Bacon is a favorite of Americans. But when looking at the bacon aisle at the store, it can get somewhat confusing at times. There are many different cuts and names for bacon! Let’s look at “Center Cut Bacon” today!
What is center cut bacon?
According to the USDA, Center Cut Bacon is the middle of the pork belly and has 1/2 inch or less of the top and bottom belly fat removed, unlike regular bacon. It is smoked, cured pork belly, just like regular bacon. This results in straight/square edges, shorter slices, and decreased fat content (leaner) compared with regular cuts of bacon.
So center cut bacon has some fat removed…does that mean it is better for me?!?!
What is Center Cut Bacon?
Center cut bacon is actually defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There is an “Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications” document, found here on the USDA website, that goes into detail about the marketing regulations for different cuts of meat. It is all very scientific and specific, but I’ll just hit the highlights.
For sliced bacon, it specifies that “The bacon slices, as packaged in individual packages, shall be at least reasonably uniform in length, width, and thickness, ranging from 8 to 10 inches in length.” But for center cut bacon, it states, “The bacon slices shall be approximately uniform in length, ranging from 7 to 9 inches.”
So the bacon is about an inch shorter when it is center cut. This is because the “ventral and dorsal” (top and bottom) portions of the belly are cut off. Pretty much all of the pieces that are cut off are fat. The USDA document specifies that no more than ½ an inch will be cut. This means about an inch of fat is cut from the pork belly making all the slices shorter and leaner.
The USDA document specifies that regular sliced bacon has to have the “surface lean…at least 75% of the length”, whereas center cut bacon has to have “at least 90% of the length.” This doesn’t mean that the slice is 90% lean because we all know bacon has a lot of fat, but it points out that center cut bacon is leaner than regular bacon.
What Is The Difference Between Center Cut Bacon And Regular Bacon?
The difference between center cut bacon and regular bacon is that the top and bottom of the pork belly are trimmed by about half an inch (removing the fattiest areas) to create center cut bacon. Once sliced, this leaves shorter, leaner slices of bacon. The USDA requires regular bacon to be 8-10 inches in length, whereas center cut bacon is required to be 7-9 inches.
There is no specification for the fat content of either cut, but the result of the trimming does make center cut bacon have a lower fat content.
When you compare “original” versus “center cut” bacon of the same brand, what you find is the same price for a smaller size package. Basically, a 16-ounce package of original bacon will be the same price as a 12-ounce package of center cut bacon. The reasoning behind the higher cost per ounce is that center cut is considered higher quality. But I guess that depends on your definition of quality. The fat in bacon does add a lot in terms of flavor and texture.
When you compare the nutrition facts, the center cut has fewer calories, but it is also a smaller portion size (for example, 13 grams versus 19 grams). So yes, the meat is leaner but not as significant as it may appear if you only look at the calories!! If you are really looking to cut/count the calories, sure go for the center cut (or maybe just avoid bacon….as we all know that bacon is very high in fat and calories), but you will get more bang for your buck with original cut bacon.
Is Center Cut Bacon Healthier?
Center cut bacon is leaner than regular cuts of bacon. The fat content by weight ranges from 30-35% for center cut versus 37-41% for original cut bacon. This does make it a healthier option for those looking to decrease fat or saturated fat in their diets.
Now, center cut bacon IS a leaner option, that is a fact, but if you just look at the calorie count, you will be somewhat misled. All the center cut bacon serving sizes are smaller than that for original cut bacon. This means that the total calories will obviously be lower because it is a smaller amount of food! It also means that the sodium, cholesterol, etc., will be lower.
But let’s be honest, if you are like me, you will eat more of it!! So just make sure that you are checking out those serving sizes if you are trying to monitor/decrease fat calories!
Are “Thick Cut” And “Center Cut” Bacon The Same Thing?
Thick cut bacon and center cut bacon are not the same things. Center cut bacon refers to the trimming of the fat at the top and bottom of the slab of bacon BEFORE it is sliced, which results in shorter, leaner slices. Thick-cut bacon refers to how thick the bacon is sliced. Regular thickness is around 1/16 inch, but thick-cut is about twice that thick at ⅛ inch.
For center cut bacon, the USDA does have specifications for how it should be prepared (versus original cut bacon). There should be about ½ inch of fat trimmed off the top and bottom of the slab before slicing. This results in shorter, leaner slices.
For thick-cut bacon, there is no USDA guideline. Bacon slice thickness is not specified at all. Industry-standard shows us that regular bacon slices are usually about 1/16 inch thick, but some bacon is as thin as 1/32 inch. (This type of bacon is often found in restaurants and results in very thin, crispy slices of bacon.) Because regular thickness is typically 1/16 inch, thick-cut is usually about twice that thick at ⅛ inch.
What Is The Best Cut Of Bacon?
If you are looking for a leaner option, center cut bacon is the best because the fat is trimmed off the top and bottom of the pork belly before slicing the bacon.
If you are looking for something for sandwiches, you’ll want to get thick-cut bacon. This will cook up a little chewier but more substantial for your BLT!
Pro tip! If you are looking to chop bacon to add to a dish, look for “Bacon Ends and Pieces.” These are not the pretty, uniform pieces, BUT they are cheaper, taste the same, and are generally thick chunks of bacon! Perfect for chopping up in your pasta, salad, or baked potato casserole!