Slab Bacon at Publican Quality Meats ($14.99/lb)
Thanks to it's mix of red meat and bright white fat, Publican Quality Meat's slab bacon looks like an idealized version of the American classic. The slices were cut a tad too thin for my liking (something that can be easily fixed), which probably explains why the slice shrunk more than any other during the cooking process. Luckily, none of its flavor was lost along the way. The first thing you notice is the sweet profile, thanks to cure that features both maple syrup and brown sugar, but nothing is over the top. It's not even particularly salty. Far more nuanced than any bacon I've tried, this is some of the only bacon that I'd call truly balanced.
Pub Bacon at Publican Quality Meats ($19.99/lb)
I couldn't help but notice another kind of bacon in Publican's case. Pub bacon is further braised in pork stock and maple syrup, making the meat extra tender. For this reason, it's always cut very think. I was instructed to sauté it over medium heat until golden and crispy on the exterior, but still juicy inside. It's basically like an absurdly tender pork belly with some ham overtones. In other words, delicious. But is it bacon? Probably not what most of us have in mind, but there's nothing wrong with that.
Bacon at Butcher & Larder ($12.72/lb)
When I asked owner Rob Levitt what sets his bacon apart, he explained that it was what he didn't do to it. He uses pork bellies from Slagel Farms and cures them in a simple mixture, which includes salt, molasses, and fennel seeds. This explains the grayish tint of an uncooked slice—not a color I find particularly appetizing. Even when cooked, it doesn't have the same rosy red color of most slices. But any fears were dispelled after the first bite. This is very savory and meaty bacon, but the spices from the cure still shine through. I kept coming back to this slice, uncovering small details each time. Excellent stuff.
Bacon at Paulina Market ($8.50/lb)
This uniform slice looked traditional, if very rectangular. But what's fascinating about the offering from this respected butcher is how each section of the bacon has a distinct flavor. Instead of coalescing into one uniform bite, it tasted like the parts were cooked separately and then combined, making for a really unique, and appealing, slice. Of course, this was the last slice that I tried, so maybe I was just drunk on pork by this point, but that's what my tasting notes say.
Danish Bacon at Gene's Sausage Shop & Delicatessen ($5.99/lb)
When I called Gene's Sausage Shop about its housemade bacon, I was told that the shop only produced what is known as Danish bacon (along with peppercorn-crusted Danish bacon). Made from the loin of the pig instead of the belly, Danish bacon usually has less fat than American bacon, and that's definitely the case here. Uncooked, it has the same pinkish look of ham. So it makes sense that when cooked it has a distinctly smoky and hammy profile. This is a great option if you want something in-between back bacon and fatty American bacon.
Bacon at Lincoln Quality Meats ($8.99/lb)
I'm not sure if it was just the lighting in my kitchen, but the uncooked bacon from Lincoln Quality Meats had a slight orangish tint, kind of like smoked salmon. But when cooked, it looked and tasted the most like traditional American bacon of the bunch. It's all here: the balance of sweet, savory, and smoky, plus it crisps up nicely.
Back Bacon at Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods ($7.99 for a 1/2 pound package)
As Blake already explained, back bacon is an English speciality, and the best place to find that in Chicago is at Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods. Made from pork loin and a bit of the belly, the slices almost look like miniature pork chops, albeit very pink. To cook, sauté in a skillet set over medium-high meat with a little oil until lightly browned. The result is much hammier than American bacon, with a distinct salty bite. But it's not chewy or tough, and would make for excellent addition to sandwiches or even in a Full English Breakfast.
Bacon at Mr. Spanky's ($10 for a 14 ounce package)
Before Mr. Spanky's ever existed, owner John Schultz was known for his bacon, and when I stopped by the shop a few months ago, it was still being made in the back of his relatively new Bridgeport shop. But due to high demand, he's had to outsource the production of the bacon to a company in Kentucky. Of course, I didn't realize this until later, and it should disqualify it from this list. But since the bacon is so unique, I think it's worth including. This is salty, meaty bacon, and since it is dry cured, it looses almost none of its size when cooked. In fact, the packaging claims that it doesn't need to be refrigerated. While very good on its own, as the shop's Bad Ass BLT proves, this is bacon that loves company.