Brined and smoked pork belly, bacon comes unsliced (called slab bacon) and, more commonly, sliced in either thin, regular, or thick slices. Its salty, smoky flavor and crisp texture makes it a welcome addition to salads, soups, vegetable dishes...well, let's face it: anything tastes better with bacon. Bacon is often added to dishes in the form of lardons: small (about 1/2-inch-wide) strips that are browned to create a flavor foundation.
1 pound = about 16 regular slices
Pancetta is a good substitute, though it is unsmoked, and won't contribute bacon's smoky flavor.
There's a wide variety of bacon styles available; your best best is to sample a few to see which style (lean and chewy; crisp and fatty) you like best. Look for a good ratio of fat to meat as the fat is what makes bacon so appealing. Thicker sliced bacon will be easier to slice (as in lardons) and while thinner slices will cook up the crispiest.
Start the bacon in a cold pan set over medium low, and you'll get a nice steady sizzle in the pan instead of splatter on your stove. To make bacon lardons, cut strips crosswise into about 1/2-inch-wide pieces before cooking.
Store unopened bacon in the refrigerator or, for longer storage, in the freezer. To freeze, wrap a few slices together in individual packets so it's easy to thaw only the amount you need.