Jowl bacon, the next great culinary treasure?
Everyone loves bacon, but I sometimes get some confused looks when I mention jowl bacon to a customer. While it isn't as widely distributed in groceries as it's well known cousin, jowl bacon definitely deserves your respect and attention. So what is jowl bacon, and how does it differ from traditional bacon?
Bacon is typically made from the belly section of a pig. The raw pork belly is cured and sliced, and the result is the bacon we all know and love. Before modern refrigeration methods, meats of all kind were salt cured to extend the shelf life of the product. As it turns out, curing a pork belly with salt, smoke, or both salt and smoke is also super delicious!
However, the belly isn't the only part of the pig that has that familiar layered bacon texture. The cheeks, or jowl, of the hog are very similar. (Grab your own cheeks and belly and you'll notice some similarities!) Given that the tissue structure is so similar, it makes a ton of sense that the final cured product would be very close in texture and flavor.
Jowl bacon has been around for years, but mostly under the radar. Jowl bacon was, and sometimes still is, considered 'poor man's bacon' because it is made from a surplus leftover cut. The public payed no attention to the humble jowl, but the story of underappreciated cuisine has played out in the food world for centuries.
Many of the great culinary treasures of the world were considered the food of the poor before the upper class caught on. In the early 19th century, lobster was fed to prisoners and used as fertilizer. Reportedly, there were stacks of lobster washing up on shore and the newspapers of the day lamented the plight of beaches that had to deal with the 'cockroach of the sea'!
Similarly, oysters were once only eaten by people who had no other choice. Since they were so plentiful, coastal poor could grab a bucket of oysters fresh from the waters at any time. They were often substituted for more expensive proteins such as beef in stews and soups. Once their culinary merit was 'discovered' by the elite (and pollution and overfishing made them scarce) prices skyrocketed and access diminished.
Brisket is a good beef comparison of this phenomenon. Before the rise of BBQ competitions and backyard smokers, brisket was a difficult cut to get rid of for retailers. In fact, most brisket was ground and mixed into ground beef to 'hide' it. The reason brisket was unloved was that it is composed of super tough pectoral muscles and connective tissues. It's a terrible cut of meat using conventional cooking methods, but through the magic of low and slow cooking, the tough tissues break down and tender flavorful meat is left in its place. Today, brisket is often scarce and no longer cheap! In an ironic twist, chuck roast, which was considered superior to brisket in every way for decades, is now being touted as the 'poor man's brisket'!
Jowl bacon, like these other gourmet foods, is poised for a food renaissance. While some people are initially unimpressed with jowl bacon, those in the know go to extreme measures to find it. We have customers who are keenly aware of the virtues of jowl bacon and order it exclusively, and often in large quantities.
Any dismissal of jowl bacon is largely due to a lack of awareness of the product or a lifetime of bacon cooking experience that does a disservice to jowl bacon. Bacon cooks quickly and evenly at medium high heat. Jowl bacon does not. The key to successfully cooking jowl bacon is patience. The cut needs more time at lower heat to properly cook. It is a subtle but important difference. When given the proper time, the thicker jowl bacon will crisp up and, if you're lucky, provide an intensely flavored and wonderfully textured treat. Many of our customers swear that jowl bacon has far more bacon flavor than regular bacon!
While I'm sure there are dozens of ways to cook jowl bacon, my two favorite methods are medium low heat in an iron skillet and 375 degrees in an air fryer. Both ways are more than capable of providing a wonderful bacon experience. If jowl bacon isn't something you've tried, you're truly missing out.
The key differences between the two bacon types are illustrated below. Traditional bacon is more uniformly sized and the muscle and fat texture has a more linear appearance. Jowl bacon, on the other hand, is often less uniform in shape and the muscle and fat distribution is more uneven.
If you'd like to try this delicious bacon product, send us a message and we can get you an order prepared, or just let us know the next time you stop by our freezers and we can add a package to your order. Once you've tried properly prepared jowl bacon, you're life may never be the same again. (While that is likely an overstatement, our customers in the know take their jowl bacon seriously, and may argue that the claim is warranted.) You may want to get on the jowl bandwagon before bacon becomes the 'poor man's jowl'!
Love jowl bacon? Have a favorite cooking recipe? Leave a comment on this blog below and let us and everyone else know!