You can find bacon in everything now. Pizza, burgers, even milkshakes and cookies. The traditional breakfast side has reached the top level of food popularity, leaving adventurous meat lovers looking for the next big thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with traditional bacon, but sometimes you have to mix things up. Especially when you find out there’s such a thing as cheese bacon. And duck bacon. And…you see my point. If you like bacon but you don’t eat pork, are a vegetarian, or just want to try something new, check out the following tasty alternatives.
Mushroom bacon sounds a little meh when you just say it, but look at that photo. Mushroom bacon is actually amazing. Oyster mushrooms are slow-roasted, marinated, and wood-smoked on the stovetop. You end up with slices of mushroom that resemble bacon more than they do a mushroom—salty, peppery, smoky and lightly sweet. It takes a little bit of time and effort on your part, but you’ll make your vegan and vegetarian friends so happy that it’s worth it. Not to mention how happy you and even your meat-eating friends will be.
If you like the taste of duck and the taste of bacon, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to like duck bacon (duh). Less fatty than the pork version, some healthy eaters praise duck bacon for its lower fat content and lack of nitrates and nitrites. Made from duck breast, duck bacon also happens to taste great. It’s flavorful and juicy, with a satisfying texture. Cook it as you would regular bacon, and serve it chopped on a salad, whole on a sandwich, or just stuff it in your mouth like I did.
You read that right, I said cheese bacon! I found a lonely post about a home cook making cheese bacon on a thread buried in the Internet, and I had to get to the bottom of it. Finding no other reference to it online, I bought a block of smoked gouda and set to work. And oh, it works. The cook instructs you to bake your cheese slices at 400° on lightly sprayed cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes until the edges are browned. This works, but my slices popped a lot and made a bit of a mess. I had better luck cooking the cheese on the stovetop like normal bacon, in a lightly greased pan for about 5 minutes on medium-high heat. If your slices start to pop, turn down the heat a bit. Remove them from the pan when they are solid enough to pick up, and lightly browned on the bottom. The cheese gets a crispy-chewy texture, and the smoked flavor really takes it into bacon territory.
Beef bacon has long been available at Halal butchers, and now it’s popping up on market shelves. That’s good news, since who can have too many bacon options? Beef bacon is made from the belly, essentially the same cut that makes pastrami. It’s striped with fat and strips of meat just like its pork equivalent, and the taste is similar but, well, beefy. You can buy it uncured or cured, with uncured typically being superior in flavor and texture. It also tends to be juicier, so you may want to cook it in the oven so that you don’t end up splattered with grease.
Many vegetarians and vegans have known about tempeh for a while now, but if you aren’t hip to this meat substitute, it’s time to give it a try. Even if you are a meat eater, tempeh—made of fermented soy—can be surprisingly satisfying and tasty. One great way to eat tempeh is in bacon form. Tempeh bacon can be purchased at many markets in the refrigerated section, but it is also easy to make. Basically, you slice tempeh, soak it in a mixture of spices and flavorings like soy sauce, apple cider vinegar and brown sugar, and bake it the next day. You won’t get that true crunch factor, but the texture is meaty and the flavor is sweet and salty, just as it should be.
No longer will you be forced to enjoy your love of lamb and your love of bacon separately. Now you can have lamb bacon! The specialty meat combines the fat, smoke and crispy-chewy texture of bacon with the rich flavor of lamb. As bacon has risen in popularity, so have its counterparts. Lamb bacon has been appearing more on restaurant menus, and can be found at specialty grocers and butchers, as well as ordered online. Serve it with homemade hash browns for breakfast, or atop a crostini.
Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy.