Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to Cook Bacon

bacon!
This may seem ridiculously basic to some of you, but bear with me here...

Like pie crust, rice, and poached eggs, consistently crisp bacon is one of those basic things that eluded me as a cook for longer than I'd like to admit. The pie crust post had me thinking about sharing techniques, and as I was cooking the bacon for breakfast on Sunday, I wondered if some of you out there might benefit from what I've learned. As with the pie crust, there are just a few steps and the secrets are simple, but the payoff is huge.

1. Start with a good quality, thick-cut bacon. Put it in a cold pan and turn the stove on to medium heat. Letting it warm slowly renders the fat out of the bacon, so that it cooks in the fat in addition to the direct heat of the pan itself. Keep it on medium until it starts to sizzle and look translucent. (I use a seasoned cast iron or non-stick skillet - if you're using a regular stainless steel one it's even more important to start it out slowly to avoid sticking.)

2. Turn the heat up a little, but not too high. Medium to medium-high is best. If you cook it at too high a temperature, the bacon will curl and twist, which reduces the surface area in contact with the pan. If it does that, turn the heat down a bit and flatten it back out.

3. Only turn it once and turn it late - when it's almost cooked through. The bacon will start to curl downwards slightly - sort of upside-side down cupping. (If you turn it too soon you can turn it back over once, but no more than that.)

4. Cook it until it's almost completely crisp in the pan but not quite. It will become crisp when it drains and cools a bit. If it's completely crisp in the pan, it will probably be overcooked by the time it cools.
bacon!
It may sound a little weird, but with a little practice, you can actually cook bacon by sound. It shouldn't pop and hiss too much - if it does the heat is probably too high. You can also hear when it's ready to flip because it starts to get a little quieter.

Contrary to what you might think, it doesn't make any difference how much you put in the pan - you can crowd it in there all the way up the sides of the skillet, and it will all still cook up crisp in the rendered fat. Same with a second batch of bacon - since there is already fat in the pan, the second batch will be ok even though it's started in a hot pan.

I'm going to assume that you already know to drain the bacon on paper towels and keep it warm in the oven until you're ready to serve it. ;) I am also going to assume that you know to always make more than you think you will need, because your husband/friend/wife/dog/whatever will be happy to unburden you of whatever extra you may have. I have never had to figure out what to do with leftover bacon.

A few words about the bacon itself:
American bacon is cured meat from the belly of the beast, by which of course I mean the pig. In other parts of the world, bacon can mean meat from the back or rib portion of the animal.

There are vast differences in the types of bacon available. Since we in the Q. Foodie household eat bacon only sparingly (about once a week or so) we splurge on the good stuff. I really like Pederson's uncured bacon, available at Whole Foods (and pictured above.) It tastes better and is raised in more sustainable and humane conditions than the usual supermarket brands. Before I discovered Pederson's, I bought uncured Niman Ranch at Trader Joes. It is produced by various and assorted farms and ranches under the Niman Ranch label. Producers must meet their standards, and provide a certain "quality of life" for their animals, if you will. In San Diego, the Linkery and Homegrown Meats also sell sustainably raised, locally produced bacon.

If you are wondering why I specify uncured bacon, this post on the NY Times Well Blog is a must-read. It sheds light on the possible health effects of nitrites, sodium and other preservatives found in cured meats, and makes a very strong case for choosing the right product and eating it in moderation.

16 comments:

  1. i was a vegetarian for almost 9 years and over the past few years began eating meat again. i never realized i was cooking bacon the wrong way.
    ps. i'm loving these tips.

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  2. While I love the smells and sounds of bacon cooking in a skillet, truth be told, baking it on a sheet pan makes for flatter more evenly cooked baked than any other method.

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  3. Casey - thanks!

    Amy - I wondered if someone would bring that up! I have heard it works really well, especially for large quantities, but I've never tried it. What temperature would you use?

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  4. I dont eat it, but I do cook it for my husband as a breakfast treat, and while he's doing the remodel its even a saturday breakfast treat too!

    I'm pleased to see that we agree on the cooking method. I usually try to get the niman ranch. I think happy pigs are extremely important since I gather they are much more intelligent than other farm animals...

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  5. I like your cooking tips - Just a small comment in general about "uncured" bacon (and nothing against the post). Completely agree to buy bacon that has the least amount of unnecessary preservative but "uncured bacon" is misleading from many producers since it gives the impression that it doesn't contain any nitrites (which can from nitrosamines) but those are essential to make bacon and avoid bacteria growth. Uncured bacon also contains nitrites but just natural occuring nitrites (normally from celery juice) which chemically are not different than sodium nitrites. I agree with Michael Ruhlman who mentioned that bacon who only contains a small amount of necessary sodium nitrites is healthier than many uncured bacons which can have additional additivies.

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  6. Jenny - I agree!

    Honkman - interesting and good to know! Sounds like moderation is a good idea no matter what kind of bacon it is.

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  7. Talk about a mouthwatering photo! I've been baking or broiling my bacon in the toaster oven as of late, but I would gladly enjoy the fantastic bacon at the Q. Foodie house anytime!

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  8. I tried the bacon from the farmer's market a few weeks ago for the first time, and what an incredible difference. So that's what amazing bacon tastes like.

    This is why I love your tip to get the best bacon you can - it makes a difference.

    Cheers!

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  9. Thanks for this post. With my husband (who doesn't eat pork) out of town I tried this method and had a wonderful BLT for dinner last night. Best bacon I have ever personally cooked.

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  10. Alice- try the baking you will like it. For extra crispiness take a sheet of foil and fold it like you would to make a fan, then unfold it. Lay the bacon on the ridges made from your folds. The fat falls into the ridges making for extra crispiness. Mmmmmmmm. Bacon.

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  11. Yummmm.... bacon. I could really go for some right now but I have been warned that my cholesterol is elevated. Will have to cut back on this guilty pleasure :(

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  12. I totally agree about the baking tip - totally the best!

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  13. Thank you. I thought I was crazy starting it out in a cold pan. Plus when I'm watching Top Chef and they complain about the manner the bacon was cooked I always wonder if I'm doing it right.

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  14. Thank you. I thought I was crazy starting it out in a cold pan. Plus when I'm watching Top Chef and they complain about the manner the bacon was cooked I always wonder if I'm doing it right.

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  15. Here in Australia our bacon is all actually steamed so it's 'cooked' not raw. We never serve it crispy like that,but sort of browned just a little with just the fat a bit crisp.I guess you guys would think it was awful!

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  16. thank you thank you thank you!!!!

    my husband and i just got a new set of cookware for our wedding and i was having the most difficult time trying to cook my bacon i get from the farmers market.

    the cold pan method is brilliant and worked like a charm! thank you!!!! i will for sure be suggesting this to others.

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