Never Make These Mistakes When Cooking Bacon

Hint: it starts with the pan.

Bacon is a very important subject. Even if your scrambled eggs rival those of your favorite restaurant and your pancakes are fluffy, ruin the bacon and breakfast may be doomed. What’s the secret to perfect strips of crisp, evenly cooked bacon? We’ve rounded up some tips to help you get it just right so you can serve it to a crowd or use it to upgrade your favorite recipes.

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Starting with a Hot Pan

I won't keep you waiting: always start with a cold pan. Whether you like your bacon shatteringly crisp or chewy, the goal is strips that are evenly cooked, without burnt bits of meat or rubbery pockets of fat. Which means that the pan—and the bacon—needs to heat up slowly.

When you put cold bacon in a hot pan, it will seize up, making the fatty parts of each strip flabby. You want the fat to render slowly, especially if you're hoping for lots of drippings. (Of course you are.) As the pan heats up, the fat will melt and the meat will crisp up and cook through, making wonderfully crunchy slices.

Using Cold Bacon

Remove the bacon from the fridge at least 15 minutes before cooking. Then place the strips in the cold pan. This lets the fat and the meat get to the same temperature and cook evenly.

Using Bacon That's Too Thin

Thick-cut bacon cooks up crisp on the outside and still has a chewy, meaty interior. It cooks better and has more flavor. Save the thin bacon for those who like ultra-crispy bacon, with no chew.

Using Heat That's Too High

Bacon cooks best low and slow. Whether on the stove or in the oven, don’t cook it at a temperature that’s too high or you risk uneven cooking, or worse, burned bacon. It’s not worth rushing, so plan accordingly.

Crowding the Pan

As with other meats, allow some room between strips, about an inch, when placing bacon in the pan. Crowding creates steam and prevents the bacon from cooking evenly, giving you limp bacon instead of crispy strips. Cook in batches if needed.

Cooking Bacon on the Stove

To cook your strips on the stovetop, start with a cast-iron skillet. Aluminum pans heat up more quickly, which isn't what you want when you're cooking bacon. Lay the bacon strips in the cold skillet, then place the pan on the stovetop over medium heat. You don’t need to add any oil because the fat will render and help the bacon release from the pan as it cooks. Pan-fry the bacon until the strips are crisp and deeply brown, flipping as needed. Transfer the cooked bacon to paper towels to drain and reserve the drippings. Store the bacon grease for gravies or a shortening substitute. Do not pour the drippings down the drain.

Cooking Bacon in the Oven

If you're cooking bacon for a crowd, the stovetop method might not be the best way to go. You can bake bacon in the oven with fantastic results—although the cold pan rule does not apply. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Arrange bacon slices on a wire rack and place the wire rack over a sheet pan to catch the drippings. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the desired degree of doneness.

You can put the uncooked bacon in a cold oven, then heat the oven and let it cook slowly, but we've found that it doesn't make a bit of difference in the end results. It just takes more time—which is precious when you have a crowd of hungry people waiting for a side of bacon with their pancakes and eggs.

Using Bacon in Other Dishes

Whether you want to enjoy bacon on its own with breakfast or to add flavor to a dish, you’ll be glad to know the secrets to strips of perfect bacon. Try a twist on your favorite movie night snack with bacon popcorn. Add bacon to your favorite grilled cheese or Southern side dish. Or pack some sweetness and spice into your strips with candied versions in Southwest cornmeal and pecan rosemary flavors. 

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