I found myself in a wistful, introspective mood this weekend, dear readers. Maybe it was the first rainy summer weekend we’ve had in a while, which kept me inside and daydreaming instead of outside and gallivanting. Maybe I’m just getting a bit more cerebral as I age. But whatever the reason, I found myself not just cooking, eating and enjoying some bacon this weekend (though I certainly did that as well). More than that, I found myself pondering, positively ruminating on what was the secret to bacon’s charms, what was it that made this simple strip of pork so incredibly delicious, so much so that our entire culture has become obsessed with it.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to start a new series here on the Republic of Bacon, called The Elements of Bacon. Each entry will be dedicated to one of the aspects of bacon, be it flavour or texture or aroma, that contributes to its incredible tastiness. Today, for the first entry, I want to talk about smoke.

Smoking Bacon

The smoky flavour of bacon is one of its defining features. This is the taste that lingers on the palate after you eat a strip on it, and even when you use a tiny bit of bacon in a recipe, it’s this same smoke flavour that let’s everyone who tastes it know that the bacon is there.

Smoking is one of the essential steps in the preparation process that turns a piece of pork belly into bacon. After the bacon has been cured, usually in salt or brine, the pork is smoked. This process is what gives bacon its characteristic smoky flavour. The brined pieces of pork can be smoked in a variety of ways, though many experts recommend using a cold smoke technique, where the meat is exposed to smoke at relatively low temperatures for a longer period of time. This lets the smoke penetrate the meat more fully and leaves a deeper flavour.

Flavours of Smoke

There are many different woods that can be used to smoke bacon, and usually this wood is mentioned when describing the bacon. For example, hickory smoked bacon, with its sharp and woody aroma, has been prepared using hickory wood chips during the same process; applewood smoked bacon, which is more mellow and sweet, uses applewood. Other good choices for bacon smoke are mesquite and alder wood, but there are really many options available. Each wood imparts a slightly different profile, and all are delicious.

Smoking Beyond Bacon

As you can imagine, It’s not just bacon that tastes heavenly when smoked. There are many other foods that take to smoking extremely well, including cheese, some vegetables, and salmon. Give some of these a try, and then add some bacon for even more fantastic smoky flavour!