How can you pick out the Americans in the butcher shop? They’re the only ones asking for “Canadian bacon.” It’s not their fault. And they’re not alone in the confusion, because bacon nomenclature can be a bewildering mix-and-match of cuts, cures, and national affiliations. There should be no confusion, though, about its origin. Some argue you can make “bacon” from almost anything, including soy or wheat protein, turkey, coconut, or dulse. They are wrong. It’s pork.
Smoked back bacon is a centre-cut boneless pork loin (the same lean cut can be a chop or a roast) that has been cured and smoked (top left). “Back” refers to this cut’s position on the pig and differentiates it from side bacon. It’s fully cooked and can be eaten as is. The North American Meat Institute calls it “Canadian-style bacon” or “Canadian back bacon,” so many Americans follow suit. (Irish bacon is similar but usually has more exterior fat.)
Pancetta is Italian-style bacon made from pork belly that’s cured with salt and spices, but not smoked. It’s usually sold as a slab, stesa, or a roll, arrotolata (bottom left). Non-Italians sometimes confuse prosciutto (a type of ham that need not be cooked) with pancetta.
Side bacon is called streaky bacon by the Brits or sometimes American bacon by you-know-who. It starts as a well-trimmed pork belly that’s cured with a brine or a rub and then cold-smoked (bottom right). In slices or slabs, this is the fatty, life-affirming product we simply call “bacon.”
Peameal bacon uses the same cut as smoked back bacon, a centre-cut pork loin, cured in brine and then rolled in cornmeal (top right). It is not smoked and must be fully cooked. A truly Canadian food, peameal bacon was developed in the late 1800s by Toronto meat-packer William Davies, who originally rolled salt-cured loins in ground yellow peameal to extend shelf life. Because it’s not common outside of Canada (or Ontario, for that matter), peameal is also referred to as “Canadian bacon” by our southern friends, which can cause confusion.