What makes a fast food hamburger or chicken sandwich good? For some of us, it’s when it’s topped with a slice of thick, juicy bacon. Cooked to a crisp on the grill, dripping flavor onto the rest of the sandwich, it’s hard not to be tempted to add bacon to almost any meal. But what, apart from the taste and crunchiness, makes bacon a better quality option?
Like many menu items, fewer ingredients the bettersays Brad Hedemandirector of marketing and product selection at Zingerman’s mail order. “When we look at or think about any food, including bacon, the fewer ingredients and the plainer the better, because bacon has been around for centuries, at least in the West,” Hedeman says.
David Rosehead chef, Omaha steaks shared that meat quality is also what makes that slice of bacon the best. “Bacon is always a delicious treat if it’s cooked right, but what makes great bacon is the quality of the meat,” Rose said. “Really good bacon should have a good mix of fat and meat in the marbling, so that the smoky, savory and salty flavors are the perfect melt-in-your-mouth balance.”
Rose also warned against eating undercooked bacon. “It can be tricky to order bacon at a restaurant exactly the way you want it. Many restaurants pre-cook their bacon as part of the prep work and then throw it on the grill or stovetop to heat up to order,” Rose explained. “If this heating is not done properly, the bacon can come out unevenly heated or even burnt. It’s always a red flag if the bacon is rubbery and pale, as this can mean the bacon is undercooked. Properly cooked bacon The color should always be rich and the texture at least a little crunchy.”
Also, look for specific wood-smoked bacon. Smoking, Hedeman explains, “can mellow out some of those more intense flavors. If you just want to talk about dry-cured, dry-cured bacons that are kind of smoked can either take on double the intensity of the smokiness or they can be rounded out a little bit. Usually, it helps take the saltiness out a little bit, but when you smoke that, I find it softens the salt and makes it tastier, then more interesting.”
“I personally love thick-cut applewood smoked bacon because of its versatility; the flavor profile lends itself beautifully to many different recipes,” adds Rose.
Here is fast food chains that do bacon right in terms of procurement, manufacturing and achieving the best smoke taste.
Wendy’s proudly touts its applewood smoked bacon as the best in the business, and we can’t argue with the chain’s smoky flavors. Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger. A Wendy’s spokesperson told us, “As the number one seller of bacon cheeseburgers, no one does bacon like Wendy’s. Our applewood-smoked bacon is smoked fresh in our ovens daily and is smoked over applewood, giving the bacon flavor with sweetness, fruitiness, and smokiness. You can taste the difference when you bite into, say, the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger , Baconator and Maple Bacon Chicken Croissant.”
Mickey D’s is another chain that serves what they describe “crispy, applewood-smoked bacon.” Their tasty bacon, made from pork belly, is available in the Quarter Pounder with Cheese Bacon and a wide range of breakfast sandwiches, including the Bacon, Egg and Cheese McGriddle.
This national fast food chain focuses on offering “chef-made” high-end burgers with specialty ingredients, and their Swag Burger, topped with thick-cut candied Ghost pepper bacon (along with charred jalapeños, sweet tomato, pepper jack cheese and hot steak sauce), is a prime example. Burger Fi says their meat is all natural and has never (ever) been given growth hormones, steroids or antibiotics.
The prestigious chain is known for excellent hamburgers and sandwiches and their novelty Avocado Bacon Chicken Sandwich is a contender for favourite. The fried chicken is topped with avocado and thick bacon sourced from Niman Ranch for a flavor and texture bomb.
Niman Ranch raises cattle traditionally, humanely and sustainably, and many feel they get the best meat available. Additionally, all of Shake Shack’s meat is certified humane, and the pork contains no antibiotics, animal by-products in feed, gestation crates and a commitment to suppliers who raise and handle their pigs humanely, including access to the outdoors if possible and warmth and safety if raised indoors.
We love Five Guys because the burgers are so consistently good, but when topped with crispy applewood-smoked bacon that is cured with a mixture of sugar and salt, they take it to another level. Add grilled mushrooms or onions for extra flavor.
This East Coast chain’s strong focus on organic ingredients extends to their sourced meats, which are USDA-certified organic and raised without antibiotics, and their bacon is cured with sea salt and natural cane sugar. Try it on their BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, topped with two organic, grass-fed beef patties, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce.
This fast-casual chain from Texas, with locations nationwide, serves only the highest quality Angus beef in their burgers, and their applewood-smoked bacon is a new addition. Hot Bacon Jam Burger. It’s also given a touch of bacon jam, double the bacon box.
This West Coast chain — which is slowly moving across the country — prides itself on its made-to-order menu and grilled burgers. The BBQ bacon charcoal with cheese it’s topped with gorgeous hickory-smoked bacon, which, along with the caramelized onions, gives this sandwich a huge dose of umami. The chain promises that all its ingredients are of high quality.
The Texas chain doesn’t just stuff its burgers with delicious bacon, you can buy it Hickory smoked bacon at HEB stores in Texas. We’d never recommend skipping Whataburger, but with their brand of bacon in hand, you can whip up a sane version of their sandwich at home.