Let’s get one thing straight: even a less-than-stellar piece of bacon is still bacon. It’s the thing that greets us at a 24-hour diner when a late night turns into an early morning, the star of sandwiches, bean pots, and even some salads, and it can convey “I love you” next to a well-made omelet on a breakfast-in-bed tray.
“From a chef’s standpoint, bacon is prized for its versatility,” says Chef Bob Cook of Edmund’s Oast in Charleston, South Carolina, where each week the kitchen transforms 25 pounds of bacon into bacon jam to top burgers and accompany charcuterie. “I’m not a overuser of bacon, though. It’s familiar to most people, but from a cooking perspective, it can really open your eyes to the uses of fat.”
In 2015, Purdue University confirmed that fat is the sixth foundational flavor element, so as a cook, it’s important to know how to use it to your advantage. Bacon is a great way to begin, but not all bacons are created, sliced, smoked, and served equally.
By standard definition, in the United States, bacon is a cured meat from the sides and belly of a pig, so even though the idea of “bacon” has widened—from duck to soy protein—we held steadfast to the standard and only tested pork bacon from across the country. For anyone looking to up their breakfast or BLT bacon game, here are some of our favorites. Time to heat up those skillets.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall: Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon
- Best Bacon & Eggs Bacon: Peter Luger Extra Thick Cut Bacon
- Best Bacon for Cooking: The Baconer Uncured Smoked Lardons
- Best Bacon for a BLT: Edwards Sliced Hickory-Smoked Peppered Bacon
- Best Bacon for a Bacon Burger: Kiolbassa Dry Cured Hickory Bacon
- Best One Piece and Done Bacon: The Baconer XXL Smoked Paprika Bacon Steaks
- Best Bloody Mary Garnish: Nueske’s Applewood or Cherrywood Smoked Uncured Bacon
Best Overall: Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon
Type of bacon: Dry-cured | Type of cut: Thick cut | Flavor: Salty, intense smoke, porky | Where it’s made: Madisonville, TN | Weight: TK
- Smoked over a wood stove for extra smoky flavor
- Dry-cured, so not as much splatter when cooking
- Flavor, especially saltiness, can vary slightly due to handmade nature
- Must purchase 4 packs at a time online
Why we chose it: There is simply no other bacon that tastes this distinctive; one bite and you’re transported to the traditional smokehouses of the Appalachian Mountains.
Despite the wide fandom this bacon elicits in culinary circles, Allan Benton and his team still operate up close and personal to the pork they cure. “By hand” is the operative phrase: it’s dry-cured by hand with salt, brown sugar, and black pepper, then packed by hand after about three weeks spent curing and drying in a refrigerator and 2-3 days continuously in a small wood stove smokehouse. Yes, you read that right, a wood stove in the smokehouse for that true old-fashioned flavor.
“Benton’s is very smoky, so if you like that really smoky flavor, then this is the bacon for you,” says Cook. For home cooks that use bacon in their cooking, this product is economical too, because you don’t need very much of it to impart smoky, porky flavor throughout a dish. That’s why it’s a favorite of hundreds of chefs throughout the country, including David Chang, who was one of the initial evangelists of this beloved bacon, along with Benton’s country ham.
Best Bacon & Eggs Bacon: Peter Luger Extra Thick Cut Bacon
Best Bacon & Eggs Bacon
Type of bacon: Uncured | Type of cut: Extra thick | Flavor: Classic pork with light smoke | Where it’s made: Brooklyn, NY | Weight: 12 oz.
- Extra thick cut; 5 slices per 12-ounce package
- Just the right smokiness
- Meaty, with a little less fat than many
- Higher cost
- Takes longer to cook
- Must purchase 3 packs at a time online
Why we chose it: A slice or two of this decadent bacon on a breakfast plate makes us feel like a high-roller any morning.
Originally served at the iconic Brooklyn steakhouse just for employee meals—usually sandwiched between two slices of bread and eaten “on the fly”—the comforting chewiness of this thick-cut bacon eventually became an off-menu item in the 1980s and a public menu item in the 90s.
Although many folks either get this as a standalone item or with a burger, at home it is undeniably the best bacon to serve alongside eggs. The salty, chewy texture and extra thick cut is a mighty contrast to tender, fluffy, jammy, or runny eggs (any way you like them), and if you’re into frying an egg, use the smoky bacon drippings for a decadent dining experience, no jacket required.
Best Bacon for Cooking: The Baconer Uncured Smoked Lardons
Best Bacon for Cooking
Type of bacon: Uncured | Type of cut: Pieces | Flavor: Pleasantly porky and slightly smoky | Where it’s made: Emeryville, CA | Weight: 8 oz.
- Convenient for cooking
- Light, smoky flavor
- Small pieces don’t work for everything
- Varying fat ratios between pieces mean varying cooking times
- Must purchase 4 or 6 packs at a time
Why we chose it: These smoky nuggets are ultra-convenient for cooking.
