The Definitive History Of Bacon, From Romans To Hipsters

Where does bacon come from? Well, simply put, it comes from pigs, with all due respect to turkey bacon and other alternatives -- which, hey, we're extremely open minded and accepting at the Baconer. For health purposes or religious beliefs or other reasons, not everyone's gonna eat pork bacon. That's all good, but we are also firm believers that bacon in its truest sense comes from pigs.

Sorry Porky Pig, Babe, Miss Piggy, and other famous pigs -- ultimately, you're a source of bacon.

Now, if you want to dig past “it comes from pigs" into a deeper answer, we've got further info for you. Don't worry, that doesn't mean waxing philosophical (“bacon comes from the pig of your mind and soul"...nah); instead, we're gonna look at where the idea of crafting ham into bacon stems from and the physical cuts that make bacon.


The Origins Of Bacon

Bacon dates back to the times of the Roman Empire (which lasted from 27 BC to 1461 AD but peaked in the earlier part of that span -- there, now you don't have to look up the wikipedia entry).

Among the togas and cool helmets, Romans ate bacon. How did they come up with this? When it comes to food production in that time period, it was a combination of “path of least resistance" and “this tastes awesome.” Because pigs (sorry again Porky and Miss Piggy) are easily domesticated, they became a prime choice for livestock. The Romans used salted pork and even cooked with bacon fat, though they used a different approach: first boiling, then browning, then seasoning.

So bacon was all the rage in Europe -- as much as something could culturally influence a society without Instagram photos of food. Fast-forward to that not-as-virtuous-as-schoolbooks-say explorer Christopher Columbus. Because the pigs used for bacon aren't native to the Americas, it took Columbus’ voyage to introduce this type of meat to this side of the world. That doesn't excuse the many, many horrible things Columbus did, but those eight pigs he brought are the genesis of our bacon revolution

However, during the centuries following Columbus, bacon continued to be a favorite of foodies and peasants alike in Europe. The model that made it so popular among the Romans was the same thing that kept it in the tummies of people a millennia later. Because pigs were easy to keep and because salting and curing preserved the meat, it became a practical choice. But when you factored in its  savory goodness, it was pretty much a no-brainer.

No real leaps were made in the space of bacon until someone decided that hey, people love this and it's easy to preserve, so why not produce it en masse? Why not indeed.

This line of thinking wound up driving John Harris to open up the first notable bacon company ever in the 1770s. From the town of Caine in Wiltshire, pigs were brought in from all over Ireland and England for processing to get bacon ready for commercial sale. In fact, without John’s love of bacon, maybe history would have totally diverted and the Baconer wouldn't exist.

The term “Wiltshire Cure” has existed ever since then, though while it first referred to a dry cure developed by John (applying salt for 10-14 days), it changed to a brine soak around World War 1. 

England’s dominance of the bacon market continued until the 1920s when a company called Oscar Meyer began selling pre-sliced, pre-packaged bacon. Now, connoisseurs of artisanal bacon may scoff at the mega-corporation selling mass-produced bacon today, but remember that this was remarkable for the time. As with John Harris, without Oscar Meyer bringing bacon to the masses, the Baconer may not even exist. So regardless of the difference in foodie-approved quality, Oscar Meyer is a significant part of bacon history.

As we entered the modern era of big hair, New Wave music, and cable TV, bacon was still just a breakfast or sandwich side -- and in fact, the fatty content of bacon made it shunned by many parts of 1980s America, as the country got a little overzealous with anti-fat diets. Now we’re smarter and know that a healthy diet is much more nuanced than one single element. (If you listened to 1980s diet fads, carbs and sugars were the way to go. That didn’t turn out too well.).

In the late 1990s, local restaurateurs began experimenting with doing things like chicken-fried bacon. 

In the 2000s, this really took off: drinks, desserts, and mash-up foods meant bacon was part of everything from breakfast to cocktails.

Which brings us to today. The latest bacon milestone in the Grand History of Bacon is, well, us! No, seriously, because we truly believe our Sous Vide-preparation process and kick-ass flavors take bacon to the stars and beyond. Who knows, the Baconer might just go down as something bacon historians will discuss, marvel, and enjoy for ages to come.


From Pork to Bacon

That’s the history of bacon, but the practical part of “Where does bacon come from?” goes back to the pig (it always does). And when we say back, we don't mean literally the back of the pig, though that's honestly where bacon first started out.

However, the modern cut of bacon that we know and love -- and enjoy in everything from our sandwiches to our ice cream -- has evolved from the original back cut (if you order Canadian Bacon with breakfast, that’s typically a back cut). Instead, most bacon sold these days is a belly cut. Why?

Let’s return to the idea that there are six types of tastes, with the most recently discovered one being fat. Yes, fat is a taste. Pork belly cuts have the perfect meat-to-fat ratio, thus why it’s so tasty.

It is possible to make bacon from other cuts; after all, it’s also about the curing and smoking process as well as the base ingredient. These other cuts are often used to make the whole thing a little bit leaner, and the most common alternative for traditional bacon is a middle cut, as it contains less fat (this is also more popular in the UK when it comes to their definition of bacon). So in general, that’s where bacon comes from on a pig: its belly.


A Look at Bacon Alternatives

All of that should give you everything you need to know about bacon outside of fine-tuning recipes and cook times. But there are always interesting things about bacon going on, and while we like to think of the Baconer as so good that it causes vegetarians to cheat (honestly, we’ve heard those stories which makes us feel both good and bad), bacon alternatives are a real thing. And they’re not bad per se; they serve a purpose, despite them not tasting like the real thing. Still, here are a few nuggets of wisdom about bacon alternatives.

Turkey Bacon: Clearly we are big fans of pork bacon, even in its many international forms and cuts. But people have different reasons for eating bacon alternatives, so here’s what you should know about turkey bacon. It’s definitely got a lighter fat count, but it also delivers far less protein than pork bacon. It comes with fewer calories but is also has less Vitamin B. In other words, it’s a trade-off that isn’t necessarily better or worse for you. Because seriously, people have lost weight on an all-pork bacon 30-day diet, so consider what your diet and health needs are when making a balanced choice. And for those that don't eat pork for religious reasons, we fully stand by you being true to yourself and your belief system. In those cases, turkey bacon -- which is still cured and smoked like pork bacon -- is an excellent way to enjoy the culinary goodness of bacon.

Other Bacon Alternatives: We’ll skip the disclaimer above about why some people may need bacon alternatives, but if you need an alternative to the alternative of turkey bacon, there are a handful of other choices. Ultimately, it comes down to replicating the flavor -- often by prepping it with spices prior to cooking. For vegetarians, tempeh strips (similar to tofu) work, and there are also recipes for eggplant and mushroom alternatives. For leaner meats, we've talked about turkey but duck is also a common alternative for bacon cuts. 

Okay, so maybe you’ve looked at these bacon alternatives and thought “You know, I could really use the most amazing bacon, like the real stuff.”

First off, sorry for tempting you. Second, here’s our catalog of infused flavors -- remember, we ship all over the United States. Because honestly, if you’re going to cave in and eat real bacon, you might as well eat the best.