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Bacon is a meat product prepared from cured pork. It is first cured using large quantities of salt, either a brine or a dry packing. Fresh bacon may then be dried for weeks or months in cold air, or it may be boiled or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon are typically cooked before eating, often by pan frying. Boiled bacon is ready to eat, as is some smoked bacon, but they may be cooked further before eating. Bacon is prepared from several different cuts of meat. It can be made from the pork belly or from back cuts, which has less fat than the belly.
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Bacon may be eaten smoked, boiled, fried, baked, or grilled. It is eaten on its own, as a side dish (particularly in breakfasts), or used as a minor ingredient to flavour dishes (e.g., the club sandwich). Bacon is also used for barding and larding roasts, especially game, including venison and pheasant. The word is derived from the Old High German bacho, meaning "buttock", "ham" or "side of bacon", and is cognate with the Old French bacon.
Meat from other animals, such as beef, lamb, chicken, goat, or turkey, may also be cut, cured, or otherwise prepared to resemble bacon, and may even be referred to as "bacon". Such use is common in areas with significant Jewish and Muslim populations, both of which prohibit the consumption of pigs. For safety, bacon may be treated to prevent trichinosis, caused by Trichinella, a parasitic roundworm which can be destroyed by heating, freezing, drying, or smoking.
Bacon is cured through either a process of injecting with or soaking in brine or using plain salt (dry curing).
In America, bacon is usually cured and smoked, and different flavours can be achieved by using various types of wood, or rarely corn cobs; peat is sometimes used in the United Kingdom. This process can take up to eighteen hours, depending on the intensity of the flavour desired. The Virginia Housewife (1824), thought to be one of the earliest American cookbooks, gives no indication that bacon is ever not smoked, though it gives no advice on flavouring, noting only that care should be taken lest the fire get too hot. In early American history, the preparation and smoking of bacon (like the making of sausage) seems to have been a gender-neutral process, one of the few food-preparation processes not divided by gender.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, smoked and unsmoked varieties are equally common, unsmoked being referred to as "green bacon".
Bacon is distinguished from salt pork and ham by differences in the brine or dry packing. Bacon brine has added curing ingredients, most notably sodium nitrite, and occasionally potassium nitrate (saltpeter), but sodium ascorbateor erythorbate may also be added to accelerate curing and stabilise colour. Flavourings such as brown sugar or maple syrup are used for some bacon products. Sodium polyphosphates, such as sodium triphosphate, may also be added to make the product easier to slice and to reduce spattering when the bacon is pan-fried. Today, a brine specifically for ham includes a large amount of sugar. Historically, the terms "ham" and "bacon" referred to different cuts of meat that were brined or packed identically, often together in the same barrel.
The United States and Canada have seen an increase in the popularity of bacon and bacon-related recipes, dubbed "bacon mania". The sale of bacon in the US has increased significantly since 2011. Sales climbed 9.5% in 2013, making it an all-time high of nearly $4 billion in US. In a survey conducted by Smithfield, 65% of Americans would support bacon as their "national food". Dishes such as bacon explosion, chicken fried bacon, and chocolate-covered bacon have been popularised over the internet, as has using candied bacon. Recipes spread quickly through both countries' national media, culinary blogs, and YouTube.Restaurants have organised and are organising bacon and beer tasting nights, The New York Timesreported on bacon infused with Irish whiskey used for Saint Patrick's Day cocktails, and celebrity chef Bobby Flay has endorsed a "Bacon of the Month" club online, in print, and on national television.