Whether you want gourmet bacon on your salad, or are diving into building a French tartiflette, lardons not only save time in the kitchen (and keep you away from all that chopping and dicing), these nuggets of pork goodness provide a pop of flavor to any dish in which you incorporate them. The Baconer is a Bay-area business that begins with responsibly sourced pork, and that pork goodness really shines here,
When cooking these, pay extra attention to not crowding the pan over medium heat and only flipping once—you’ll be rewarded with slightly crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside bite-size beauties.
Best Bacon for a BLT: Edwards Sliced Hickory-Smoked Peppered Bacon
Best Bacon for a BLT
Type of bacon: Hickory-smoked | Type of cut: Thick cut | Flavor: peppery, porky | Where it’s made: California, MO | Weight: 12 oz.
- Pronounced peppery bite
- Smoky flavor
- Cooks up chewy yet tender
- Not made in Virginia anymore
- Some folks might be turned off by the strong peppery flavor
- Must purchase 4 or 6 packs at a time
Why we chose it: This black peppercorn-coated, thick-cut bacon cooks up chewy but tender with a decisive peppery bite.
An iconic Southern brand that began when ferry captain S. Wallace Edwards tucked his family-recipe cured ham into sandwiches and fed them to his hungry passengers on Virginia’s James River, this is a company that knows its pig, from country ham to bacon. A fire devastated the company in 2016, and in 2021, Edwards sold to the Missouri-based Burgers’ Smokehouse. The friends of the Edwards family continue to produce the family’s traditional recipes.
While the company is no longer based in Virginia, its flavor certainly is, and when summer tomato season rolls around, there’s hardly any better bacon to highlight a warm-from-the-garden tomato in a sandwich in a beloved BLT. Without debate, we will be using this peppered bacon on our first BLT of the season with extra mayo, and suggest you try it the same way. It’s chewy enough to stand up to slicing, but tender enough to bite through and not pull a slice out of the sandwich.
Best Bacon for a Bacon Burger: Kiolbassa Dry Cured Hickory Bacon
Best Bacon for a Bacon Burger
Type of bacon: Dry cured | Type of cut: Thick cut | Flavor: lots of meaty flavor | Where it’s made: San Antonio | Weight: 20 oz.
- Widely available at various grocers
- Texas tradition
- Less splatter while cooking
- Doesn’t render as much fat
- Bacon is a newer product for a company known for sausage
- Larger scale compared to other bacons on this list
Why we chose it: Atop a burger, this bacon will shine because its classic, meaty flavor and thick cut can stand up (and enhance) almost any beef patty.
This package of bacon just looks like it would come from Texas, a slab of thick-cut slices that seem to be just the kind of thing beef lovers (like many a Texan) would put on a burger. The dry-cure means no extra moisture is added in the curing process, which makes for less splatter during cooking.
“It's a really great product,” says Chef Steve McHugh, who uses Kiolbassa bacon at both Cured and Landrace in San Antonio. Although McHugh cures a lot of the proteins he serves at both restaurants, he simply uses too much bacon to make his own, so he turns to his San Antonio neighbors for a reliable source. “This company is regionally recognized and socially responsible, contributing a lot to our community,” he says, and suggests if you’re making bacon for a burger topping, then follow his lead and “utilize a sheet pan in the oven, which produces a great taste and presentation.”
Best One Piece and Done Bacon: The Baconer XXL Smoked Paprika Bacon Steaks
Best One Piece and Done Bacon
Type of bacon: Uncured | Type of cut: 1/2-inch thick cut | Flavor: slightly spicy and delightfully dense | Where it’s made: Emeryville, CA | Weight: 20 oz.
- ½-inch thick cut = majorly meaty
- Smokiness enhanced by paprika
- Equally at home on the dinner or breakfast plate
- Takes longer to cook than traditional cuts
- Unusual spice may turn off some bacon purists
- Must purchase 4 or 6 packs at a time
Why we chose it: One slice of this bacon on an otherwise veggie-forward plate can elevate any home cooked meal to hero status.
There’s so much to love about The Baconer, they made our list twice. Camilo Velasquez and Elisa Lewis, the California husband-and-wife team behind the brand, source their pork through Premium Iowa Pork, which for 100 years has partnered with a community of family farmers who raise their pigs humanely on small family farms.
One bite of this paprika-spiced slab of pork, and it’s easy to imagine how expertly an XXL steak would pair with some slow-cooked beans on a cool, cloudy day. In fact, any meal where ham or country ham has a place on the plate would offer a whole new twist if you switch out a smoked paprika steak for the pork player. Whatever you do, this is a bacon for highlighting and not tucking into a dish.
Best Bloody Mary Garnish
Type of bacon: Applewood Smoked is cured; Cherrywood Smoked is uncured | Type of cut: Standard (medium) cut | Flavor: Smoky and slightly sweet | Where it’s made: Wittenberg, WI | Weight: 12 oz.
