Monday, December 29, 2008

The Bacon List--Kirkland Hickory Smoked

Kirkland "Natural Hickory Smoked" bacon from Costco is my current everyday bacon. That being the case, and since I already had some in my fridge, it's going to be the first bacon that I review as part of this epic, sweeping project that I have dubbed The Bacon List.

This Kirkland is a pretty good bacon. It's respectable. It doesn't shrink up too much when cooked, renders a decent amount of fat, and yields a finished product that has a nice balance of salty, sweet, smoky, and porky flavors.

It should be considered for what it is--a pretty good grocery store bacon. It's a mass-produced product and it looks, feels, and tastes like one. But that's ok--it sells for $8.99 for a four-pound pack. It's not trying to be something it's not. It wants to be your everyday use bacon. It's certainly fine for sandwiches or to cook with. We also use it when we want to just eat some bacon with breakfast, but we're not too fancy over at our house. The kid likes it fine. If I'm making a nice breakfast or having guests over, I'd probably break out the Neuske's, Nodine's, or Broadbent's, but that's only for once in a while, since some of those run up around $10/pound.

Ok, let's get to the rundown:

    Designation--Fancy or Grocery Store? Grocery Store--One look at this bacon (it's pretty wet) gives away the fact that it's a 'wet cure'. It has somewhat of a bloated look and feel. Kind of mushy. Here's what I'm talking about:
    Price--How much did I pay per pound for the bacon? $2.25/pound. (Sold in four-pound packs)

    Uncooked appearance--Color, texture, wet- or dry-ness, mushy or firm, etc... See picture above. Color is pale, washed-out looking. Texture is on the mushy side...spongy and very wet. This is a sloppy bacon to handle. All this is typical of bacon that has been injected with solutions containing phosphates and other chemicals which aid in speeding up the curing process. The meat is "pumped up" with liquids as a way to cram as much flavor in to it in as short a time possible. To be honest, the pre-cooking appearance made me think it would be a pretty bad bacon.

    How it cooks--Tendency to curl, how much it shrinks, tendency to spatter... The Kirkland bacon cooks up well. Not much shrinkage (maybe 15-20%), no curling, crisps up nicely. Considering how wet the bacon is, it's somewhat surprising that it didn't shrink up more when cooked.

    Cooked appearance--Color, shape, texture. Looks much better cooked than raw. Nice thick pieces hold their shape and texture well, color darkens nicely to a nice brown-red. Very consistent shape and thickness of slices.
    How does it taste--Sweetness, saltiness, smokiness, texture (melting, chewy, flabby, spongy), "porkiness". Nice balance of flavors. You get sweetness, saltiness, smoke, and pork in nearly equal doses. It's got a decent melting quality in the mouth, but it's more meaty than it is really redolent of melting fat. Some have compared it to pancetta, as the salt is probably the more prominent note, with the smoke being the least evident. The package declares this to be "Naturally Hickory Smoked", but I'm not sure I'm buying that. Maybe they inject a little Hickory smoke into the giant stainless steel cooking chamber, but this stuff has certainly spent zero time hanging up over a hardwood fire, I'll tell you that much.

    Overall rating--All bacons reviewed will be given an overall rating from 1-10, with 1 being practically inedible (I say "practically" since, you know, it's bacon--how bad can it be?), 5 being a perfectly serviceable bacon for use in cooking or on a sandwich, and 10 being....well, let's be honest; there won't be a 10. Overall Rating: 6.0

Some notes:

a) Regarding bacon's cooked appearance--this is largely dependent upon the cooking method chosen, the medium utilized, and the temperature/length of cooking. As such, it's very subject to variance. I am attempting to limit my comments to those that would apply regardless of the cooking technique used.
I usually cook bacon in a 325 degree oven, on a rack over a sheet pan, so the fat can drip away and the bacon can get crispy. In the spirit of doing an honest comparison, I will try to use this cooking technique for all the bacon I review for The List.

b) As with restaurants, the numerical rating system is a bit wonky, since a hot dog stand will never garner a four-star review, no matter how perfectly they dress your dog and cook your fries. Likewise, a grocery store bacon will probably never get anything more than a 6.5 or 7 review. It's just not possible. Really, it's not even fair to compare a dry-cured, wood-smoked product like the artisanal products I mention above with a grocery store product like the Kirkland stuff, but I'm doing it anyway. So, just so you know, the 6.0 above is a pretty damn good number for a mass-produced product.

c) Damn, I love bacon.

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