Absolute Best Tests

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

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

January  8, 2020
Photo by Ella Quittner

In Absolute Best Tests, our writer Ella Quittner destroys the sanctity of her home kitchen in the name of the truth. She's boiled dozens of eggs, mashed a concerning number of potatoes, and seared more Porterhouse steaks than she cares to recall. Today, she tackles bacon.


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.

Join The Conversation

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
Comment

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.


Bring home the bacon

1. The Egg Shop B.E.C. (Bacon, Egg & Cheese)

The only thing better than a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich? A bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich slathered in tangy-spicy tomato jam.

2. Bacon & Egg Ramen

This pantry-friendly ramen combines many of our great loves: Sriracha, lots of garlic, runny eggs, and—of course—bacon.

3. Fig & Bacon Grilled Cheese

Classic grilled cheese gets a sweet-smoky upgrade thanks to the addition of crispy bacon and a heaping spoonful of fig jam.

4. Fiendishly Tasty Bacon Turkey Burgers

Everything you need to know about these bacon turkey burgers—they are fiendishly tasty.

5. Jack’s Pear, Bacon, & Goat Cheese Quesadillas

With crisp pear, thick chunks of bacon, and earthy-tart goat cheese, this isn't your typical quesadilla—but that's exactly why we can't get enough of it.

6. Sheet-Pan Crispy Rice with Bacon & Broccoli

If the crispy bits are your favorite part of any dish, definitely add this sheet-pan crispy rice (which is made up of 100 percent crispy bits) to your must-cook list.

7. Crunchy French Toast With Maple-Candied Bacon

We could go on about this panko-crusted brioche French toast, but they already had us at "maple-candied bacon."


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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.

512 Comments

MF September 27, 2020
What do people do with all the bacon grease?!!?
 
Jim P. September 27, 2020
Some folks cook with it. I can it and toss it...
 
W J. September 27, 2020
In the days of yore, everyone had a can of bacon grease on the stove or close by. This was before the sugar monopoly in the U.S. paid for and put out studies as propaganda that it was fat that was bad and not sugar. This was wildly successful and moved the focus of attention away from sugar. Don't believe me? Look it up.

So fat became evil and to be avoided. That always slightly greasy can of drippings got pushed further and further away until it disappeared in most kitchens altogether.

But the truth is that fat is not bad. In fact, one must have some fat in the diet to provide essential fatty acids, where "essential" means that your body can't make it. It's energy dense. As far as calories are concerned weight for weight, it has a little more than twice the calories of carbs and protein. A little goes a long way in that department. On the plus side, foods with fat in them provide both mouthfeel, flavor, and satiety. Ever wonder why potato chips and other foods taste so good? They are about 35% fat, that's why. So portion control is needed.

As to what to do with it, besides making homemade soap? Well, if you feed birds in the winter where it is cold, you can mix it with seeds and put it in those special suet feeders. But most of all you can cook with it.

Here are 20 things to cook with bacon grease from The Pioneer Woman's blog. https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/food-cooking/cooking-tips-tutorials/a101372/20-ways-to-use-bacon-grease/ These tips include roasted and fried potatoes, hash browns, eggs, biscuits, homemade mayo, pizza, gravy, roasted vegetables, hamburgers, pop corn, and on and on.

 
Jim P. September 27, 2020
Soooo Stealing that! HAHA
 
cd1600 September 8, 2020
Foil lined, rimmed baking sheet with a cooling rack laid inside of it. Bake at 350* and start checking it after 15 minutes.
 
[email protected] August 30, 2020
Cast iron griddle with foil covered bricks used as weights, cuts fry time in half and keeps rashers long and flat.
 
Seattle G. June 27, 2020
Cook in the propane grill outside on a double layer of aluminum foil folded with edges to contain grease over low heat. Works just fine. Cleanup is so much easier - wait for grease to solidify, wrap up the mess and toss. Bacon can be cooked as crispy as you'd like. The biggest downside: none of that wonderful lingering bacon smell in the kitchen the next day.
 
Jim P. April 27, 2020
Depending on thickness and fat content I bake mine on a baking sheet of course w/ raised edges... BUT I use tinfoil to line the pan. Zero mess when done pouring the renderings into a can. Peel foil and toss in trash. My oven it's 425° for 15 mins (+-) and keep an eye on it after 15 mins. On the average I can fit 12 slices per pan. When done drain and move slices to paper towels. While oven is still going keep cooking bacon. I've cooked 3 lbs. this method. When done put left over (haha) bacon in baggies and refrigerate.
 
zzoopy April 14, 2020
I like to use bacon confit. lay the bacon in a cold deep cast iron skillet with a lid, (chicken fryer) you can make several layers, spoon several spoonfuls of your bacon grease stash on top. turn the heat on medium low until the bacon grease melts. add more bacon grease if it doesn't cover the bacon. when the bacon is covered stirr it up so the bacon is floating. you can turn the heat up to medium or leave it medium low. then wait until the bacon is just short of the doneness you want and fish it out with tongs and lay ir straight on a rack or paper towels. let the grease cool and put it back in your bacon grease stash. enjoy.
 