- Original Nueske family recipe
- Naturally sweet without added flavor
- 1 pound package is $22.99 (but value increases with more pounds purchased)
- Thinner cut
Why we chose it: We’re not necessarily suggesting one of those over-the-top bloody marys garnished with everything but the plate; however a crispy slice of either of these bacons, along with an olive and a lemon in the spicy tomato cocktail, will start a weekend brunch on just the right foot.
The flavors imparted from the different woods varied only slightly, but either one of these slightly sweet slices would balance a spicy bloody mary cocktail with a bite. The bacon is a medium, or standard cut, so it cooks somewhat crispier and faster in a skillet than other kinds of bacon on this list, making it a sturdy garnish, or if you prefer, a crumble atop a salad instead of a cocktail accoutrement.
How We Chose These Products
In order to test these bacons, we cooked them all at the same temperature in a medium-heat cast iron skillet, making careful to not crowd the slices in the pan. We then drained on paper towels and sampled each one while still warm, taking notes of specific characteristics, and judging on thickness, meat-to-fat ratio, flavor, and overall mouthfeel.
Features to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Bacon
“I want a high fat content with marbling,” says chef Mailea Weger of Lou in Nashville, Tennessee, and someone who also admits that “as a consumer, I want bacon, and I love brunch. I adore cooking it, writing recipes for it, and I want bacon every single time. For me, I don’t want it oversalty or overly cured, but farming practices have become important to us.”
At Lou, Weger specifically looks for producers who use Berkshire pigs, which, along with careful farming and production practices, impart a classic meaty flavor. She stresses that no matter your flavor preference (smoky, peppery, or sweet), making sure that the classic cured pork flavor is the foundation for it all will always serve you well.
The most important factor in texture will be how you decide to cook it. Some people press their bacon flat, others like it lightly seared, and still others want a crumbly texture, something crunchy and well done. Beyond that, consider the slices’ fat-to-meat ratio.
For cooking, if you want to render more fat, look for more soft fat striations between the meat, or for a bloody mary garnish, a high meat content so the bacon slice will crisp and stand up nicely in the glass. In the small-batch bacons we sampled, that ratio may vary slightly within a single pack, so eye a few packs if you can before choosing your specific slice. And finally, the cure can affect the texture, especially when it comes to peppered bacon, which, when done right, cooks up with a meat rind of salty, peppery goodness.
Type of Cut
Thick cut was the norm for most of the small-batch bacons we tried, and it’s most assuredly a distinguishing factor between artisanal bacon and many commodity products on big box store shelves. While there might be a time for a thinner cut (when you’re looking to crumble bacon easily atop a sour cream and chive potato, for instance), thick-cut bacon is the most versatile for both eating and using in recipes.
Cured vs. Uncured
First and foremost, all bacon is cured—that’s what makes it bacon and not just pork—so the cured vs. uncured designation on packages is understandably confusing. The difference is about what is used, namely nitrates. They are present in both cured and uncured bacon; the difference is whether they are a specific additive to the process (cured) or occur naturally in the curing products, most commonly by using celery powder (uncured).
Ask the Experts
Q: What is the difference between center cut bacon and regular bacon?
Center-cut bacon is simply bacon with the fatty ends cut off, so it has become a popular choice for those looking for a less fatty alternative. However, in a good-quality bacon, that fat won’t curl at the ends, and beyond that, it’s bacon we’re talking about here, so fat is the feature, not something to be avoided, but used to your advantage.
Q: How long can bacon last before it’s opened and after it’s opened?
Most companies advise keeping bacon refrigerated after opening and consuming the entire package within a week. “If you notice that when it’s out of the refrigerator, the meat starts losing moisture and seeping, then it’s past its prime,” Cook says, “but I’d have to say it’s been a long time since I knew anyone who had bacon go bad from not eating.”
However, if that’s you, bacon lasts for months in the freezer, so store any packages, unopened or otherwise, in the freezer until about a day before you’re ready to use.
Q: What is the best way to cook bacon?
“I’m a pan girl, although it’s very messy,” says Weger about her preferred bacon cooking technique. “The pan is cooking in its own grease, so the fat content is somewhat maintained. Baking is best if you are wanting to take it to a crispier level.”
Note: while we did taste a variety of maple-flavored bacon, none made our final list because they seemed artificially sweet with a lingering, not-altogether-pleasant flavor. Instead, Weger shares this sweet bacon cooking method that keeps brunch regulars coming back at Lou:
“This is same bacon recipe I did when I worked in Paris. Blend 3 part fennel seed to 1 part chili flake powder, then combine that in equal parts with white sugar and store in an airtight container. When ready for bacon, start with thick cut bacon, and parbake it in the oven. Then remove from the oven to a skillet on medium heat, sprinkle sugar mixture over it and cook an additional 5 minutes. The fennel and sugar kind of melts into the bacon, and then we finish with a light drizzle of maple syrup to just make it sticky.”
Bacon is a versatile product for both cooking and as a protein centerpiece for the plate. Meaty, pork flavor is essential, and then it’s up to the cook and the diner to decide between sweet, smoky, or spiced. And when it comes to the cut, thick-sliced is usually preferable.