Best Pig Breeds For Bacon
One of the most popular foods in America, bacon can be used to improve almost any dish – from vegetables to appetizers and even ice cream. Bacon has become increasingly popular as a staple in the last decade, with an estimated 21% of Americans eating it every day. If you are interested in raising pigs and you (like the rest of us) enjoy eating bacon, you will want to know which pig breeds produce the best carcass for this cut.
Which pig breeds are best for bacon? The best bacon comes from lean, meaty breeds of pigs as opposed to fattier breeds. The best pig breeds for bacon are:
- American Landrace
- Red Wattle
- Poland China
- Gloucestershire Old Spot
Each of these ten breeds has their own unique attributes as well as challenges, so read on to learn more about each breed and which would be best for your homestead or operation.
Top Pig Breeds That Produce Delicious Bacon
The Tamworth is the bacon breed. They are often preferred over other breeds by high-end restaurants and the “foodie” market. Their long, deep sides combined with their dark, fine-grained meat allows for an ample amount of high-quality, flavorful bacon. Tamworth pigs are light-boned compared to other breeds which gives them a high meat-to-bone ratio – their carcass yields are as high as 70%.
If Tamworth pigs provide such savory bacon, why don’t all commercial producers raise these hogs? To attain the highest profit, most commercial operations raise pigs in confinement (pens). Tamworth pigs do not do well in confinement, and are primarily raised free-range or on pasture. Tamworth pigs are highly active compared to other breeds, and are excellent and capable foragers. The Tamworth is not happy in confinement and will test the boundaries. You’d need strong fences to keep this breed on your property.
The Hereford is a popular 4H breed because of its docile temperament and its attractive markings. They are red pigs with white faces, legs, and bellies (or white pigs with red backs and rumps). There is more to the Hereford than its temperament and looks, though, as the breed is also a great choice for bacon production.
Hereford meat has been described as “steak-like”, and the bacon is known to be deep red and finely marbled. This breed is an easy keeper and produces flavorful meat, making it a great choice for a family homestead.
Berkshires are known as one of the most flavorful pork producers in the world, famously exported out of the United States and marketed as a delicacy, and prized by five-star chefs.
It stands to reason that the breed known for having the best-tasting meat will also produce exceptionally flavored bacon. The Berkshire is a heritage breed and highly marketable live or butchered, making it a smart choice if you are planning to go to market.
The American Landrace is recognizable with its particularly long, lean body. The length of body allows the Landrace carcass to produce higher yields of lean bacon than most other breeds.
The American Landrace is known as “America’s Sowherd” because of the large litters produced and reared by the maternal and caring sows. This trait, along with the particularly lean meat, has led to the American Landrace as a popular sow to cross with other (often fattier) breeds for high-quality meat production.
The most popular breed of pig in the US, the Yorkshire is another great choice for bacon production. The Yorkshire is the quintessential pink pig depicted in most movie and TV farms – think Babe, or Wilbur.
Yorkshires produce an ample amount of both lean meat and well-textured bacon. The Yorkshire is an easy keeper and does just as well in confinement as on pasture, making it a good choice for larger operations or homesteads with limited space.
The second most popular pig in the US, the Duroc, is known for its red, flavorful meat and lovely marbling. Duroc bacon is really the perfect combination of red meat and fat, and is a good choice if you prefer thick-cut bacon slices.
Durocs are hardy pigs, can perform well in confinement or on pasture, and reach market weight more quickly than most other breeds.
Hampshire hogs are distinguishable for their black bodies and white belts. They are a popular breed, and easy to come by in most locations. They grow rapidly and are excellent bacon producers if you like lean bacon.
Hampshires are known for the little amount of fat that they produce, making them excellent producers of lean meat. If you prefer bacon with little fat to it, the Hampshire might be the right bacon breed for you.
Red Wattles are harder to find than some of the other breeds listed here, but are worth a mention for their well-marbled, dark meat, described as “beef-like”.
Red Wattles are so named for their red coloring and the wattles that hang from their necks. They are an economical breed if you have land on which to raise them, able to gain weight rapidly on a diet mainly consisting of forage and pasture.
Red Wattle hogs are quite docile, yet can seem daunting because of their size – with some adults reaching over 1,000 pounds at maturity. Red Wattles are valuable for both their quality of meat and also their contribution in cross-breeding programs.
The next two breeds on this list are considered lard breeds. These will make good bacon breeds for those who like fattier (crispier) bacon. Despite its name, the Poland China is one of the earliest breeds created in North America (in Ohio to be specific). This breed does have leaner meat than other lard pigs, making it a good dual-purpose pig breed if you are interested in producing your own meat and lard.
The Poland China is popular in the US for its high-quality meat, high rate of feed conversion, and docile temperament. The Poland China is a big pig – in fact, the largest hog in recorded history was a Poland China. His name was Big Bill and he weighed over 2,500 pounds at his heaviest.
Gloucestershire Old Spot
Last, but many would argue not least, is the Gloucestershire Old Spot – also called the “Spotted Pig”. Old Spots, like the Poland Chinas, are on the leaner side of the fattier lard breeds, making them a good bacon breed for their mixture of lean meat and fatty marbling. These pigs thrive on pasture or forage with little grain required (though they will take much longer to reach a market weight when fed a pasture diet alone).
They do well on smaller homesteads as they have a docile temperament and are economical eaters – often living simply on forage and kitchen scraps. Many families also enjoy the look of the Gloucestershire Old Spot – they are unique for their black spots, or “stains”, over white hair, and have large ears that flop over their eyes.
Understanding Lard Pigs vs. Bacon Pigs
Most pigs will fall into two categories – lard pigs and bacon pigs. The type of pig you raise will depend on the product you are most interested in producing.
Many heritage pig breeds will fall into the category of lard pigs. In years past, lard was used for everything from cooking to candle making. Lard was a staple that could be found in everyone’s pantry. Fatty pigs were the ideal producer of lard – pigs like the Guinea Hog, Gloucestershire Old Spot, and Meishan.
With the development and marketing of hydrogenated vegetable oils and the widespread use of electricity (reducing the need for candles), lard fell out of popularity. While vegetable oil and butter became the stars of the spread and cooking worlds, lard has made a big comeback in recent years, as has the raising of heritage breeds desired for their high-fat, flavorful, and slower-growing meat.
Most commercial meat pigs will fall into the “bacon pig” category. These are long, lean pigs bred for their fast growth rate and muscled marbled meat. While we may assume that the best bacon will come from the fattier breeds, the best bacon is actually one that is a perfect mixture of both muscle and fat. For this reason, most bacon producers prefer to get their product from modern, meat-heavy pigs. Most of the pigs in the list above fall into this category.
The Best Pig Breed For Bacon Can Come Down To Preference
While all of these breeds will give you a large amount of delicious bacon, which breed you choose will depend on a number of factors, including the kind of bacon that you prefer.
Some people prefer thick, meaty bacon they can cut into and eat like a steak. Others prefer fatty, thin bacon that they can crunch into or crumble over their salads or potatoes. Deciding what kind of bacon you most enjoy eating will help you narrow down your search.