Supermarket standoff: Best bacon

Bon Appetit

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Bacon taste test

Which bacon scored best? (Photo: iStockphoto)

We have embarked on a taste test tour of supermarket foods. We nibble (or sip), we score, and we share the results to help you avoid the paralysis of Brand Choice Overload.

Today's topic: bacon.

Carnivores, rejoice. This edition of Supermarket Standoff puts front and center the meat that claims unabashed adoration from food writers, chefs, and dudes 'round the world. Bacon has inspired large-scale festivals, questionable hygiene products, and an international holiday. People love bacon.

A lot of it is produced in the U.S.--more than 2 billion pounds each year--which became quite clear when we were researching for this taste test. We whittled down the large volume of brands by choosing classic hickory- or applewood-smoked versions. We included both cured and uncured bacon; the latter is rising in popularity due to health-conscious baconnoisseurs. (Not-so-fun-but-at-least-educational-fact: the term "uncured" is a little misleading, since it's meant to indicate that the bacon is free of pork-preserving sodium nitrite. But uncured bacon generally uses celery juice, which releases natural sodium nitrate and nitrite anyway.)

Some of our tasters prefer their bacon crispy and charred, while others wanted it chewy and ham-like. Whichever camp you're in, you can be guided by both our top picks and nutritionist Marissa Lippert's favorites.

Nature's Rancher Uncured Hickory Smoked Bacon
Our Favorites for Flavor

#1 Nature's Rancher Uncured Hickory Smoked Bacon

Nutrition: One serving (2 pan fried slices/15g) = 70 calories, 6g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 140mg sodium, 0g total carbs, 3g protein.

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Ingredients: Pork, water, brown sugar, sea salt, celery juice powder, lactic acid starter culture.

Cost: $5.99 at Whole Foods in New York City.

Blind Tasting Notes: "Good, homey breakfast bacon"; "This would probably be great for a sandwich but not alone"; "Really good, crispy and flavorful"; "Good salt and pork flavor, not artificial tasting"

(See also: Best potato chips)

Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon
#2 Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon

Nutrition: One serving (2 pan fried slices/15g) = 80 calories, 7g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 15mg cholesterol, 260mg sodium, 0g total carbs, 4g protein.

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Cured with: Water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite.

Cost: $4.49 at ShopRite in Paramus, NJ.

Blind Tasting Notes: "Smoky and woodsy"; "Tastes like it was cooked by a campfire. I like this"; "Crisped up nicely, nice salt content".

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#3 Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked Thick Cut Bacon

Nutrition: One serving (1 skillet-cooked slice/12g) = 60 calories, 5g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 250mg sodium, 0g total carbs, 4g protein.

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Cured with: Water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, sodium ascorbate, sodium nitrite.

Cost: $6.99 at The Food Emporium in New York City.

Blind Tasting Notes: "Lots of flavor for a crispy bacon"; "Ham-y"; It's good--not amazing".

Nutritionist Marissa Lippert's Picks

Some comments from Lippert: "The bottom line: bacon is bacon. We all know it's not the best for us in terms of fat and calorie content, but it's pretty darn delectable and just a small amount can add incredible flavor and depth to a dish. So indulge on occasion when you're really craving it.

I sifted through our options by focusing on ingredients, as usual; we're really aiming for pork, water, salt and spices--no other funny stuff necessary to cure good ol' bacon. Then I further sifted by honing in on sodium content. Bacon can be quite salty! Those brands with less salt came to the top of my list.

Be aware of how much salt is sneaking its way into your diet for disease prevention and to keep blood pressure at bay. Some sodium is essential for our bodies, but the daily recommendation is less than 2,300 mg. That's equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of table salt, or less than 1,500 mg if you're 51 and older."

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#1 Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon

Nutrition: One serving (1 skillet-cooked slice/15g) = 70 calories, 7g total fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 135mg sodium, 0g total carbs, 2g protein.

Ingredients: Pork prepared with water, salt, turbinado sugar, celery power. Gluten-free.

Cost: $6.99 at Whole Foods in New York City.

Our assessment: Shocking! Niman Ranch, an overall great company, turned up dead last for flavor in this competition.

Nature's Rancher Uncured Hickory Smoked Bacon
#2 Nature's Rancher Uncured Hickory Smoked Bacon

Nutrition: One serving (2 pan fried slices/15g) = 70 calories, 6g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 140mg sodium, 0g total carbs, 3g protein.

Ingredients: Pork, water, brown sugar, sea salt, celery juice powder, lactic acid starter culture.

Cost: $5.99 at Whole Foods in New York City.

Our assessment: Hooray! We ranked this numero uno for flavor.

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Wellshire Thick Sliced Dry Rubbed All Natural Uncured Bacon
#3 Wellshire Thick Sliced Dry Rubbed All Natural Uncured Bacon

Nutrition: One serving (2 pan fried slices/11g) = 60 calories, 3g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 220mg sodium, 0g total carbs, 4g protein.

Ingredients: Pork, water, sea salt, less than 20% of celery powder and evaporated cane syrup. Gluten and casein free.

Cost: $5.99 at Whole Foods in New York City.

Our assessment: This ranked smack in the middle for us; some thought it was "OK" others said it had an "almost like beef jerky textured when chewed" and other were more direct: "Ew"

*Yahoo! Shopping was not compensated by any brands listed within this article.

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