Bacon

The Absolute Best Way to Cook Bacon, According to Sooo Many Tests

Our office may smell like bacon forever. You're all welcome.

February  8, 2019
Photo by Ella Quittner

Ask the person to your left and the person to your right how to cook bacon, and you'll likely get two completely different answers. Type the very same into Google, and the search engine will proffer over 250 million results. From stovetop to oven to microwave, each with its own series of endless sub-permutations, there are about as many ways to cook bacon as there are, well, ways to eat it. (Forgive us if talking pork products makes us a little lyrical.)

We put six popular methods to the test, because we had to know: Which way is better than all the others? You can thank us later for consuming only bacon for two days. Of note, we used the same brand of supermarket-accessible bacon at room temperature for each method, as a control. Anywhere we mention a skillet or pan, it was large enough to provide a wide margin around the strips of bacon, such that its shape wouldn't have contributed to any scrunching.

Here's how the results of our tests stacked up:


Stovetop: Cast Iron Skillet

Photo by Ella Quittner

Method: My dad would have you believe using a cast iron skillet on the stovetop is the only way to cook bacon, so we put it to the test first. To ensure the fat rendered as evenly as possible, we began with a cold cast iron skillet, then cooked the bacon over medium heat, flipping as needed.

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Top Comment:
“I put defrosted, bacon strips on a lightly greased or non-stick cooling rack, set in a sheet pan, in the oven @ 365-375 degrees, and just watch it until done to desired crispiness. I think it's a 20-25 min process depending on desired finished results. I only use Wellshire Farms, Sugar-Free Dry Rubbed bacon, it's the BEST. Gets super crispy or if desired, can be taken out a little earlier for less-crisp. Grease just drops into sheet pan, which can then be poured into can for disposal when full. I find the clean-up to be pretty darned easy. Love the resulting bacon. It's the best, @ least as far as me and my family are concerned. Thanks for the article above. Interesting.”
— Tommy
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Outcome: We were surprised by the inconsistency of the cook on the bacon strips, given that we moved them around to ensure each got time in the hottest part of the skillet, et cetera. After about 12 minutes, we ended up with absolutely delicious bacon, with varying crispiness and chewiness depending on the strip.

Pros: Perhaps it was the placebo effect of char spots (which none of the other bacon had), but we thought the flavor of the cast iron skillet bacon was the absolute best of all of the tests. It was also relatively quick—at least, compared to the oven methods, and the skillet-plus-water method.

Cons: Cooking bacon in an open pan on the stovetop produced a bacon grease splatter that wasn't exactly what we wanted to spend 15 minutes trying to clean from the countertop and floor surrounding the oven. Also, the inconsistent rendering of the fat suggested that we'd need to pay even more attention to the cooking strips than we already had (adjusting heat, flipping/moving them around).


Stovetop: Nonstick Skillet

Photo by Ella Quittner

Method: We began with a cold nonstick skillet, then cooked the bacon over medium heat, flipping as needed. (Same exact method as the cast iron skillet, just with a different pan.)

Outcome: In about the same amount of time as it took to cook bacon in a cast iron skillet, the nonstick skillet produced super crispy, consistent, flat bacon strips.

Pros: If you like your bacon crispy as a cracker and you value visual consistency, this is the method for you. One (more obvious) pro: A nonstick skillet is way easier to clean than a cast iron skillet or an unlined sheet pan.

Cons: Our test resulted in bacon with very little chew (just a bit on some of the ends)—mainly just crispiness. Like the cast iron skillet method, this produced an annoying grease splatter.


Oven: No Parchment Paper

Photo by Ella Quittner

Method: We placed the bacon strips directly on a rimmed sheet pan, and baked them in a preheated oven at 400°F.

Outcome: We've proselytized the oven-baking method before, so we had high hopes, and this sheet-pan bacon met them. After about 18 minutes, the fat had rendered extremely evenly, producing a perfectly chewy/crispy specimen.

Pros: This method was very hands-off—we didn't need to flip the bacon midway through, or fiddle with temperature—yet still hugely effective. The lack of stovetop-surrounding grease splatter was so welcome.

Cons: While the actual cooking of baked bacon takes about five minutes longer than the stovetop method, we also had to wait for our oven to preheat for approximately 10 minutes, so this isn't a method we'd recommend for those moments when you need bacon ASAP. (What, like you don't have those moments?) Also, the bacon stuck in one or two spots to the sheet pan, and cleaning the sheet pan was no easier than cleaning the cast iron skillet.


Oven: Parchment Paper

Photo by Ella Quittner

Method: We placed the bacon strips on a rimmed sheet pan that we'd lined with parchment paper, and baked them in a preheated oven at 400°F.

Outcome: Despite taking a little bit longer than the no-parchment method (about 22 minutes in the oven), this test resulted in equally delicious bacon with a nice chewy/crispy balance. It was curlier and more inconsistently crisped on its ends than the no-parchment batch.

