During a presentation at the 2018 American Association of Meat Processors’ American Convention of Meat Processors and Suppliers’ Exhibition in Kansas City, Missouri, attendees heard from award-winning American Cured Meat Champions about the factors contributing to their blue-ribbon meats. A session titled “Creating a Best of Show Product,” Gary Bardine, owner of Bardine’s Country Smokehouse Inc., Crabtree, Pennsylvania, won the Best of Show in 2015 for his dry-cured bacon entry. “I’d love to tell you there’s a secret formula, but there isn’t,” Bardine said. However, he shared some of the keys to his winning ways.

Bardine’s Top 5 keys to best-of-show bacon include:

1) Tumble the bacon before trimming – “As you tumble it you’re going to beat it up a little bit…put the belly in there as is, cure it and then right before you’re ready to hang it up and smoke it trim it up.” Bardine’s bellies are tumbled for 90 minutes; rest overnight; and retumbled before storing them in plastic bins.

2) Trim the bacon in a uniform shape – “I like a belly two and a half times long as it is wide,” according to Bardine.

3) Sourcing matters – A quality belly supplier is critical to ensure consistent quality. Bardine said his go-to belly supplier is Premium Iowa Pork. He said for companies that don’t slaughter hogs, like his, partnering with a solid supplier is essential.

4) Distilled water – Bardine purchases distilled water to process the company’s bellies. “I think the water is critical,” he said. Among other things, Bardine uses the water to rinse the bellies after trimming.

5) Smoke schedule – The smoke schedule should include a fast dry at 130°F for up to two hours for bellies being entered in a cured meats competition.