Review: Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon

By all accounts I’m comparatively average at my day job. On the rare occasion when I do something truly exemplary and impress the pants off of some hotel guest — and, once more, my boss gets wind of it — I’m summarily rewarded with “bucks.” No, not real bucks, but resort bucks. Redeemable only at certain overpriced eateries and a single convenience store at our very isolated resort, $10 in resort bucks can buy you the equivalent of four packs of gum or six and a half 20-oz sodas.

This being the case, I’ve spent previous bucks on more “gourmet” type items that your normal grocery stores don’t carry. Foie gras, goat cheese, and fancy pants kettle chips have all been among my purchases in the past, but last week I decided to indulge my carnivorous side by purchasing some Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon.

I first heard of Niman Ranch’s bacon a few years ago when I saw it featured as the winner of  Cooking Light’s “Best for Breakfast” bacon brands.  The Niman Ranch name gets thrown around a lot by the sustainable meat-eating crowd, but there’s no disputing its status as a chef favorite. At $7.59 for 12 ounces, it ain’t cheap, so I was hoping for something that lived up to expectations. At the same time, I was praying I wouldn’t screw up cooking it, taking careful note that charring the bacon could damage whatever claim to superior flavor the brand had. Vigilance, it could be said, would have to come with the tongs.

The first thing I notice is the aroma. Obviously bacon smells great both cooked and uncooked, but the thick cut slices of raw Niman Ranch bacon give off a distinctive hint of autumn. It’s a woodsy smell, with strong notes of apple and cherry, recalling an early morning after a storm. There’s also a certain warmth in the smell, like an open fire burning amidst that same morning somewhere in rural America.  The slices are thick, with the fat dominating the bulk of the surface area — something I really wasn’t expecting from a center cut slab. It’s a chalky fat in its raw state, and smells of celery salt. I’m forced to cut a single slice in half just to fit it in the pan. Following the instructions on the back of the package, I stand over the open skillet with apprehension of a novice cook, determined to give the premium slice every ounce of culinary respect I can offer.

If there are times when I think cooking bacon may be more enjoyable than eating it, this certainly comes to mind. Within a minute or two the two slices begin to pulse in perfect unison, reviving a kind of pulmonary dance that’s both artful and intricate. A steady stream of fat renders with the natural intensity of a geyser, giving off a crackling chorus in the background. The amount of fat given off is enough to fry a supersized order of fries on, but I settle for reserving a tablespoon or so to fry up an egg and toasting two pieces of rosemary bread.

So how was it? Good, very good. But then again, most bacon is very good.  Was it worth the high price? For as much as Niman Ranch makes claims in terms of flavor superiority of its uncured process and adding no nitrates or nitrites, I couldn’t distinguish it from any other thick cut slice of bacon. The smoke flavor was less intense after cooking, and while I admired the sweet, grassy tasting fat, I also encountered some unevenly cooked strings of fat that were chewy and unappetizing. For the price I’d expect a meatier piece of bacon (especially for a center cut strip) and something more assertive in flavor. At the end of the day, I think I like the idea of Niman Ranch Bacon much more than I actually like it. And for as much as I love bacon, next time I get “bucks” from work, I think I’ll just blow ’em on Nutter Butter Bites and Corn Nuts.

Got a favorite brand of bacon? Let us know!

24 comments on “Review: Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon

  1. SkippyMom says:

    You breakfast looks so great! Wow! When are you inviting me over? heehee

    Your review was beautifully written, almost poetic. 🙂 Thanks!

    And no, I don’t have a favorite brand of bacon. I just buy what is on sale. I’m cheap. But I will say I refuse to buy, cook or eat the maple bacons. The smell and taste make me nauseous. Funny because I like maple syrup on pancakes.

  2. jen says:

    Theres a smoke house near were I go apple picking that sells bacon ends for $2.99 a pound, you gotta buy a good 4 pounds but it is the best. I love peppered bacon, try cooking your bacon in the oven thats the best way to cook it!

  3. larry says:

    Great write up on Nimans Adam. I do like their products, especially the pork, but there are so many really good products out there these days.

    For bacon, Bentons is very good imo. They are about an hour south of Knoxville and unless it was a destination, you wouldn’t know what they were doing in the old building that houses their country hams and bacon. Really neat place to visit if you’re in the area.

    Newsoms in lower middle Kentucky also has some really good bacon and is another great little shop to visit although it’s in the middle of town and parking can be a problem. The smoked country sausage is very nice also.

    Both places also have good prosciutto and I think they both do mail order when products are available.

  4. Mike F. says:

    Gee, I would love to get six and a half 20 liter sodas for 10 dollars 8]

  5. Nick says:

    nutter butter bites…wrapped in bacon?

