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BY ANNA STOCKWELL, EPICURIOUS
The Epicurious Test Kitchen gets to the bottom of the great bacon debate.
PHOTO: CHELSEA KYLE, FOOD STYLED BY DIANA YEN
This world is crazy for bacon, and not just eating it—opinions on the best way to cook perfect, crispy bacon run deep in the blood of pork eaters everywhere. That’s why the Epicurious Test Kitchen just spent a week cooking pounds and pounds of the stuff, in an attempt to cut through the bacon noise and crown a winning method. It was one salty, porky week. This is what we learned.
START YOUR BACON IN A COLD SKILLET
Trust us. When we tossed cold bacon into a hot skillet, it started to brown and crisp before the fat really started rendering out. That leaves you with two choices: Keep sizzling your bacon until the fat’s cooked through but the bacon burns, or take it off the heat and deal with fatty, flabby bacon. On the other hand, when we added it to a cold pan and then turned on the heat to medium, the fat had plenty of time to melt away, leaving us with crunchier (and less greasy) slices.
A CAST-IRON SKILLET COOKS BACON FASTER
For our first stovetop cooking test, we pitted a 12-inch cast iron skillet against a 12-inch stainless-steel skillet. When we started with cold bacon in a cold skillet and cooked over medium heat, the taste and texture were the same for the bacon from each skillet: nice and crunchy, with a lovely smoky depth of flavor, and some deeper browned and charred spots. But while the stainless-steel skillet took 11 minutes, the cast-iron skillet took only 8.
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ADD WATER TO THE SKILLET IF YOU WANT TO CRUMBLE THE BACON
We’d heard from the folks over at America’s Test Kitchen that adding a bit of cold water to your cold skillet with your bacon yields better, crispier, bacon. So we gave it a go. It took a bit longer, but sure enough, all the water evaporated and then the bacon started crisping as it normally would. The result was thinner and crisper than the bacon cooked in the skillet without water: it shattered easily, and was very nice and crunchy. It wasn’t as salty, and we actually missed the thicker crunch of traditional bacon, but this strategy would be perfect if you wanted to use the bacon as a crumbled topping for, say, salad.
FOR MORE THAN 1 OR 2 SERVINGS, USE YOUR OVEN
Even in a 12-inch skillet, you can only fit 5 to 6 slices of bacon. So if you’re feeding a crowd, you want to heat up your oven instead. Baking your bacon on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet allows the rendered fat to drip away from the bacon, helping it cook up even crunchier than pan-frying. (While bacon should be started in a cold pan if you’re cooking it on the stovetop, you can crank up the heat if you’re baking your bacon in the oven. We found a temp of 450°F gave oven-baked bacon the same smoky depth as the stovetop kind. Just cook it for 20 minutes to get perfectly sizzled slices.) Even better, you can fit 10 to 12 slices on a rack, and it cooks without needing any attention: no flipping, no rotating, and—best of all—no messy splatter all over the stove.
COOKING BACON IN THE MICROWAVE IS SAD
In the microwave, we cooked the bacon padded between several sheets of paper towels on high until fully cooked and crisp, which took about 3 1/2 minutes in our machine. It was beautiful looking bacon: crinkly and golden-brown, without any sign of char. But when we bit into it, it wasn’t crisp enough, and it lacked the charred flavor we craved. Our vote? Stick to the pan or the oven.
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