What's the Difference Between Canadian Bacon (or Irish, or English) and American?

Ingredient Intelligence

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If you actually hail from Canada, may just think of this meat as bacon. If you're from other parts of the world, you may know it as Irish bacon, English bacon, or back bacon. No matter what you call it or where you're from, I think we can all agree that thick slices of this bacon make a mighty fine addition to breakfast, especially in eggs Benedict, perhaps its most commonly use in the U.S.

But what's the difference between this good stuff and American bacon?

American Bacon: Pork Belly. Canadian Bacon: Pork Loin.

Canadian bacon is more like ham than the streaky cured and smoked strips of bacon that most of us are used to. American bacon comes from the fatty belly of the pig while Canadian bacon is typically cut from the loin.

As such, it's much leaner than belly bacon and comes in rounded slices rather than strips.

If Canadian bacon is cured at all, it's usually done in a basic brine. Sometimes it's smoked, though not always. In Canada, the loin is also rolled in ground yellow peas or cornmeal before being sliced, which leads to the "peameal" label often applied to Canadian bacon. Sliced thick or thin, this bacon has a sweet flavor and a tender, juicy texture even when fried.

Bacon in England and Ireland is also usually back bacon, although it often is cut in a way that leaves more fat around the meat.

We talked to Heather Lauer, author of Bacon: A Love Story, a guide to all things good and delicious about bacon, and asked her what her experience has been with Canadian bacon. She said that while streaky bacon is much-loved in the States, "that variation on 'bacon' is actually more common in many other countries." She thinks that American bacon will probably always hold sway here, but we should be open to trying other things too! "Streaky bacon will always hold the #1 spot in the hearts of Americans, we should be open to exploring the various ways in which people in other parts of the world celebrate love of bacon."

What to Do With Canadian Bacon

A slice of Canadian bacon on eggs Benedict is both traditional and fantastically good. Its sweet ham flavor with the runny egg, rich hollandaise sauce, and toasted English muffin is culinary perfection.

Beyond this, Canadian bacon can be sliced into a breakfast hash, folded into an omelet, or served on the side with a plate of pancakes.

It also doesn't have to be strictly a breakfast meat. We can chop it up for a pizza topping, toss it with pasta for a lower-fat carbonara, or slice it into thin ribbons to round out a quick bowl of soup. Heather also offered up one of her favorite bacon recipes: "One of the best recipes I encountered through researching international bacon culture for my book is for an Irish Bacon Chop with Whisky Sauce. The saltiness of the bacon combined with the sweetness of the whisky sauce is similar to the pleasure one experiences from eating pancakes, syrup, and bacon for breakfast."

Yum!

More From Heather Lauer

Recipes with Canadian Bacon

Try it out in these recipes:

And if you're interested in making your own Canadian bacon, take a look at Michael Ruhlman's recipe:

Canadian Bacon: Brining Basics from Michael Ruhlman

How do you cook with Canadian bacon?

Updated from post originally published March 2012.

(Image credits: Faith Durand)

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