Jeanmarie T. April 13, 2020
To me, the best bacon is done in the oven, on parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet, but NOT at 400 degrees. I prefer doing it in a cold oven set to about 325. It takes longer, but renders the fat beautifully. If you are really not in a hurry, cook it at 300 degrees. Incredible.
 
Jeanmarie T. April 13, 2020
The best bacon is done in the oven, parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet, but NOT at 400 degrees. I prefer doing it in a cold oven set to about 325. It takes longer, but renders the fat beautifully. If you are really not in a hurry, cook it at 300 degrees. Incredible.
 
Holly J. March 15, 2020
Many years ago, my parents who were dedicated bacon eaters every morning, wished to curtail their ingestion of fat. There were, at that time, many different kinds of gadgets for cooking bacon, but their solution was a microwave bacon-cooking platter which had little ridges so that the bacon grease ran down into the pan instead of remaining on the bacon. Then they also used a paper towel underneath the bacon and one on top, which reduced splatter and helped to remove drippy fat. That became the method which I continue to use today, having inherited the very old microwave bacon platter -- you can make it as crispy as you want, but we like it to have crispy edges but be soft in the middle, and if I watch it while cooking, I can get it the way I want it. I'll try to oven-baked method as well -- but this works really well and very quickly.
 
Ian S. January 28, 2020
That bacon is REALLY crispy. If you don't want super crispy bacon, Low and slow on a sheet pan is the way to go. It is forgiving, and yields a perfect chewy bacon with a bit of crunch.
 
bettye198 January 20, 2020
I rarely eat bacon, but maybe fry it once every 2-3 weeks buying only the no hormone, no nitrate brands because it is a treat for my husband. I cook it on a stovetop non stick grill pan, heavy duty and start out at a fairly high heat then turn down to mid heat and watch. Never take my eyes off it because with that heat even, the tendency to char is great. Keep flipping at that point. If I see that bacon is primarily fat, I do not cook it. It is a crapshoot to find a balance of meat and fat but not always 100%. I really do not have much in the way of grease, thankfully and will throw a couple of handfuls of just plain store bought frozen hash browns, add seasonings. The bacon fat does add to a delicious potato addition. All in moderation and if watching cholesterol just once in a while as a treat.
 
Smaug January 9, 2020
If you cook a lot of bacon, it might not be so bad an idea to invest a couple of bucks in a spatter screen.
 
John January 8, 2020
Best way I have found to cook bacon, especially during a power outage:
Use sheet pan, cover pan with aluminum foil, add drip rack, spread out as many pieces of bacon that will fit on the rack. Put pan on outdoor grill, light the grill and close the cover, let outdoor grill heat to 325 degrees, lower flames to keep as close to 325-350 degrees as possible. After a few minutes open cover and turn bacon then lower cover again. Repeat every few minutes until bacon is done to your liking. Be very careful not to cause the bacon grease to hit the flames!! Turn off grill. Remove bacon from the sheet pan and place on plate with paper towels to drain (place paper towels under and on top of bacon).

Cooking time is about 10 minutes (but every grill is different so watch the first time or two and determine the time that is right for your grill).

BEST OF ALL: the house does not become inundated with the smell of bacon cooking!!!


 
RickyDickyNicky January 5, 2020
Remember the broiler pan that comes with ovens no one ever uses? Absolute best method for consistent bacon. Use the broiler, lay the bacon flat on the broil pan. The fat is caught in the bottom of the broiler pan. I like to flip 4-5 times for the best results and even cooking (4 1/2 mins flip, 2 1/2 mins flip, 1 1/2 mins flip and so on.....). Takes about 10mins. I use thick cut bacon and it turns out with the perfect crisp/chew ratio. Try it! With some practice you’ll never go back to any other method!!
 
Sam C. January 3, 2020
my preferred method: microwave first, then finish on stovetop--renders about half of the fat, then maillards/crisps in pan. less time than stovetop from cold, less spatter. still leaves you with usable bacon fat.
 
Madelynn D. January 2, 2020
Fast/crispy/flat .... I use my air fryer
 
RogerRowley January 2, 2020
Been using the “non-stick skillet from cold” for a long time; it works great. To stop the splatter, just turn it down to LOW. It takes a bit longer but, it doesn’t have to get TOO crisp and a lot less messy.
Cheers
 
Agnew D. December 10, 2019
I "stole" my favorite bacon fix idea from The Waffle House! I purchased a large heavy metal trowel with a wooden handle and fry the bacon on a large flat griddle. Lay the bacon side by side and cover with the trowel until done. Perfect crispy, tasty 🥓 Everytime!
 
Sara R. November 23, 2019
My husband bakes bacon on a sheet pan with a baking rack, to allow the fat to drip away.
Me hand trims the fattiest parts away, then paints each strip on both sides with maple syrup.

The result is crispy, mapley deliciousness. He makes several batches, rolls them up in wax paper, ziplock bag, and then freezes them. Quick zap in the microwave, and hot bacon whenever you want.
 
Ákos L. November 19, 2019
Don't put the bacon between paper towels in the microwave. Put a bowl on top of the plate of bacon (for obvious reasons) and let the bacon fry in its own grease. It won't taste stale/dry, but depending on the bacon, it could take anywhere between 4 minutes to 10 minutes for the bacon to be sufficiently crispy.