Top Grocery Store Bacon Brands Reviewed! - Bacon Scouts

How does bacon from the grocery store compare to all the expensive “gourmet bacon” that we sell online? Good question! Since I began reviewing bacon three years ago, I had yet to run some of the most popular grocery store brands on the market through our gauntlet of tests. Well, that day finally came and the results were…interesting. Read on.

On a recent Thursday evening I went to my local supermarket and picked out five of the top selling bacon brands in America. I did not pre-screen any of the packages in order to skew the results toward a pre-determined outcome. I grabbed the first one off the rack for each of them, just like how I imagine an everyday customer would do.

In no particular order, these top five bacon brands are

  • Farmland,
  • Hormel Black Label,
  • No Name,
  • Oscar Mayer, and
  • Wright.

One of the biggest names in the business, Smithfield, was not available at my local store, but then I learned that Farmland is actually one of several brands owned by Smithfield. While not exactly the same, it seems closely enough related that choosing one of these brands will work for this comparison.

The Hypothesis

Bacon Scouts is known to preach the virtues of buying good, hand-crafted bacon from small, family-owned meat markets as opposed to buying it from grocery stores. We believe that in doing so, you will receive a better quality, better tasting product for your money than you would from the mass-produced meats sold in the grocery store.

The Methodology

After bringing all five brands back to headquarters I invited a few of my closest friends to taste test with me, and I ran the bacons through the usual battery of bacon rating tests. Most of the people helping me with the taste test have also tasted many of the other fine specimens I have brought back to Bacon Scouts headquarters over the past few years, so they know high quality bacon when they taste it.

I measured each bacon by four major characteristics: robustness of flavor, saltiness, shrinkage, and fat to meat ratio.

Flavor robustness and saltiness are subjective measurements; in many ways these characteristics are a matter of personal preference although a high quality bacon will undoubtedly have a flavor that knocks the eater out of the park. Also, bacon is a cured meat product, meaning it should have some measure of saltiness, but it must be in balance with the rest of the flavor profile and not lacking nor excessive.

Shrinkage is determined by measuring the length of the bacon both before and after it is cooked and calculating the difference.

The fat-to-meat ratio is an eye test. All bacon will have some amount of fat, but I feel that the best bacon is meaty and provides more bang for your buck. I don’t like wasting my money on bacon that is 70% fat. While the fat is responsible for some of the bacon flavor, the meat is what holds the bacon cure and all of the meaty flavor. Too much fat in bacon means low quality bacon.

I always bake my bacon in the oven and this is the standard review and testing procedure for Bacon Scouts. In the early days of Bacon Scouts I was pan frying some of my bacon, but I found that can lead to inconsistent results and is much more time consuming than baking it.

Round 1: Fat to Meat Ratio

You know the saying that “appearances aren’t always what they seem?” Well that applies here. I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret of the meat industry. You see, those big meat companies use clever packaging to show off the best parts of the meat, making it look more meaty and enticing than it really is.

The most egregious example of this is Oscar Mayer. Notice that the way it is layered emphasizes the meaty side of the bacon in the picture below. The strips are cut in a way so that one edge is the meat. This edge is then angled and displayed in a way to make the consumer think they are getting a great package of thick, meaty bacon.

Oscar Mayer bacon package unopened and measured

However, experienced bacon shoppers know to turn over the package and to look at the back side (if you can – some bacon is packaged with black wrapping like Farmland). Flipping over the bacon package will give you a clear view of an entire slice (if not the whole package) of bacon revealing how fatty it really is. It’s such a disappointment to have most of the bacon be fat.

For example, check out the back side of that really meaty-looking package of Oscar Mayer bacon we were just looking at.

Back of Oscar Mayer bacon package

There’s a lot of fat on that bacon! The same goes for the other varieties that I tested.

Below I have two strips each of the five bacon varieties laid out on the pan ready for baking.

Fat to Meat Ratio Grades

Brand Rating
Farmland 2.5
Hormel Black Label 2.5
No Name 4.0
Oscar Mayer 2.0
Wright 3.5

Round 2: Shrinkage

The shrinkage test takes place in two parts: before cooking and after cooking. I like to use a measuring tape for ease and accuracy of each measurement.

I measured each type of bacon inside of its packaging first, then after I had laid out each specimen on the pan I placed the measuring tape at the end of the pan to show the scale of the width of the pan in comparison to the bacon. It seems that some companies compress their bacon to fit into a nicely shaped package, thus when I took it out it become longer than the initial measurement from inside the package. Therefore, the pre-cooked measurements that I use are from when the specimens were laying on the pan and not the measurements from inside of the packaging. Oscar Mayer is especially noteworthy for this as there seems to be a 2.5 inch difference in the length of their bacon inside the package versus outside of the package.