  6. Chefprotoss says:

    Oh, I also forgot to mention, Jamestown pork products are awesome. I used their bacon to come in second place at the 106.7 fm bacon bowl a few years ago. I made Bacon wrapped buffalo wings with a serrano buffalo sauce where I used rendered bacon fat instead of margerine, and a gorganzola and lardon dressing for dipping also made from.rendered bacon fat. Their was bacon everywhere except inside the chicken. I could not have done it with out good ole’ Jamestown bacon.

    • Adam says:

      I once had bacon wrapped figs at a Tapas bar and wanted to recreate it. I have some dried figs in the fridge that I could revive, but I’m a little unsure how I would cook them with the bacon. Bake? Broil? Wrap in the raw bacon, or should I render some of the fat out first, then wrap?

      • Katie says:

        I’m not Chefprotoss, but I’ve read (haven’t tried it) that with any product that you’re essentially re-heating (like a bacon-wrapped hot dog, or something like that), you should cook the bacon first to almost done-ness, as otherwise, you end up with raw bacon and a cooked hot dog, or cooked bacon and a burnt hot dog.

    • marianne says:

      Who did the Bacon Bowl at 106.7? Was that Big O and Dukes? I so miss that radio station now that I am living in Dixie!

      • Ryan says:

        Big O and Dukes are back via podcast. And I remember them doing FoodStock… not certain on Bacon Bowl.

        • Chefprotoss says:

          Yeah it was O and Dukes. They did a mac and cheese thanksgiving cook off too, and I placed second in that as well. I did mac and cheese stuffed chile rellenos topped with avacado-citrus cream. I am the buffalo bills of Big O And Dukes cooking contests.

  7. kikurage says:

    Good. I want to eat it.
    I am looking forward to your next review.

  8. Forrest Gump says:

    “Within a minute or two the two slices begin to pulse in perfect unison…”

    I think you’re cooking it wrong, which could explain the unevenly cooked fat. You should start with a *cold* skillet, ideally cast iron.

    • Adam says:

      Actually Forrest, I did start with a cold skillet, seeing as though it was one of the suggestions for cooking bacon I read in that article.

  9. Rodzilla says:

    “It’s a woodsy smell, with strong notes of apple and cherry, recalling an early morning after a storm. There’s also a certain warmth in the smell, like an open fire burning amidst that same morning somewhere in rural America”

    Pretty substantial for average bacon, what does Oscar Meyer do for you?

    • Adam says:

      Well, that’s the thing. Uncooked and out of the package, the bacon manages to ransfix you with being the ideal, the gold standard. But once you cook it, you’re left thinking, “man, this is good, but was it that good?”

  10. Chefprotoss says:

    Wrap first, so that the figs obsorb the bacon fat. As for cooking… Hmmm… If using thick cut bacon, pan sear first, then finish in the oven. For regular cheapo’ bacon just roast in the oven until the bacon is fully rendered. Also, roasting the figs first might make a huge difference, possibly giving you more caramelized, candied, figgy goodness, as opposed to just cooked through figs wrapped in crispy bacon. Crisipy bacon is key though. Having that contrast in textures is vital.

    Let me know how it turns out broseph.

    Oh, 350 degrees should be a solid oven temp too.

  11. Chefprotoss says:

    Also, if you cut a slit into the fig before wrapping, and cram some goat cheese in there before roastng while wrapped you should have a trifecta of flavors and textures. If you do this though, use thin cut bacon and def roast the figs first. Anyways, experament and have fun with it. As long as you don’t burn anything, it should be delicious. =)

  12. Chefprotoss says:

    Oh, one last thing, never broil something that needs to be rendered. Duck breast, for example, needs to be slowly cooked, skin side down to fully render all the fat. Otherwise, you cook the thick skin like a steak and get a med rare layer of fat and a crispy exterior. Bad eats.

  13. missouri says:

    Best review ever for marrying the terms “bacon” and “pulmonary dance”.

  14. Chefprotoss says:

    You got me really thinking here Adam. If you make this, the dish needs some acidity to bring balance. Combine olive oil, lemon juice zest and juice(2.5 to 1, oil to juice) a touch of dijon to emulsify, salt and pepper plus whatever fresh herb you might have on hand(parsley or terragon would rock), and just mix until smooth. If the sauce breaks, add a touch more dijon. Top the figs with the sauce after cooking and you should have a winner. Or sauce the plate, actually that is a better idea. Sauce the plate then add figs.

  15. […] the homage to geekdom in the background…Unlike some blogger friends of mine, I fancy myself as enough of a bacon eater to discern whether or not the endless variety of bacon “flavored” products out there […]

  16. Something must have gone awry in the five years since you wrote this. Have tried Niman’s thick-sliced bacon twice, hoping the first time was a fluke. Both times the bacon slices shrank by about 50%. Observed splattering, as though water were leaking out. ???? Ordinary Oscar Meyer doesn’t shrink up like that! I feel ripped off and will not buy it again.

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