When visiting Great Britain, there are a few things you should try: an afternoon tea (with scones and clotted cream), fish and chips and, of course, an English breakfast. Although, I do have to admit, I am not a fan of a classic English breakfasts (plenty meat, beans in tomato sauce, your baked mushroom, …).
Luckily though, tastes differ! And when in the UK, my travelling companion did divulge in the English breakfast, including, the bacon. British bacon, to more specific. Only at that point did I realize that there are different types of bacon. I was mostly familiar with the long strips in pork belly bacon, but this British bacon was clearly made from another piece of meat. A little digging later on taught me that there actually are several types of bacon, we’ll call the styles American, British, Canadian, etc. and dive deeper into the world of bacon types.
Where bacon comes from
Bacon has been made in the UK for centuries (and most likely in many more countries, using slightly different methods). Since most farming families would have a few pigs, they would have plenty of pig meat when the pig was slaughtered. Making some of the meat into bacon was a way to preserve the meat for later in the year. Since refrigeration didn’t exist, salting and curing meat was a very common way to preserve meat.
Nowadays, especially in the US and Canada, bacon can literally be found anywhere. Just google ‘bacon breakfast’ or ‘bacon recipe’ and there’s a ton of different recipes that pop up. That said though, the story goes that, in the US at least, bacon wasn’t really part of breakfast until the 1920’s. At that point a marketing campaign by meat producers helped increase the consumption of bacon considerably. Nowadays, there’s no American breakfast place that doesn’t serve bacon (except for the vegetarian ones of course!).
Bacon is made from pigs. That said, a pig is quite a big animal and there are only a few pieces of meat that are used for making bacon. How that bacon is made and which parts of a pig are used is what defines the different types of bacon, which is what we’ll zoom in here. Just keep in mind that the terminology we use here doesn’t mean that you can’t buy British bacon in the US, or that Canadian bacon cannot be found anywhere else. It’s just the most common bacon for that country.
Pork belly bacon – American
American bacon is made from the belly of a pig. This piece of meat is a layered meat with fat and meat layers interchangably. For American bacon the bellies are processed into bacon as a whole and cut into slices at the end. Since pork belly is only a few centimeters thick and significantly wider and longer, it will result in long narrow strips of bacon. Most American style bacon is raw, it hasn’t been cooked through yet, you will find that other types are.
Since the pork belly has a high fat content this type of bacon tends to contain quite a lot of fat. When you fry the bacon though this will melt and leave the meat. You can make this bacon pretty nice and crispy, especially if it’s sliced thin enough.
Bacon can also be made from a learner part of the pig, one that contains slightly less fat: the loin. Whereas the pork belly sits at the bottom of the pig, between its legs, the loin sits in the top of the pig and runs from just behind the shoulder to just before the legs. The loin is quite a tender piece of meat and is used to make Canadian style bacon, with quite a lot fat content.
Even though Americans call this bacon Canadian bacon, most other countries, including Canada, will refer to it as back bacon, since the meat comes from the back of the pig.
The Brits seem to have come up with a combination of the former two bacon types. It is made of the loin, but some of the fatty meat parts on the side of the loin haven’t been sliced off. So you’ve got the same part of the loin, with an ‘extension’ of fat. As a result, it’s more fatty than the Canadian version, but but leaner than the American one.
But of course, there’s more bacon types. Even though I personally haven’t made or used Chinese bacon, it is again slightly different. It is probably most similar to American belly, since it also uses pork belly. However, the types of spices and marinades make it very different in texture and flavour than the other three.
While collecting different bacon types I also ran into a South African blog showing a photo of ‘their’ bacon, which seems very similar to the British style. It also has the loin section with a strip of belly attached to it. In Hungary an other type of bacon can be found, szalonna, which has a higher fat content again than American bacon. Then there’s the Italian pancetta, which is again very similar to American style bacon. Then there’s cottage bacon, which is made from the should of a pig!
Levick.com, on the history and rise of bacon the US
English breakfast society, on the history of bacon in the UK