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The (Very) Unscientific Science of Bacon

by Ben LeBlanc March 12, 2021

The (Very) Unscientific Science of Bacon

Bacon bits are a delicious little mystery from the 80s culinary world. (I don’t actually know when they were invented, but they have a very 80s vibe to me, the same way ranch dressing does.) Crunchy little morsels packed with both flavor and texture, bacon bits really do make so many things better. But, shelf stable bacon? That’s….weird. We believe that some foods, like soup, shouldn’t be shelf stable. So we set out to find the best way to crisp up bacon and make homemade bacon bits.

 

 

Bacon is deceptively hard to cook. Like rice, it’s a staple in many households. That familiarity makes it seem like everyone knows how to cook it. But when pressed, it’s hard to find a set method that produces the same results every time. We’re here to clear the air and share what we find is the best method to crisp up bacon to make homemade bacon bits.

 

What Makes a Great Bacon Bit

A great bacon bit is an accent, not a feature. It should provide a flavor and texture, but it shouldn’t dominate the dish. Importantly, they need to be crispy, but not too crispy. We don’t want to make it a battle to get these down. So the crunch should be immediately followed by give. That perfect combination of crunch and give is what we're looking for.

 

The Test

We’re testing two types of bacon, and two cooking methods too. We’re going to see which type of bacon cooks better - thin-sliced bacon, which is the more common type, or steakhouse-style bacon that’s far thicker. The two cooking methods are frying in a pan on the stovetop, and baking in the oven.

 

 

For the frying pan, we cut the bacon into very small pieces. We wanted as much surface contact as possible with the pan, which is typically hard to achieve with whole strips. We added the bacon to a cold pan, turned the heat to medium, and slowly rendered the bacon. We gradually reduced the heat to very low to make sure the bacon didn’t burn.

 

 

For the oven, we heated the oven to 325º, and laid whole strips of bacon onto a cookie rack, and placed the cookie rack onto a foil-covered sheet pan. The foil is key, and will save you many minutes of scrubbing burnt grease off your pan. We cooked the bacon for 20-30 minutes.

 

The Results

If it’s possible to have a clear winner and an asterisk, that’s where we landed. The winning bit was the thin-sliced bacon that was sautéd in a frying pan. It possessed everything a good bit should possess - flavor, crunch, and give. Fun fact, they actually got a little better the next couple of days in the fridge, most likely due to them losing even more moisture. Cook bacon this way, and you’ll have a great topping for days to come.


So what’s up with the asterisk, then? Well, the second place bacon was the thin-sliced bacon cooked in the oven. The asterisk is due to the oven method requiring far less work. For the frying pan, you’re cutting raw bacon, which takes a little more time in and of itself, but also requires more diligent cleaning of the knife and cutting board afterwards. We also found that it was helpful to remove some of the bacon grease from the pan as it cooked. For the oven method, you just need to wash your hands after laying the bacon onto the cookie sheet. And chopping it up after it’s cooked is very easy, as it does not require precise cuts. The result is still a very good bacon bit.

 

Conclusion

The best bacon bit is not that far away! The top result requires a little more work. If you’ve got the time and will, it’s not that hard. But if you want the easiest method, you won’t be disappointed with slow roasting it in an oven. Either way, you’re going to up your bacon bit game and just say no to shelf stable. 

 

Ben LeBlanc
Ben LeBlanc


4 Responses

Fred Kolo
Fred Kolo

March 14, 2021

Any chance that when things all settle down you’ll be selling soup again on Carmine Street?

Fred Kolo
Fred Kolo

March 13, 2021

Yike, I forget (surely a Freudian slip) the essential item. They layers above and below are paper towels.

Fred Kolo
Fred Kolo

March 13, 2021

This is a completely heretical method, which I haven’t used in years as I pretty much decline bacon, a horrible sacrifice for heart health but there you have it. Use 2 or 3 layers both above and below the bacon, on a ceramic plate, sandwich the bacon between the two layers and put in the microwave at high for something like 2 or 3 minutes—it could be a little more, I forget. The towels draw out the fat and what remains gets crispy. Insulting to the bacon but kind to the heart.

Sarah
Sarah

March 13, 2021

I cook batches of thick sliced bacon over a rack on top of a foil lined sheet pan in the oven at 400 degrees for 17-18 minutes. This is the method recommended by Cook’s Illustrated. Perfect every time!

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