Pros: This method had all the same pros as the other oven bacon test—plus, it had a way easier clean-up, because we were able to simply toss the parchment paper. (Shockingly, there were no leaks onto the actual pan, so it just got a quick rinse for good measure.)

Cons: It took about five minutes longer to fully cook this batch of bacon than the batch we baked on a sheet pan sans parchment paper-lining. Also, if your goal is flatter, more consistent bacon, you'd be better off baking without parchment paper.


Microwave

Photo by Ella Quittner

Method: We microwaved bacon on a plate between sheets of paper towels for about five-and-a-half minutes; for the last minute or so (once a fair amount of the fat had rendered), we took the paper towel sheets off the top.

Outcome: This test produced eerily crispy bacon—even crispier than the nonstick pan.

Pros: The microwave method was by far the quickest, and had the easiest clean-up. If you love crispy bacon and don't have a nonstick skillet (or care to save your bacon fat), this is a great option.

Cons: The bacon had a slightly odd taste we couldn't quite put our finger on; one team member described it as "kind of stale-seeming." (Perhaps this was user-error from microwaving for too long.) And because we microwaved the bacon on paper towels to minimize in-microwave mess, we weren't able to save the rendered bacon fat. There was no chew on the final bacon, just crispiness. Maybe too crispy?


Stovetop: Water Method

Photo by Ella Quittner

Method: We placed bacon into a cast iron skillet and added just enough water to cover the strips, then brought the water to a boil over high heat. Then, we lowered the flame and let the water simmer until it had fully evaporated, then lowered the flame a little more and cooked the bacon (flipping as needed) until crisp. (This method comes courtesy of Cook's Illustrated.)

Outcome: After about 22 minutes, we had bacon that was pretty inconsistently cooked, with crispy, thinned-out middles and less-cooked ends. One strip was less thin, but fairly shriveled.

Pros: The goal of this method is to help the bacon retain moisture as the fat renders, so it's tender rather than brittle. (This wasn't really our experience, though—while the ends of the bacon retained moisture, they didn't render perfectly. Meanwhile, the middle of the strips were a bit brittle.)

Cons: See above. Also, there was a fair amount of grease splattering, and this took almost twice as long as the regular-way cast iron skillet and nonstick skillet stovetop methods.


Conclusion

The absolute best way to cook bacon depends entirely on how you like your bacon—though some methods produce more consistent results than others.

  • If you love bacon with some good chew and crispiness around the edges, opt for baking it in the oven on a rimmed sheet pan with no parchment lining. (Or, if you're very concerned about minimizing clean-up and don't mind a little waviness, go ahead and line it.)
  • If, like me, all you care about is that classic bacon-y flavor and you don't care about appearance, go cast iron skillet on the stovetop.
  • If you're after super crispy, flat bacon, nonstick's going to be your best friend.

Whatever you do, just be sure to save that bacon fat.


How do you like your bacon? Chewy? Crispy? All of the above? Let us know in the comments!

275 Comments

David Y. February 17, 2019
I usually prefer doing the oven-baked method but I do It slightly different. I place the bacon strips on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Then I put it in a cold oven and then set the oven to 375 (convection bake) or 400 (non-convection). As soon as oven reaches desired temperature, I continue to bake the bacon for another 8-12 minutes or until I have achieved the doneness I want. This may vary depending on the thickness of bacon used. I almost always use and prefer thick cut bacon.<br /><br />I have also used ATK’s method of stove top cooking with water which works really well in my opinion especially when making only a few strips of bacon.
 
Richard February 16, 2019
You are doomed to fail if you simply cook bacon. One must manage bacon to bring it to its full culinary delectability and show it proper deference. You must know and manage every individual piece while giving permission to the heat source to transform it from its raw nascency to its divine toothsome purpose; that every piece be equally, and evenly heated to a comestible perfection. And for that, I say use a griddle, wooden tongs, and a whole lot of passion.
 
Kelly D. February 16, 2019
Couple of thoughts. I use a microwave bacon pan and only put paper towel on the top. That way you do have drippings and it cooks perfectly every time - I’ve never noticed any odd taste - maybe that came from being encased in paper towel? Also, when I bake in the oven, I use a wire rack. It results in perfect bacon - keeps its shape and is perfectly crispy and chewy. It just takes way too long. But if I want to glaze it, that’s the way to go. Line the sheet pan with foil for easier cleanup (the dog likes the rack...)
 
Chris February 16, 2019
One additional thing you could have tried, baking sheet lined with parchment, but start with a COLD oven and set to 400 degrees. I've used this method for years. Starting with a cold oven, the bacon turns out consistently flat and evenly cooked. And as you noted clean up is pretty easy.
 
