I am sure you’ve seen it. It’s been on Facebook and Pinterest, and countless blogs. The “secret to perfectly cooked bacon” – cooking it in the oven, rather than on the stove top.
I’m here today to give you the REAL secret(s) to perfectly cooked bacon. Because utilizing your oven is NOT it!
First let me explain why I don’t like the oven method. The few times I have tried it, the bacon has splattered grease all over the inside of the oven. Cleaning the oven is not one of my favorite things, so having greasy oven walls to scrub clean? No thanks. Secondly, while all this grease is splattering inside the hot oven, it’s smoking. Thus effectively filling the oven, and kitchen, with smoke. If you have a vented range this may not become an issue for you. I, however, am not so lucky and know many others who do not have vented ranges either.
I also do not like the oven method because most ovens tend to have hot spots. This means uneven baking. For things meant to be baked, like cakes and breads, the hot spots are generally a non-issue. But when we’re talking about bacon, uneven cooking (or baking in the oven) leads to burnt bits and undercooked bits on the same slice. Yuck! I also find it too easy to overcook the bacon in the oven. I like crisp bacon but if it is downright crunchy or I fear breaking a tooth, it is too done for me.
So what is the real secret? There are several aspects to it but the most important is this: Patience!
Let’s start at the beginning and work our way down. The real secrets to perfetly cooked bacon are:
1. Size Matters. Yes, bacon shrinks as it cooks. We all know this. However, you need each piece of raw bacon to fit onto the flat surface of your cooking vessel. If you use a griddle, you can likely fit a whole slice of bacon on it with no worries. If you use skillets on the stove top, however, a slice of bacon may be too big to fit into the skillet. If the ends of the bacon are pushed up the sides of the skillet or worse, hanging over the edge, you’re headed for disaster. The flat surface of the skillet that is directly in contact with the heating element (or flame, if you have a gas range) is the best place for the bacon, as this is where the heat is most concentrated and evenly distributed. If the entire piece of bacon is not on the flat surface of the skillet, it won’t cook evenly. This leads to undercooked ends and burnt middles. Nobody wants that. What to do? Cut the bacon to a size that will fit in the skillet. Depending on the size skillet I am using, I cut the bacon either in half or in thirds.
1 b. If you’ve ever tried to cut raw bacon, you know it’s difficult. Frozen bacon is super easy to cut though! I’m talking straight from the freezer. If y’all know me at all, you know I have the upper body strength of cooked spaghetti. If even I can manage to easily cut through a package of frozen bacon, you can too! (If your freezer gets things really rock solid frozen, you may want to let it sit out for 15-20 minutes or so before cutting.) When you buy bacon, even if you plan to use it the same day, toss it in the freezer when you get home. Whether you are just cutting it in half or thirds to fit in your skillet or into smaller pieces for a recipe that calls for “crumbled” bacon (which yes it is MUCH easier and less messy to cut into small pieces and cook rather than cook larger pieces and crumble after) you will find that cutting raw bacon is a breeze when it’s frozen.
Mind Games: This helps visually stretch the amount of bacon you cook. A pound of regular sliced bacon (as opposed to thin or thick cut) has about 14 slices in it. (This varies, of course, but based on my experiences this seems to be the average.) If you have a lot of mouths to feed, by cutting the slices in half or in thirds, you increase the number of pieces of bacon that make it to the serving platter from 14 to 28 or 42! Smaller pieces yes, but the mind is a funny thing and you might just find that 4 small pieces of bacon are every bit as satisfying as 4 full slices, even though they amount to LESS bacon being consumed. Or, you know… everyone can have a big pile of 8-10 pieces of bacon and think they’re in bacon heaven with so many pieces on their plate. 😉
2. Turn DOWN the heat! Most people cook bacon at far too high a temperature. A simple rule of thumb to follow is this: the bacon should sizzle in the skillet, but it should NOT pop and splatter. If it’s popping and splattering all over the place, the heat is too high. Turn it down!
2 b. As Emeril Lagasse would say, “Use your knobs!” Your range has temperature control knobs for a reason – use them! Do not rely on the range’s built-in thermostat to maintain the ideal cooking temperature. Adjust the temperature up or down as needed throughout the cooking process to maintain the sizzle without the splatter.
3. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Don’t over-crowd the skillet with too many pieces of bacon at once. An over-crowded skillet affects how well the skillet maintains heat. Uneven heating = uneven cooking. As has been established, this leads to bacon with some parts that are undercooked, and others that are overcooked or even burnt. I can’t give you a number of slices, as it depends on what size skillet you are using. What I can tell you is that when I use my 8-inch skillet, I cut the bacon in thirds and fry 4 slices per batch.
4. Flip it like it’s hot! The best, most evenly cooked bacon has been flipped more times than the mail man has been around the block. Well, maybe not quite that many times. 😉 But one of the keys to perfectly cooked bacon is frequent flipping. If you can remember how many times you flipped the bacon, you didn’t flip it enough. Frequent flipping also helps cut down on the bacon curling. It takes a little practice but you’ll get the hang of “just knowing” when to flip to prevent the bacon from starting to curl up on itself. If a piece does happen to start to curl on you, flip it over then use the tines of a fork to press and hold the curled bit down against the skillet for a few seconds to help straighten it back out. It might still have a small bit of curl to it once all is said and done, but this will minimize curling.
5. Drain, drain, go away. When the bacon is cooked to the desired crispness, transfer it to a platter or large plate lined with paper towels or napkins. Lay the cooked bacon in a single layer. If you run out of room on the platter or plate, you can either transfer the cooled pieces to a serving platter (which will not need to be lined) or place a fresh layer of paper towels/napkins down before layering the plate with more bacon. If you just layer and pile up all the bacon on top of itself, the grease from the pieces on top will just run down onto the pieces below, making them “soggy” rather than crisp.
5 b. Drain the skillet of excess grease as needed. Bacon is a highly fatty meat and it’s going to load your skillet with grease as it cooks. This doesn’t mean you want to cook the bacon in said grease any more than is really necessary. Every couple of batches, drain excess grease from the skillet into a grease tin to keep the skillet from accumulating too much grease.
That is all there is to it! It does take time. On average, it takes me about an hour and a half to fry one pound of bacon. That might sound crazy, but if you consider the alternative – bacon that has been cooked quickly but poorly – it’s totally worth the time for yummy, PERFECTLY cooked bacon! Bacon is not something I make often, either, so when I do make it I feel like it’s worth it to take the time to do it right.
Now, you might be wondering what to do with the grease poured into the grease tin from tip number 5 b. You don’t have to keep the grease if you really don’t want to, but I highly recommend that you do! The bacon grease can be stored in the fridge, and used as a starter for some seriously yummy gravies and sauces! I also use a tiny bit of it to grease my skillets in lieu of cooking oil when making scrambled eggs or when pan frying steaks, chicken or for sauteeing veggies etc. It helps keep the foods from sticking while also adding yummy flavor. I know a lot of folks like non-stick cooking sprays, but when you’ve got bacon (or sausage) grease in the fridge to use up… use it! It worked for my grandmothers and it works for me too! 😉