Monday, March 30, 2009

The Bacon List--Gusto Brand Bulk Bacon

With the weather starting to break, and the first smoke of the season already in the bag, I decided it was time to get serious and head down into the city to buy some whole briskets at Peoria Packing for future consideration.

So Henry and I woke up early on Saturday morning, skipped breakfast, threw a few of those cool-pak things in the cooler, and got down there nice and early.

When I started this far-reaching project of epic proportions that I'm calling The Bacon List, I figured that whenever I found myself in new or different stores where they sold bacon, I'd always pick some up, and that way I'd constantly have new products to try.

This was the case at Peoria Packing on Saturday (I'll do a full run-down of the butcher shop itself sometime in the near future), as I walked up and down between the tables piled high with meat and encountered a few large cases of sliced bacon just kind of loose in a big pile inside the cardboard box. The sign said "Gusto smoked bacon" and the price was right so I grabbed a plastic bag off the roll and threw in a few handfuls of bacon slices.

Packaging, as we've seen in the past, isn't always indicative of what's inside. I figured this bulk bacon was probably about as good as many of the grocery store bacons I'd been trying.

But, boy was I wrong. This stuff is NOT good.

I looked up Gusto and it appears that they're a packing house out of Montgomery, Illinois that carries bacon, ham, breakfast sausage, and a few other smoked items. They also have a great logo:

I'm considering putting this on a T-shirt


Yup. Great logo, alright. Their bacon, on the other hand, sucked. Let's go straight to the rundown.

Designation--Fancy or Grocery Store? Not sure. I would venture a guess that this is grocery store-quality, but it was fairly dry. That could, however, be explained that it wasn't vacuum sealed in plastic, allowing for some air-drying. I may have to create a new designation for this one--Cheap.

Price--How much did I pay per pound for the bacon? $1.59/lb. sold in bulk at Peoria Packing.

Uncooked appearance--Color, texture, wet- or dry-ness, mushy or firm, etc... Very thick slices, fairly dry, large, broad slices. Decent looking streaking and texture.

How it cooks--Tendency to curl, how much it shrinks, tendency to spatter... Lots of shrinkage and curling. Due to my cooking method, most bacons I review don't curl up much. This one was an exception. It shrank a lot (perhaps almost 50%) and it curled up like crazy while cooking on a sheet pan in the oven. This indicates that this bacon carries a lot of water weight in the form of saline injections, phosphates, and other liquid (read; quick, industrial, short-cut) cure ingredients. Not generally indicative of a good quality bacon.

Cooked appearance--Color, shape, texture. Lots of curling. It rendered quite a bit of grease into the pan as well. Lean parts are a nice-looking dark red, fat browned up well. It looks pretty good other than the shrinkage and excessive curl.

How does it taste--Sweetness, saltiness, smokiness, texture (melting, chewy, flabby, spongy), "porkiness". Extremely disappointing. The first thing that I noticed when I ate this bacon was the freakish crunch. This was due, I later determined, to the rind being left on. With a rind-on bacon (which I don't think I've ever experienced before), the thin strip of skin essentially becomes like a cracklin' as the bacon cooks. And that's exactly what I tasted when I ate this bacon--that pork rind flavor you get from eating a cracklin'. Not bad, exactly, but not what I'm looking for from bacon, and the drastic contrast in textures was somewhat of a distraction.

I could've dealt with the rind-on thing if the bacon tasted good. But it didn't. It basically delivered nothing. It had almost no salt. No sweetness. And despite searching deep down into my palate for a whiff of smoke flavor, I could find none. This bacon tastes only of plain, bland pork. Like a poorly-seasoned pork jerky or something. I ate a second slice to make sure it was as bad as I thought, and it was. It's pretty rare that bacon goes begging in our house, but this batch did. We ended up putting five uneaten slices off to the side. That's just sad.

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. 2.0. This is by far the lowest rating I've ever given, and I'm honestly not sure how anything, short of being rotten or inedible, could rank lower. I'm actually giving this stuff a free point just based on the fact that it was so cheap, although I wouldn't bother eating it again at any price. Not even cooked into recipes or crumbled into a salad. It's just a waste of calories.

In fairness to Gusto, it appears from their website that they do carry a number of different types of bacon and that this one is probably the cheapest of the bunch. Their other products might be quite good, who knows?

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