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The Best Turkey Bacon
What exactly is it? And can it compete with traditional pork bacon?
What You Need To Know
Whether you're intrigued by its purported healthfulness in relation to pork bacon or you prefer turkey to pork products, turkey bacon can be appealing. But is it any good? We purchased five nationally available products, priced from $1.99 to $6.99 per package. Panels of 21 tasters sampled pan-fried strips in two blind tastings: plain and in BLT sandwiches.
Pork Bacon Versus Turkey Bacon
Traditional pork bacon is made from pork belly, a fatty cut of meat that comes from the underside of a pig. It's generally cured with salt, sugar, and spices; smoked; and sliced. An equivalent cut of meat just doesn't exist on a turkey. The distribution of fat on the animals is also different. While many cuts of pork and beef are marbled with fat (think of pork shoulder or rib-eye steaks), much of the fat in poultry is located between the meat and the skin. If you took a hunk of turkey and processed it like pork bacon, it would be very lean and dry because it doesn't have those streaks of fat running through the meat.
There Are Two Types of Turkey Bacon
Based on how it's made, turkey bacon is more like sausage than pork bacon, according to Jeffrey Sindelar, a meat specialist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Meat Laboratory. There are two main styles: one that's made from finely ground meat and one that's made from meat chopped into larger chunks. The former is created by finely grinding white meat and dark meat separately and then mixing the meat with brines containing salt, sugar, and seasonings. At this point, each mixture “has the consistency of cake batter” and is easily extruded into rectangular pans in alternating layers, Sindelar explained. Eventually, the contents are sliced vertically, and those layers give the slices a faux-marbled appearance so that it visually mimics pork bacon, with striations of dark- and light-colored meat. In a crude approximation of the way pork bacon ripples and buckles as it fries, these strips have scalloped edges.
The second style of turkey bacon is usually made with turkey thighs (no white meat), which are “chunked” into larger pieces measuring 1 to 2 inches in diameter and tumbled with brine. As the pieces roll around, the proteins in the meat bind together and the pieces form a cohesive mass, which is later placed in molds and can be pressed before being sliced into strips. It is reminiscent of Canadian bacon or ham in appearance and texture.
Our lineup included both styles: three had dark- and light-colored stripes and were likely made with finely ground meat, and the other two more closely resembled Canadian bacon and were probably produced with larger chunks of meat, according to Sindelar. Bot...
Everything We Tested
Recommended with reservations
Made with larger chunks of thigh meat, our top scorer was much more like Canadian bacon than like the pork bacon most Americans prefer. We liked that it had some of the big smoky, salty, sweet flavors we associate with bacon. It had a pleasantly “chewy” texture and crisped up a bit more than other products in our lineup.
The intense flavor of this striated bacon made it stand out. Some tasters thought that flavor was slightly “artificial” and “hot dog”-like, but the bacon stood up to the other ingredients in a BLT sandwich. The strips toed the line between “crisp” and a little “leathery.”
This “soft” bacon didn't get very crispy, and we found it a little too “chewy.” Sampled plain, it had some “metallic” and “mustard”-y off-notes. When we layered it into a BLT, those funky flavors were much less noticeable and the prominent “smoky” flavor took center stage.
Made with larger chunks of thigh meat, this bacon “really tasted like turkey.” The poultry flavor was good, but we missed the intense smoke and salt of other products. In the BLT, the other ingredients' flavors overwhelmed this mild bacon.
Some of our tasters thought this turkey bacon had a “meaty” “turkey” flavor. Others thought it tasted more like “hot dogs” and “soy sauce” than either poultry or pork bacon. Its scores improved dramatically in the BLT tasting, where it was a little too salty but had a good balance of smoky-sweet flavor.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.