Beef bacon shares a number of characteristics with the more traditional pork bacon but is considerably lower in saturated fat. Both beef and pork bacon are fatty cuts of meat that are salted and smoked, or salted and dried. The meat is cut into thin slices and cooked in a pan on top of the stove. Beef offers a healthier option to those who enjoy the taste of bacon as a breakfast meat or as a flavoring in dishes such as spaghetti carbonara or bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, as well as for those who do not eat pork for religious reasons.
All beef bacon contains less saturated fat than pork bacon; however, the amount of fat can vary widely. The healthiest is made of beef that has come from grass-fed cows. This type of bacon is up to 90% leaner than fatty pork bacon.
Most bacon made from beef comes from the meat of the belly, cut from the area nearest to the cow’s flank. Wet curing is more common than other methods of bacon preparation, and it is easier. With this method, the meat soaks in a salt and sugar water brine for several days. The salt is used in order to draw out excess moisture from the meat, while the sugar in the brine suffuses the meat with flavor.
After brining, the meat must be rinsed and dried. Sufficient drying occurs when the meat shows a glossy, thick coat, called a pellicle. This process is usually completed within a few hours.
Smoked beef or pork bacon takes on the flavor of the particular type of wood used to smoke it. The smoking process takes about a day, during which time slices of the meat are hung in a smoker or smokehouse where burning wood kept at a consistent temperature cures and flavors the bacon. Hickory, cherry, or apple woods infuse the meat with a mildly sweet flavor that intensifies later when the bacon is cooked.
Now, beef bacon is becoming increasingly popular. In the past, it was difficult to locate commercially prepared beef bacon. Currently, it is readily available in stores that carry health food items. Some cooks take on the task of making their own beef bacon strips using a home smoker, flavored woods, salt, and sugar.
Like pork bacon, an opened package of beef bacon will keep in the refrigerator for up to ten days. If it will not be used in that length of time, it freezes beautifully. For the best flavor and quality, frozen beef bacon should be thawed, cooked, and consumed within two to three months.