Uncle Marv’s Old Fashioned Beef Bacon

Only the best, handcrafted, old-school beef bacon in amazing flavors

The Forgotten History of Beef Bacon in America

Much has been written about the history of bacon in America.  There are plenty of sources to inform you about Christopher Columbus bringing pigs with him on his journeys to the New World, or how in 1539 the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto became the “father of the American pork industry” by importing 13 pigs to the Tampa Bay region, a herd that quickly grew to 700.  And while that all may be true regarding pork bacon, there is also an increasingly forgotten but undeniable history of alternative forms of dry-cured meats in America; in particular, bacon derived from 100% beef navel.

Today’s historians mostly concur that bacon originated in China thousands of years ago, and was also popular throughout Europe as early as the Roman Empire.  These ancient varieties of bacon are believed to have been primarily pork-based, since pigs had been domesticated as far back as 4900 B.C.  Indeed, the modern word “bacon” is derived from a 16th century Middle English word that referred to all pork in general, likely contributing to the current misconception that bacon can only be produced from pigs.  The English are also credited with inventing the type of bacon most Americans are familiar with today, when the first commercial pork bacon factory opened in Wiltshire in the 1770s.

However, prior to the Industrial Revolution and the spread of mass production methods in the early-to-mid 1800s, and despite the presence of a few processing plants in Europe, most bacon in early America was produced on family farms or in rural homesteads.  Charcuterie – the branch of cooking devoted to preparing processed or cured meat products like bacon and sausage – was a much more prevalent skill in pre-industrial America due to the preponderance of local butcher shops, and the best of them all had an authentic, dry-cured beef bacon recipe.

Also at this time in America, when much of the country was still a frontier, pork bacon imported from England or produced domestically in the “English way” was only widely available in the Eastern states.  In the Old West, where there were far fewer pigs to go around, frontiersmen, cowboys, and Indigenous peoples alike often made their bacon from an “alternative” source that was in fact much more readily available to them than pork:  beef navels.

It is not surprising that there is so little mention of early-American beef varieties in today’s histories on the subject of bacon; clearly, beef bacon has become rapidly marginalized over the past 100 years.  In 1924, the American public was introduced to pre-packaged, pre-sliced, and very affordable mass-produced pork bacon – the same type that dominates the market today.  By the 1950s, the United States was home to over two million pork-producing companies, feeding the country billions of pounds of bacon per year.  Beef bacon, although widely considered more flavorful and premium than pork varieties, simply couldn’t compete, due to the more labor-intensive methods needed to both raise cattle and then produce beef bacon by hand.  As local farms and butcher shops began to disappear in the late 20th century with the swift growth of cheaper industrial pork, fewer recipes existed for how to make authentic beef bacon with a true old-fashioned dry cure, and fewer chefs were trained in how to properly produce it.

Today, on the internet, the history of beef bacon has all but disappeared.  Wikipedia’s entry on “bacon” makes no mention of traditional American beef bacon recipes, which were often developed by Black, Mexican, and Indigenous peoples living alongside the Old World colonists who were importing their pigs and pork-bacon preparation methods from Europe.  The truth is that all along, the custom of producing smoked, preserved meats – beef bacon included – was a practice already known to many cultures, and those inhabiting early America were no exception.

Here at Uncle Marv’s Old Fashioned Beef Bacon Company, we are committed to restoring and preserving the forgotten history of American beef bacon.  Our recipes are derived from authentic 19th century preparation methods, mostly unknown to today’s chefs and butchers.  Unlike many modern “breakfast beef” products that are in fact more akin to beef jerky than actual bacon, or inferior recipes that utilize chemical cures, our bacon is 100% premium beef navel, meticulously hand-seasoned and dry-cured in the same manner as the pioneering beef bacon makers of yesteryear.

If you have a story about your experiences with beef bacon, or you know of any legends in your family ancestry who prepared authentic beef bacon in early America, we’d love to hear from you!