By Shannon Marvel
HECLA — In the world of meat products, beef bacon is the dark horse, but it’s hoping to rival both traditional and turkey bacon products as a less-guilty, yet tasty option.
The processing and taste of beef bacon are akin to pork bacon. The main differences are nutritional.
Flavor, nutrition and convenience are the driving factors behind consumer demand of beef bacon, according to Holly Swee, South Dakota Beef Industry Council nutrition and consumer information director.
“It’s got a similar flavor, but it is a little bit different than traditional bacon — it’s crispier and has a little bit of a sweet taste, like a maple- or a cherrywood-smoked flavor,” Swee said.
Swee used Schmacon, an uncured type of beef bacon, as an example when comparing the different types of bacon.
“The health benefits are really what’s quite interesting. We’re looking at quite a bit less fat and sodium in beef bacon.”
Schmacon, and beef bacon in general, first came onto Swee’s radar when it was introduced to the market in 2014.
The introduction of beef bacon encouraged the beef industry to do more market research on the products, which yielded information on nutritional benefits, she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional database, there are 30 calories, two grams of fat and 60 milligrams of sodium in a serving of beef bacon, while traditional bacon, depending on the type, could have up to 90 calories, 7 grams of fat and 360 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Two slices of bacon are considered a serving.
Turkey bacon has the lowest fat and calorie content, compared to beef and pork.
The extensive process used to make turkey bacon involves grinding turkey meat then flavoring it to taste like bacon, according information on the USDA website.
Swee noted that nutritional values will vary depending on where a consumer purchases beef bacon and how the product is processed.
John Finley, a dietician and nutritionalist with the USDA, said a national nutritional database could be used as a reference to compare the nutritional differences between pork, turkey and beef bacon.
Other than that data, Finley said the differences are difficult to truly pinpoint.
“I don’t know that we have enough data points to really be able to tell if there’s a real difference in sodium,” Finley said.
Nutrition aside, with so many local beef producers in the area and the availability of USDA-approved locally owned meat processing facilities, beef bacon is able to retain a presence.
Cattlemen can bring home the bacon made possible by the beef they raised themselves.
A niche for beef bacon
Frohling Quality Meats in Hecla is one of those local businesses that offers a range of specialty products, including beef bacon.
Tom Pioske, owner of Frohling Quality Meats, said quite a few of his customers order beef bacon, but not enough to regularly stock the product.
“We could make some at any time, really. It’s just a matter of doing it, really,” Pioske said.
“We like to experiment with a lot of products and would like to stock more stuff in our store here, but we don’t want to just sit on it for a long time.”
The process Pioske uses to make beef bacon and pork bacon are very similar.
“The cut of meat we use is different than the pork bacon. You use that entire pork belly, but with beef bacon you can use a brisket of a flank,” he said.
Frohling’s uses DemKota Ranch Beef from Aberdeen, he added.
Pioske begins the process of making beef bacon by slicing off 38 pounds of strips from a brisket.
“We could trim a lot of the fat off and make it as lean as you wanted to, but, typically, the fat is where the flavor is,” he explained.
Compared to pork bacon, the recipe for beef bacon calls for a little less salt. A few other basic seasonings, brown sugar and at least 10 gallons of water are added to the mix.
Once everything is mixed together by hand, Pioske puts meats in a machine called a tumbler.
The tumbler, as Pioske explained, changes the air pressure, which stretches the meat slices out, pulling the muscles open in the meat.
The air pressure is stabilized once it reaches a certain point and the meat is then tumbled inside the machine.
This process takes about a half hour and is done up to three times before the meat is put in the smokehouse to cure.
Curing one batch takes at least a day, Pioske said.
The finished beef bacon product costs around $9 per pound at Frohling Quality Meats.
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