Kitchen Tip: Cooking BACON!

Bacon! The average American eats 19 pounds of the stuff a year. So, it makes sense that there would be questions on the best way to cook it.  There are three common ways to make bacon: cooktop (skillet), microwave, and oven-baked. Each method has its advantages depending on your needs, I use all three ways. Let’s take a quick look at each…

The traditional way to fry bacon is in a skillet on the stovetop. That’s probably how your Mom used to make it. Memorable TV and movie moments in the kitchen capture bacon sizzling away in a cast-iron frying pan. You can practically smell it, and your mouth begins to water. There are few food aromas that we can so vividly recall as bacon in the pan. We envision it coming out of the frying pan with beautiful ripples and cooked to crispy perfection. Well, that may be true in movies and shows, but in real life, frying bacon isn’t all that pretty. For starters, it’s messy. The bacon pops, and the grease goes everywhere. A splatter screen will help, but not much, as the bacon needs near-constant turning during the cooking process. You really can’t walk away, hot spots develop, and the bacon doesn’t cook evenly. Some strips will be done before others. It’s hard to get uniform crispiness. Bacon in a skillet or frying pan will likely have curling at the ends. When cooked, place the bacon on a plate lined with paper towels to drain off the grease. This cooking method works best for making bacon that is soft, tender, and pliable. If you like using bacon fat (sometimes referred to as “liquid gold”), this is for you. It’s best not to preheat the skillet. The bacon strips should be laid out, without overlapping, in a cold pan. This helps the fat render slowly for consistently cooked strips. Some folks swear cast iron skillets produce the best results, I would argue. I found that my non-stick pans work just as well and are a lot easier to clean.

If you need only a few strips of bacon, cooking them in the microwave is the way to go. The microwave oven yields perfectly crisp and evenly cooked bacon in a couple of minutes with no special tools and is super easy to clean-up. All you need is a plate and a few paper towels. Paper towels are essential as they absorb all the grease and keep your microwave clean. Line the dish with a couple of paper towels, place the bacon on top of the paper towels (no more than four strips), and cover more paper towels. The average cooking time is about 1 minute per strip, but this will vary depending on your strip’s thickness. I always check it after two minutes. When the bacon is at crispy perfection, clean up is as easy as throwing the paper towels in the trash. This is the most stress-free way to produce beautiful crisp bacon strips. However, it only works for small batches. If you’re cooking for a crowd, you’ll want to forego the microwave for your range.

Baking in the oven is the best method for making a pound or more of bacon. It is also hands-free. The bacon doesn’t require turning, so you can multi-task while it is cooking. Preheat your oven to 400°. (Preheating is worth the extra time because it ensures evening cooking.) While the oven is preheating, line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper. This will make clean-up a breeze. Some people will put their bacon on a rack inside the baking pan to keep it from sitting in the fat. The bacon will get extra crispy. I’ve tried using a rack, and there was not enough of a difference to warrant the extra clean-up. Lay the bacon in a single layer, close together but not touching. If it overlaps, it will stick during cooking. Bake 15-20 minutes. Transfer the cooked bacon to paper towels to drain and finish crisping. Let grease solidify on the liner, and then crumple around it and discard. I love making bacon in the oven; it is my preferred method for any more than 4 slices.

Regardless of the method, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Room temperature bacon cooks better than cold bacon. Take it out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking. 
  • Refrigerate leftover bacon for 1 week or freeze it for up to 3 months. Rewarm the bacon in the microwave or oven before serving.
  • Keep the bacon from touching while cooking. It will stick and break.
  • DO preheat the oven, but DON’T preheat a skillet.
  • Never pour bacon fat down the kitchen drain! It will cause clogging down the road. (Pour the fat in a can, let it harden and discard)
  • Always drain cook bacon on paper towels to absorb the grease.
  • Cooktop method (frying in a skillet): Good for 5-6 pieces, best for soft bacon, takes 8-12 minutes, makes a mess.
  • Microwave: Perfect for 1-4 slices, crispy bacon every time. It takes a minute per slice, easy clean-up.
  • Oven-baked: Great for crowds (up to 1 pound), hands-free, cooking time is 20 minutes in a preheated oven, easy clean-up.

Bacon isn’t just for breakfast! There are all sorts of ways to enjoy bacon throughout the day and evening. Anything wrapped in bacon just tastes better! Scallops, shrimp, steak, pork, and fish. Chocolate and bacon are a great combo for the sweet tooth. Happy cooking!

Check out these cookbooks for fun and creative ways to incorporate more bacon in your life.

My favorite tools for cooking bacon

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