Shrinkage Grades

Length in inches

Brand Pre-Cooked Length Cooked Length Total Shrinkage Shrinkage % Rating
Farmland 10.5 7.5 3 29% 3.0
Hormel Black Label 11.5 8 3.5 30% 3.0
No Name 12 7.75 4.25 35% 2.0
Oscar Mayer 11 8.5 3.5 32% 2.0
Wright 10.75 7.25 3.5 33% 2.0

Round 3: Saltiness

The first of our subjective measurements, I cannot stress enough that bacon saltiness should be in proportion to the overall flavor of the meat. The saltiest bacon will hit you in the mouth right away lighting up your tastebuds, which is why I put this as the third test. If a bacon is really salty, it will be fairly obvious very quickly.

Excitement for really salty foods dies down quickly, however, as after only a few bites it becomes overwhelming to the point where the eater is desperately grabbing a glass of water to quench a sudden insatiable thirst. This is NOT the kind of bacon that gets high ratings.

On the other end of the spectrum is a bacon so watered down and devoid of all salt flavor that one must wonder if it really cured meat or just sliced pork belly.

Very good bacon strikes a balance in between these two extremes and there is a range of tolerance for salt level that is acceptable when factored in with the rest of the bacon flavor.

I was pleasantly surprised that none of the bacon I tried was too salty, although I have had some Hormel Black Label bacon before that was quite salty so I expected much the same this time. No Name seemed to be the most bland of the bunch while the others fared respectably.

Saltiness Grades

Brand Rating
Farmland 3.5
Hormel Black Label 2.5
No Name 2.0
Oscar Mayer 3.0
Wright 2.5

Round 4: Robustness of Flavor

This last measurement is where everything comes together, and is really one of the most significant ones because it determines how likely someone is to purchase the bacon again.

This test captures how porky the meat tastes, its smokiness, and the interplay between these various elements in order to create a flavor that is bold and desirable. As a taste tester one of the key ways a bacon will score high in this area is if you want to keep eating it more and more. A robust bacon will leave an unforgettable impression. A bland bacon will leave an impression that you wish you could forget.

Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a single bacon that any of us wanted to keep eating from this competition, but it was not a total let down. Most brands lacked any real flavor and seemed surprisingly bland. I have to give credit where it is due and there was one bacon that had a respectable bacon flavor, which was Farmland. This doesn’t mean it gets our two thumbs up overall, but it is the one that scored the highest in this round.

Flavor Grades

Brand Rating
Farmland 3.5
Hormel Black Label 2.5
No Name 1.0
Oscar Mayer 2.0
Wright 1.5

Final Results

After all the measuring, cooking, and sampling comes the final grading of our bacon samples. The overall results are an average of the scores from the four tests. The scores from these top five bacon brands rank in the lower half of our overall bacon rankings.

The bottom line for me is this: if you want fatty, bland bacon that shrinks excessively then these are your best bets. And thanks to mass production you can get this kind of bacon for cheap.

Overall Grades

Brand Rating
Farmland 3.125
Hormel Black Label 2.625
No Name 2.25
Oscar Mayer 2.25
Wright 2.375

How does this compare with the best gourmet bacon?

Compared with some of our favorites, the results don’t look so good for the grocery store brands. Of course the ones we like have flavor, don’t shrink, and don’t pretend to be something they are not with deceptive packaging.

Below is a table of the top gourmet bacon we have tried.

Ranking of Top Gourmet Bacon Brands

Brand Name Robust Flavor Saltiness Fat to Meat Ratio Shrinkage Overall
Nolechek’s Meats 4.5 5 5 4
Woods Smoked Meats 4 5 4.5 4
RJ’s Meats 4 5 4 4
Grand Champion Meats 3.75 4 5 3

One of the great distinctions between grocery store bacon and gourmet bacon is the robustness of flavor and it is for a very simple reason. Gourmet bacon is given more time to cure and typically more time in the smoker, yielding a much better, overall flavor.

The proof is in the results: gourmet bacon producers work hard at their craft, continually improving processes and entering their fine meat creations into statewide, national, and international competitions. You won’t find this kind of care and craftsmanship from the big companies.

2 Comments on “Top Grocery Store Bacon Brands Reviewed!

  1. Charles Cook

    In the Bacon of the month, I’ll get 3 full lbs of different bacon each month, not 2.25lbs for 3 months-totalling 9 lbs of bacon? Is it my choice of bacon or random picked?

    Reply

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