Alexis February 15, 2019
For cast iron or a griddle pan with ridges, I start the bacon cold with a paper towel over the top. When I see that the slices are getting brown, I flip for another minute or two. THe advantage of the paper towel is suppressing the bacon fat spray. When I take them off the pan, I clean the pan using the remaining paper towel and a pair of tongs. That make the clean up much easier.<br />
 
Chef C. February 16, 2019
Excellent suggestion with the paper towel, Alexis. I will follow this strategy myself. Dual purpose paper towels. Perfect
 
Emily S. February 15, 2019
My hubby cooks our bacon now on his Traeger electric smoker (smoke for about 10 minutes then just low heat, no smoke to finish) and while it is not quick, it is by far, the best bacon I’ve ever had in terms of both taste and consistency. And I love the fact there are no bacon grease splatters to clean up afterwards!
 
W J. February 14, 2019
Wow! What a response! Folks seem to get emotional over the myriad ways to cook streaky or side bacon as it is more properly known as opposed to back bacon, which is the less fatty offering popular in England, Europe, and Canada, which we know as Canadian bacon<p><br /><br />Whatever you call it, streaky or side, I like mine crisp, but mostly I like it plentiful! <p><br /><br />I use a deep sided fry pan. I also use a FRY WALL! I am very surprised that given that Food52 sends me at least one email every day that you did not use nor mention a product that you push, viz., the Fry Wall. <p><br /><br />The Fry Wall works well. It solves the splatter problem, then you can wipe it off, fold it loosely and put it in the dishwasher. I highly recommend it for anyone frying anything. <p><br /><br />I also like a bargain. So when I am cooking for a lot of people, I will often look for packages of ends and pieces (all bacon.) These are usually sold in about 3 lb packs (48 oz) and are just what it says -- irregular strips and bits of bacon. Then I cook it outside on the grill which has a gas burner, which as the fat cooks out becomes essentially a deep fry method. Doesn't look as pretty but snarfs down just as well as the neatly sliced stuff. <p><br /><br />The wife cooks it often in the microwave using the paper plate/paper towel method. (Hint: didja consider that the paper towels could have been the source of the off flavor?) OK, if you just want a slice or two and no more. And who doesn't want more bacon, eh? <p><br /><br />The George Foreman grill also works great, but you have to get it out, make counter room, then clean it afterwards. Besides you can't cook very many slices at a time, or not as many slices as I can cook on the gas stove top with the deep fry pan and the Fry Wall. <p><br /><br />I over crowd the pan usually layering at least one layer over the first, sometimes two, sometimes more. For as the bacon cooks and renders, it shrinks. A lot. By the time most of the fat has rendered and the moisture levels are low, when the real Maillard browning is going on, it is essentially a deep fry, with the bacon self-generating the cooking oil. <p><br /><br />There is an amazing amount of water in bacon (~34%), and probably no surprise in the amount of fat that cooks out (~37%). The weight loss on cooking yields a product that is about 28% of the initial weight! So if I start with 48 oz of uncooked bacon, I end up with 13.7 oz after cooking. <p><br /><br />I don't see any real advantage to cooking it in an oven as just deep frying it in the natural fat which it already has. Regardless of how you do it there is about the same amount of fat content in the finished product. The rest is just convenience and how crisp (aka as dehydrated or having a lower water content) you like it. <p><br /><br />I wrote an extensive review of cooking ends and pieces back in March, 2011. Fair Warning: it is probably more than you want to know, and owing the lack of paragraph formatting, all the text is jammed together https://www.walmart.com/reviews/product/10533732 entitled, "Excellent product; Excellent Taste."
 
Carol February 14, 2019
We bake bacon underdone, saving the grease, then freeze the strips. To use, we take as much bacon as needed from the freezer and put it between 2 all-paper paper plates or a couple of thicknesses of all-paper paper towels, place in microwave and cook the bacon until desired doneness.
 
MARION S. February 14, 2019
Bacon placed a cooling rack placed inside a rimmed cookie sheet, temperature 325 for appox 30 minute works well for me...i.e.,length of time it takes me to give my dog his first walk. Bacon is done, or almost done Using low temperature prevents splatters and with rimmed sides you can save fat. Temperature is low enough so bacon doesn't overcook if time is more than 30 minutes.
 
cosmiccook February 14, 2019
Well there's bacon and there's PRALINE PECAN BACON! Absolutely mandated for Mardi Gras --along w Grits and Grillades/Shrimp (SO overdone in N.O. lately) and sweet potato pecan biscuits. I use Bergeron's Ground Pecans and brown sugar--1.5 to 1 (Brown Sugar so it's not too praline-ish) mix together on a large sheet of parchment or wax paper, spread out and press bacon into the mixture. I have a Convect oven--set the temp (bake) at 325, lay the praline bacon on a cookie grid (which I spray w oil) over a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake for 15-20 mins. You can also try it directly on the parchment. Sometimes the bacon may come out a little darker--but that's what Brandy Milk punches are for!
 
