Scotty Tried 6 Methods of Cooking Bacon and Found a Definite Winner
The Cliché all over social media is that that bacon makes everything better. We absolutely fall into this camp. I use it a lot as a flavoring agent or a salt substitute in recipes — a slice or two to infuse a crock pot full of dried beans with porky-smoky-richness, for example. But, we’ll cook up a mess of bacon as a more substantial component to a dish, or as a standalone food. This is the bacon to pile onto burgers or BLTs, or to enjoy alongside pancakes or waffles, dragging the strips through syrup or runny egg yolks.
Yet, we’ve never tested the optimum method to create that had perfect slice of crispiness. We’ve cooked it in a skillet, and in the oven, and we’ve tried it in the microwave when in a hurry. We’ve read about air fryer and sous vide methods we’d like to try, as well as other hacks for easier cleanup or better texture. On this day, we didn’t have either and air fryer or, a sous vide, so, those will have to be for another blog.
To find which method or methods work best, we tested 6 methods and compared the results side-by-side. Our house smelled amazing, by the way, my wife was delighted to help me taste test.
Some Control Factors
Tests: We only used thick-cut for this experiment as that is all we had on hand. For each method, I tested the number of bacon slices that fit into the cooking vessel (skillet, sheet pan, air fryer basket, etc.) and made note of that in my description.
Bacon: We used a widely distributed grocery-store brand. For the bacon, we chose Wright Applewood Smoked Bacon.
Time: The time listed is the cooking time; any preheating time is noted separately. we did not list cleanup time.
Ratings: We rated each cooking method on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing perfection. Texture, cook time, ease of preparation, cleanup, and appearance all factored into the ratings.
Method: Water in Skillet
Total Time: 16 minutes
About This Method: This technique, touted by America’s Test Kitchen instructs you to arrange bacon in a cold skillet and add just enough water to cover. You cook over high heat until the water boils, lower the heat to medium until the water evaporates, and then cook over medium-low heat until the bacon is done.
The theory here is that the water “keeps the initial cooking temperature low and gentle, so the meat retains its moisture and stays tender.” The site doesn’t specify what type of skillet to use, so we went with stainless steel, which is shown in the accompanying photo. There are no instructions to flip the bacon as it cooks, but we did (once the water evaporated) to make sure both sides were crisped.
The bacon stuck to the pan, and it cooked inconsistently, with crispier parts and chewier parts on each slice. We had noticeable shrinkage and the thick-cut bacon also curled up a good bit. There was also more popping and sputtering than we’d noticed with other stovetop methods. Cleanup was a bit of a hassle because after the water cooked off, the skillet was covered with a sticky film that just adhered more firmly to the pan as the bacon finished cooking. We had to soak and scrub the skillet to get it clean.
My Takeaway: The texture wasn’t superior to that of bacon cooked using some of the other methods. Cleanup took longer and required more elbow grease, too, which is a serious buzzkill.
Bottom Line: Our opinion is to skip this method. Rating: 5/10
Total Time: 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 minutes
About This Method: There are countless sources that give instructions for this cooking method, so, you can take your pick. Here, bacon gets sandwiched between a double layer of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate and cooks on high for four to six minutes. We were able to comfortably fit four slices on the plate without overlapping slices.
It took us a few tries to get the timing right: The bacon easily went from a bit underdone to burned in a few seconds. You’ll likely need to check on the slices, remove ones as they’re done, and continue to cook the rest in short bursts. The bacon was very flat and appeared to be uniformly cooked. Our thick bacon fared well, yielding lovely crispy-fatty pockets — when we finally got the timing right. Cleanup was a breeze: we simply tossed the paper towels and loaded the plate into my dishwasher. Even though there were no splatters in our microwave, we still gave it a spray and rub-down because the walls had a light oily film on them.
My Takeaway: We could see this method being useful if you only need to cook a few slices of thick-cut bacon, and you need to cook them fast — but we like to save my bacon drippings for later use, and with this method the paper towels soak them all up. You’ll need to check the bacon for doneness about a minute or two before the indicated cook time, and then cook in increments of 10 to 15 seconds until you get the right texture. Basically, although this method is the fastest, it requires some finesse.
Bottom line: OK for thick-cut bacon, if you’re in a hurry and don’t want the drippings. Rating: 6/10
Method: Nonstick Skillet
Total Time: 10 minutes
About This Method: We used the instructions from Food Network’s roundup of bacon cooking methods. We arranged bacon slices in a cold nonstick pan and cooked on medium heat, flipping the slices occasionally as needed.
The bacon curled up a little as it cooked, and it ended up with some charred spots and some fatty-chewy spots. These textural differences were apparent by looking at the bacon. There were a few splatters on the stovetop, but cleanup of the pan itself was easy; we were able to scrape every last bit of the rendered fat into a container for later use.
