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Bacon can definitely taste like ham, and there is one main reason why this happens. It comes down to the technique that’s used to make the bacon.
I’ve been making bacon and ham for nearly 20 years and have tried many different techniques. Hams come in many varieties, and so does bacon!
But the main reason is this one below:
Bacon can taste like ham because one technique uses the same technique as producing smoked ham. Which is wet salt brined, hot smoking, and low-temperature indirect cooking of the bacon. Dry cured hot smoked bacon can also have a taste like smoked ham.
As opposed to dry cured bacon, which isn’t cooked or wet brined like smoked ham.
Dry cured (explained difference here) bacon is dry cured and dried out, not cooked and smoked.
That’s it in a nutshell!
Reasons Why Bacon Tastes Like Ham
If you use the same technique for making ham and streaky bacon, which is using pork belly, you’ll get the same results.
Of course, bacon can be made from many different cuts. Pork belly is used most of the time, but I’ve also tried it with shoulder or loin. It has a different taste and flavor profile depending on the meat cut and the fat ratio to meat.
What is Smoked Ham
Ham is cooked and smoked. Yet, there are so many variations, and to make it really confusing – fresh ham which is just raw pork is done in the United States!
Now I’ll talk about the good old Xmas Ham customarily put into salt and some sugar-wet brine.
For commercial purposes, the brine is often injected using rows of needles to ensure that the cure is deep within the meat, especially near any bones.
There is an uptake of water (& and sometimes extra ingredients to retain more moisture) that occurs, which keeps the ham moist when it’s cooked and smoked at the same time. It also (sometimes) increases the profitability of the ham-producing company since they are selling the ham based on weight.
So basically, there is the smoking and cooking stage, but sometimes it is done with liquid smoke, too.
Liquid smoke is an essential oil reduction concentrated liquid used to give the meat that smokes flavor. A shortcut to get the smokey flavor.
What is Bacon
Bacon is dry or wet salt cured and then either dried or hot smoked and cooked.
Dry Cured Bacon (Doesn’t Taste Like Ham)
Most people probably consider dry-cured bacon the real bacon by getting the right amount of salt into the bacon to preserve it and enhance flavor – I often use spices and sweeteners like honey or maple.
First, there is a curing phase, during which the salt in the bacon inhibits most of the unwanted bacteria using water binding and diffusion. These are the basics of the dry curing(full article I wrote here) technique.
Then the meat is hung to dry out slightly so that smoke flavor adheres to it more easily.
Traditionally this is where cold smoking (difference between hot and cold smoking I wrote about) occurs, which is done under 86°F or 30°C. However, I prefer a lower temperature to prevent the risk of unwanted bacteria: I cold smoke my bacon at under 60°F or 15°C.
I will often do 5-8 hours of cold smoking on my homemade bacon.
Hot Smoked Bacon (Can Taste Like Ham)
Hot smoked bacon is one of the most popular ways of making bacon in the United States. I believe this is because people have been pushed away from cold smoking, maybe, due to some inaccurate information about the risks and process of cold smoking. Which I am trying to remedy with this site eatcuredmeat.com!
If the meat is salt-cured properly for cold smoking and then kept in a suitable environment, the risks can definitely be minimized.
With hot smoked bacon (hot vs cold smoking I wrote about), you use less salt for a salt cure and also less salt using a wet brine cure – like half approximately (1% vs 2% salt – equilibrium curing)
Most people prefer to brine since the moisture stays inside the meat. When you move on to lower-temperature indirect cooking and smoking, you retain moisture.
At the end of the day, you are just doing a low and slow, lightly salt-cured chunk of pork! There is nothing wrong with that, but for many folks, it tastes more like ham.
If you use the technique of brining, cooking, smoking the bacon, you’re using the same technique as producing a smoked ham.