cosmiccook February 14, 2019
Well there's bacon and there's PRALINE PECAN BACON! Absolutely mandated for Mardi Gras --along w Grits and Grillades/Shrimp (SO overdone in N.O. lately) and sweet potato pecan biscuits. I use Bergeron's Ground Pecans and brown sugar--1.5 to 1 (Brown Sugar so it's not too praline-ish) mix together on a large sheet of parchment or wax paper, spread out and press bacon into the mixture. I have a Convect oven--set the temp (bake) at 325, lay the praline bacon on a cookie grid (which I spray w oil) over a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake for 15-20 mins. You can also try it directly on the parchment. Sometimes the bacon may come out a little darker--but that's what Brandy Milk punches are for!
 
Richard February 14, 2019
We use a Corning Ware MR-1 Rack in the Microwave oven. Perfect bacon every time and very easy to save the fat drippings.
 
Rick February 14, 2019
nope nope nope...you guys missed the BEST way to cook bacon! BBQ!!!!<br />Lay bacon out on a foil lined cookie sheet. light up your gasser BBQ (I use a Weber Genesis series) and set it to HOT. Once it reaches 500 toss pan on the grill and close lid. Come back in 5 to release steam from BBQ. Flip bacon and now you can leave open. strips come out fairly flat and cook pretty evenly on my BBQ. No bacon splatter in the kitchen. No bacon smell in the house and nice crispy bacon every single time. <br />I have also cooked it "semi-low and slow" (300 degrees) on my Big Green Egg BBQ with apple and hickory chips for smoke. UH-MAY-ZING!!!!
 
Helene February 14, 2019
I place the bacon on a rack over a foil lined pan. Bake @400 for 15-25 minutes depending on type of bacon (thin v. thick) and crispy v. chewy. Bacon is flat and I get to reserve the bacon fat. Hands free plus I have extra bacon for other uses during the week. All it takes a touch of warm up in the microwave.
 
Nancy J. February 14, 2019
Place bacon in single layer on a foil lined baking sheet. Put the pan in a cold oven, then turn temp to 400 degrees. Should take about 16 minutes for regular sliced bacon, a little longer for thick sliced bacon. Starting with a cold oven renders more fat from the bacon. One of the cooking magazines, either Cooking Light, Eating Well or Cooks Illustrated did a test on the cold oven vs preheated oven method and they found the cold oven worked best.
 
cynnie February 14, 2019
There is only one way to cook the bacon and you missed it: A parchment lined baking tray with a cooling rack on top of it. Bake in the oven and the bacon is crisp on both sides, cleanup is easy and the skillet is available for eggs. If you like to save the bacon fat, don’t use parchment and easy pour from the corner of the baking sheet after cooking. GENIUS
 
Chef C. February 14, 2019
Love the dialog about Vitamin B for Bacon. Personally, I cook bacon mostly as an ingredient in a dish. So I want crispy bacon that I can break up over, say, Brussels sprouts. But I also want the bacon fat to sauté them in and for other flavoring purposes. So, I use either non stick or cast iron. Forget the oven or micro wave methods, way too much trouble. Try this recipe for Fatty Cue Brussels Sprouts and you'll be a believer : https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013346-fatty-cue-brussels-sprouts
 
Nina February 14, 2019
I used to eat the pan method dad and granddad cooked. They loved their cast iron pans and that is what we used to eat. I grew up loving all types of cast iron pots n pans. Now I am vegetarian/vegan, I cook poultry bacon with care as well. Just because they are not pork, it doesn't mean they need less preparation. I wouldn't want salmonella poisoning happen to anyone! Vegetable bacon like carrot bacon is just as nice.
 
Jim February 14, 2019
First, I have to ask, what is a vegetarian/vegan doing eating poultry? Second, how can you call something made from chicken or, yuck, carrots bacon in any sense of the word?
 
Martha C. February 14, 2019
We buy our bacon at the local mercado and have the amount we wish to buy sliced fresh at the time of purchase. I have found that if I bring it home and lay out the pieces and quick freeze them I can put them into a container (bag or Tupperware) and pull the amount of slices I want to use from the freezer when I am ready to cook them. I use a non-stick frying pan. I have found that they cook just as quickly this way and have less splatter.
 
stephanie C. February 14, 2019
Did not read all 252 comments, so perhaps someone has already mentioned, but... no matter the season bacon cooked in any pan that can be placed on a propane grill is phenomenal. Also, zero clean up (other than pan) & house won’t smell of for days! Can cook to desired crispiness, turning a couple times only for eveness. Be aware, once flipped 1x, cooking speeds up, likely due to grill getting hotter. Also - keep top down for at least 1st half of cooking to reduce overall cooking time. Yummm