We at Tasting Table won’t allow our readers to wake up to just any old skillet-fried pig-in-fat. So, we “painstakingly” bought, cooked, tasted and ranked some of the most common grocery store bacon brands we could find near our office in NYC. We’re not claiming scientific accuracy here, but one large, greasy pan and a few satisfied taste testers later, we’re excited to share our kitchen counter ranking.
How did these brands stack up based on both flavor and texture? The criteria were clear: Perfect bacon strikes a delicate balance between crispy and chewy while tasting simultaneously salty, smoky and fatty (but not too fatty). Because we're fans of a thicker slice in general, we didn’t consider thick-cut varieties, believing those would have an unfair advantage over the regular stuff.
We cleansed our palates between each trial with cans of PBR, just to keep our study thoroughly American.
Although there were clear winners among the participants, we’re convinced that even “just OK” bacon beats no bacon at all.
Our Top Picks
① Market Pantry Hardwood Smoked Classic Cut ($5, 16 ounces)
This Target-only brand was a surprising front-runner. We could tell this stuff was the real deal the moment we opened the package: Hearty, thick and beautifully marbled, this bacon crisped up perfectly in the pan. And economically speaking, the Market Pantry bacon delivered more meaty goodness for the price than its competitors. The flavor was balanced and significantly smoky. We really couldn't get enough of these babies.
② Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked ($5.50, 16 ounces)
Often, “classics” are classic for a reason: because they’re consistently excellent. Oscar Mayer’s classic bacon didn't disappoint. This bacon was perfectly tasty, by turns buttery, salty, crispy and chewy with every bite. And it really shined in terms of visual appeal, in case Instagramming your bacon is a priority. We found this variation to be just as good as Oscar Mayer’s more expensive Center Cut offering.
③ Oscar Mayer Center Cut ($5.50, 12 ounces)
This variation from the same brand proved we couldn't go wrong with Oscar Meyer, and we awarded bonus points for having the easiest-to-open package by far. However, the Center Cut seemed largely equivalent to original Hardwood Smoked Oscar Mayer strips, the only difference being the slightly higher cost. Our advice? Go with the traditional cut and save a buck.
Hormel Black Label Original ($6, 16 ounces)
This package held its own against the competitors with a wholly satisfactory flavor and hearty, meaty texture. Our only criticism was that the strips didn't look the way great bacon is supposed to look: It was lacking in the girth department and failed to curl into bacon’s signature waves once cooked. Overall, this brand did the trick, but it wasn't our first choice among the lot.
Smithfield Hometown Original ($5, 16 ounces)
Crispy bacon lovers, this one's for you. The Smithfield strips were very thin right out of the package and shrunk up considerably when cooked, creating a chip-like bacon crisp. Ultimately, we found ourselves wanting more substance from the final product, but, hey, at least it’s still bacon.
Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon ($3.50, 12 ounces)
All objectivity aside, our testers admitted to secretly wanting this turkey bacon to be a winner. But when the bacon hit the fork, turkey just couldn’t stand up to the pork original. The texture was inconsistent, apparently dependent on cooking time. If cooked for too long, the turkey bacon came out too thin and crispy but ended up rubbery with too little frying time. Womp womp. Still, the taste was better than expected: a little sweet, a little salty and bacon-y enough if you must avoid the pig.
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