I do a lot of my grocery shopping at the bodega on my corner, and my diet is shaped more by the produce — the trusty broccoli, a plastic tray of grapes, an occasional pre-sliced mango — I find on its shelves than I should probably admit on this food site. But it is through this kind of grab-and-go subsistence that I fell in love with turkey bacon.
On a recent trip to buy breakfast essentials, I realized my corner store is halal — compliant with Islamic dietary law — and only sells turkey bacon, and not the pork I was looking for. The turkey variation was the same color as deli ham, the same shape as pork bacon, but without any sign of fat or marbling. I was not optimistic, but I grabbed some and headed home.
In the pan, the turkey bacon was about as promising as it was on the shelf. Without any fat, it sort of steamed as it cooked through, letting off way too much water as I flipped it back and forth. I doubted that these pink strips of turkey would light up my brain the way a really good slice of bacon does, or would even be crisp enough to hold their form as I dragged them through pools of egg yolk.
I tipped a little olive oil into the pan in hopes of nudging the turkey bacon in the direction of life, and that’s when it transformed. The edges crisped up, the pinkish meat turning a pleasingly bacon-like brown. Whereas the lack of fat initially worried me, I was thrilled to find no coating of grease across my kitchen, and no bacon smell seeping into everything I own, as it would with pork. And the turkey bacon itself? Delicious.
Before I’m crucified by the well actually, turkey bacon isn’t even real bacon people, I should say that I was never — even back in the mid-aughts when bacon was in everything from cookies to perfume — that big a fan. I like bacon, but I find the saltiness more satisfying coming from a round slice of Canadian bacon, and the crispness more appealing on a crackling slice of broiled pork belly. Bacon is good enough at everything it does — adequate and capable, but never amazing. Sure, it’s good next to a tall stack of pancakes, but so is anything doused in maple syrup. The fanciest bacon — that super thick-sliced, perfectly smoky-sweet stuff — is fantastic, yes, but rarer and harder to find than bacon fanatics would have us believe.
Regular turkey bacon, on the other hand, doesn’t harbor all the stubborn fat when it’s cooked to a chewier texture, and if it’s crisped further, it doesn’t become as dry and brittle like the pork stuff. It gained popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, bolstered by diet culture’s incessant and berating calls to eat less fat and sacrifice flavor in pursuit of cutting calories. But as a late ‘90s baby, I missed out on most of this, and had never eaten turkey bacon before I accidentally came across it at my bodega. Maybe, because I’m free from memories of the low-fat diet era, I didn’t hesitate to add fat to the pan to make the turkey bacon excel. It takes a very generous glug of olive oil to transform the unpromising strips into an ideal breakfast.
Admittedly, turkey bacon is not quite as straightforward a product as its pork cousin. While bacon bacon comes from a pig’s belly, turkey bacon comes from… everywhere. A mixture of light and dark turkey meat is ground and pressed into a bacon-like form. But that’s fine. Whatever the cut and process, I’m into it.
I now fold my newly precious turkey bacon into sandwiches, I eat it alongside eggs, pancakes, or waffles. I — you get the idea — treat it just how I treat other bacon. It is definitely less rich, but that just leaves space for me to eat about twice as much. I won’t sit here trying to convince anyone that turkey bacon tastes more like bacon than actual bacon. It doesn’t. But it does deliver in all the ways I want it to, something regular bacon never has.