostly cured pork fat with almost no meat to it, if any. It is very similar to Italy’s lardo except usually not as thinly sliced. Salo is typically seasoned with garlic, pepper, and salt.
Photo by Jing Yu P. via Yelp
Singapore loves bacon, and diners in Singapore consume it in a variety of ways. Local restaurants serve dishes like bacon tempura and bacon ice cream with waffles. Most notable, though, is the Artichoke Café’s maple-glazed bacon chop, which is a slab of honey-glazed bacon about one inch thick.
In Ireland, "bacon" is a generic term for smoked pork loin, so the common Irish dish of bacon and cabbage doesn't exactly include what you’d typically think of as bacon. On the breakfast plate in both Ireland and the U.K., the bacon used is usually back bacon, which is mostly lean with a small curve of fat attached.