My Takeaway: This method seemed okay for cooking a small amount of bacon, but the inconsistent cooking was not ideal. We love having some tasty seared bits on my bacon, but some of the slices ended up charred in places and were unpleasantly burned-tasting.
Bottom Line: It’s an okay stovetop method with easy cleanup. Rating: 6/10
Method: Baking on a Rack with Paper Towels Underneath
Total Time: 29 minutes + 10 minutes oven preheating time
About This Method: We were intrigued by this tip, given in a tweet by Alton Brown: We lined a rimmed baking sheet with layers of paper towels, arranged a wire rack over the paper towels, placed bacon slices on the rack, and baked at 400°F till the bacon was done to my liking.
The bacon stayed the meatiest with this oven-rack method, with the least amount of shrinkage. To see what difference the paper towels made, we cooked one batch of thick-cut bacon over paper towels and one batch of each with no paper towels. The paper towels definitely helped with cleanup, but didn’t eliminate it entirely; the unlined pan gathered lots of grease and some splotchy scorched spots that we had to scrub off. But even with the towels, the rack had to be scrubbed, and that was, frankly, time-consuming.
We know what some of you are thinking — and no, the paper towels don’t catch fire or smoke at 400°F. They do soak up the hot rendered bacon fat, basically eliminating any chance that you’ll burn yourself with hot grease. Of course, if rendered bacon fat is like Liquid Gold in your home, this method isn’t ideal.
My Takeaway: This technique is great for cooking a large amount of bacon; you could do two pans at once (that is, if you have enough pans and wire racks). We liked how baking the bacon on a rack makes it easy to control the end product: We cooked one batch until it was crispy and one batch until it was meaty-chewy, with a Canadian bacon–like texture. And okay, we’ll admit that we might be a bit lazy, but we really hated scrubbing baked-on bacon bits off a wire rack. We tried washing it in the dishwasher, but some stuck-on bits remained, and we had to get out my brush and scrub anyway.
Bottom line: This is a good technique for cooking a large volume of meaty bacon with easy cleanup of the pan — but be prepared to scrub the rack. Rating: 7/10
Method: Cast Iron Skillet
Total Time: 11 minutes
About This Method: Many sites tout this old-school method for cooking bacon. We used the directions instructing us to place strips in a cold cast iron skillet and cook over moderate heat, flipping the bacon occasionally until it’s done to your liking.
The bacon remained overall pretty flat. We got slices that were crunchy and seared in places and chewier-fattier (with a crispy crust) in other places, probably because the ends wanted to curl up and cook without making full contact with the pan. The well-seasoned pan meant the bacon didn’t stick, and cleanup was moderate. We had to wipe away spatters on the stovetop, and we scraped the drippings into a bowl for storage and rinsed and wiped dry the skillet.
My Takeaway: We truly love this kind of bacon. It’s nostalgic; it’s good Nana bacon. There’s something about the amount of sear and fat and chew that you end up with that’s just delicious. And, perhaps we’re imagining this, but even though you’re only cooking over medium heat, we believe there’s almost an equivalent of wok hei or translated as “breath of the wok” here, where the bacon picks up character and flavor from the pan itself. It’s a good method for cooking up a few slices (up to maybe six in a large pan), that allows you to hang onto those flavorful drippings.
Bottom Line: This is great for folks who want to cook a small amount of bacon and value crispy and chewy in each slice. Rating: 8/10
Method: Baking on Parchment Paper
Total Time: 24 minutes + 10 minutes oven preheating time
About This Method: Martha Stewart’s technique promises a “spatter-free” way to get “perfectly crispy bacon.” You simply line one or two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, arrange the bacon on top, and bake at 400°F until it is crisped to your liking. When the bacon is done, you transfer it to a paper towel–lined plate or platter to drain.
Because the bacon sits in its own rendered fat as it bakes, it cooks more quickly than if you cooked it on a rack. The fatty parts also get wonderfully crispy (if you like that), because they’re basically fried. If you prefer your bacon chewier, you can simply cook it a few minutes less to achieve that effect.
Both regular- and thick-cut slices cooked evenly and completely flat, without any need to flip them as they cooked. One cleanup tip: Make sure to cut a large-enough sheet of parchment paper so that there is overhang on all sides. Then fold the excess up so that the drippings don’t seep through any cracks. We tried this and when the bacon came out of the pan, we let the drippings cool slightly, lifted up the parchment, and directed the drippings into a container for storage. We threw away the parchment and inspected the pan — there was not a trace of grease. It went back in the cabinet without even a rinse.
My Takeaway: We loved the texture and appearance of this bacon, and that it cooks hands-free with no babysitting. We also loved that this method works for a few slices or up to 20, and that, if you use the overhang trick, cleanup is just so incredibly easy.
Bottom Line: Effortless cleanup (that allows you to save drippings), pretty slices, and easy control of the crispiness or chewiness of the bacon. This method is our go-to for bacon. Rating: 10/10