A bacon lover’s guide to Asheville

The Chop Shop makes several types of bacon in-house and sells about 100 pounds per week, says butcher PJ Jackson. “After an eight-day cure and a short rest, we smoke over applewood, cool it down and then slice to order," he says.
The Chop Shop makes several types of bacon in-house and sells about 100 pounds per week, says butcher PJ Jackson. “After an eight-day cure and a short rest, we smoke over applewood, cool it down and then slice to order," he says. Photo by Evan Anderson

Admit it. I had you at bacon, didn’t I? Bacon is just one of those things that many find difficult to pass up. I once met a “vegetarian” who said, “I don’t eat meat, but I do eat bacon.” Huh? That’s just how good it is. And, it’s not just about traditional-style pork anymore. This savory siren seduces in many forms.

Sunny Point Café in West Asheville even has smoked salt-and-pepper Hempeh bacon on its menu. Sourced from Smiling Hara Tempeh, Hempeh’s ingredients include peanuts, hemp seeds, organic brown rice flour, culture, lactic acid, smoked sea salt and black pepper.

Michelle Alexander, general manager at Sunny Point, says this plant-based bacon alternative is nutty and savory with a smooth texture. “It has peanuts in it, so we put a maple glaze on it right before we cook it, which complements the flavors,” she says.

Sunny Point is also known for its regular pork bacon, which it gets from Hormel. It’s nitrate-free and hickory-smoked, and the chef adds a special touch of a house-made chipotle, maple syrup and black pepper glaze right before it’s cooked. “This gives it a candied effect,” Alexander says.

At Foothills Meats, owner Casey McKissick says his staff makes both pork and beef bacon every week from the whole animals they take into the butcher shop. The beef comes from AH&W Family Farm, a multigenerational farm in Wilkes County, and the pork comes from Vandele Farm in Lake Lure and Wild Turkey Farms in Rowan County.

One way to get Foothills’ bacon is to stop in at the brand-new Foothills Butcher Bar — a combination butcher shop, restaurant and bar that opened early this month in West Asheville (the former location of Bandidos Latin Kitchen). The business is also planning a second butcher bar in Black Mountain at 107 Black Mountain Ave. (at the former location of Red Radish ToGo), which is expected to open in a few months. Until the new butcher bar opens, customers can do special bacon orders from Foothills’ commissary kitchen in Black Mountain.

Bacon lovers can also add beef bacon to any of the sandwiches and burgers from the Foothills food truck outside Hi-Wire’s Big Top brewing facility in Biltmore Village, says director of operations Kenzie Kraebber. “Beef bacon is heaven-sent for people who can’t eat traditional bacon due to religious reasons,” she says. “Bacon for everyone!”

The American Pig, an Asheville boutique charcuterie, doesn’t produce bacon in the traditional sense, says founder Charles Lee. Instead, it makes pancetta, which is an Italian form of bacon made from pork belly that is dry-cured and aged. “There is no heat or smoke applied,” says Lee. “Only salt, spices and time.”

BACON IN ITALIAN: Instead of traditional bacon, The American Pig produces pancetta, an Italian type of bacon that's made without smoke or heat. Photo courtesy of The American Pig
BACON IN ITALIAN: Instead of traditional bacon, The American Pig produces pancetta, an Italian dry-aged meat that’s made without smoke or heat. Photo courtesy of The American Pig

The butchery sources its pigs from Vandele Farm, Rutherfordton’s Past Ur Time Farm and Marshall’s Three Graces Dairy. The meat is then cured with a savory spice blend that’s created in-house with garlic, juniper, allspice, nutmeg, clove, black pepper and bay leaves. And there’s no rushing this process — to achieve the perfect flavor, it ages five months before it’s ready to eat.

At Hickory Nut Gap Farm’s Deli and Butchery, customers will find traditional pork bacon — and several varieties of it, including house-smoked molasses, as well as red-eye bacon made with ground coffee. Hickory Nut Gap sources nearly all of its pork from its Fairview farm, and the meat is smoked in-house using hickory wood chips.

Kelsey Winterbottom, director of marketing at Hickory Nut Gap, says that the house-smoked bacon has just a hint of sweetness and a buttery pork flavor. “The red-eye bacon has more of a spicy, earthy flavor and is the perfect morning pick-me-up,” she says.

Just north of downtown on Charlotte Street, the Chop Shop Butchery also has several types from which to choose, including pork belly bacon, pork shoulder bacon, jowl bacon (or guanciale) and beef bacon. The shop routinely makes sugar-free and lower-sodium varieties upon request, too. Like Hickory Nut Gap, the Chop Shop does all smoking in-house, and all the meat is sourced from well-raised, pastured animals that have never been administered steroids, antibiotics or hormones.

“After an eight-day cure and a short rest, we smoke over applewood, cool it down and then slice to order,” says Chop Shop butcher PJ Jackson. “We smoke about three times a week and sell more than 100 pounds per week.”

Jackson says that they try to stick to tried-and-true flavor profiles for their bacon offerings — nothing too salty, sweet or peppery. “The folks who prefer a leaner bacon usually go for the shoulder bacon. And the dry-aged beef bacon is unlike anything else around,” he says.

So, if you’re still frying up flimsy strips of pork in a pan, it may be time to branch out.

Sunny Point Café is at 626 Haywood Road. The Foothills Butcher Bar is at 697 Haywood Road, and the Foothills Meats food truck is at the Hi-Wire Brewing Big Top, 2A Huntsman Place. For information on The American Pig’s products, visit theamericanpig.com. Hickory Nut Gap Farm’s Deli and Butchery is at 57 Sugar Hollow Road, Fairview. The Chop Shop Butchery is at 100 Charlotte St.

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