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.

December  3, 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."

8. Individual Sweet Potato Gratins with Creme Fraiche, Onions & Bacon

These two-serving sweet potato casseroles (extra-luxe thanks to creme fraiche and bacon!) are just as exciting for a cozy brunch as they are for a chilly-weather dinner—just add a crunchy, acidic salad and a side of marinated lentils to round out the meal.

9. Roasted Radicchio & Shrimp with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Salad always tastes better at a restaurant than at home, probably thanks to the extra care paid to assembling various components—not to mention hefty amounts of olive oil and salt. This warm bacon-dressed radicchio and shrimp number is a restaurant-quality salad that’s simple enough to put together at home.

10. Bacon Fat BLT

What’s better than a BLT? A BLT that calls for its bread to be fried in bacon fat! What a gift. Mayo-haters, this is your kind of sandwich. To make this sandwich as perfect as possible, use meaty heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes that you’ve seasoned well with kosher salt.

11. Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Brussels sprouts and bacon are one of those food pairings that just works. Here, we cook the bacon in the oven, so you can toss the Brussels sprouts in that luxurious rendered bacon fat. From there, toss the whole thing with a glug of maple syrup (maple and bacon: another classic combo!) for a touch of sweetness. You should probably make a double batch.

12. Bacon Pecan Meringues With (or Without) Milk Chocolate

Dessert with bacon? Oh heck yes. Here, you’ll need shatteringly crispy bacon and well-toasted pecans to fold into the batter of a batch of chewy meringue. We’re on team chocolate and bacon (if you haven’t tried it, you need to!), but if it’s not your jam, skip the milk chocolate in this recipe.


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

567 Comments

bonnie R. February 16, 2022
The best way to cook bacon is in an air fryer (I use Ninja Foodi grill). It takes less than 10 minutes, bacon is as crisp as you want it to be, and clean up is a dream. The. End.
 
iamann February 15, 2022
I have been using a special pan for cooking bacon the microwave for over 30 years. (I'm on my second pan). It's rectangular, slightly sloped towards one end and towards the middle with ridges on the surface (Nordic Ware Microwave Bacon Tray). This way I only need to cover the bacon with paper towels to prevent splatter. The grease gets saved as well. Very easy cleanup and you can easily adjust how crisp you want it. Bacon doesn't curl up either and I never noticed any strange taste.
 
m M. August 2, 2021
My go to method is in the oven on aluminum foil line baking sheet for 15-20 minutes. Do you think it closer to baking on parchment or non parchment lined pan?
 
W J. February 15, 2022
A foil lined baking tray with the foil coming up the sides of the tray makes for an easier clean up. A parchment lined sheet with the parchment only in the bottom doesn't.

In any case, the parchment, if used, makes for less tendency to stick. As long as the temperature of the oven is less than about 425°F (don't use the broiler element) the parchment will do just fine.

A temperature which is higher than that will cause the parchment to brown and discolor.
 
JoyGim August 1, 2021
I find microwaved bacon sacrilege. It’s as you described, dried out overly crisp as if much flavor has been zapped out of it. Excited to try the sheet pan methods! It takes constant watching to make excellent pan fried, and I’ve been splatted with oil many times. Has anyone ever tried to weight the pan fried? Am curious.
 
W J. August 2, 2021
I cooked eight slices of Blackstone Thick cut bacon today in my air fryer yesterday.

The package nutritional information lists the bacon (raw as packaged) as having 110 calories/21 grams (or 5.24 cals/g) of which 9 g (43%) is fat.

My uncooked bacon weighed 220 grams or a total of 1152 calories.

On cooking (400°/12 minutes), the crisp bacon weighed 113 grams with 61 grams of bacon fat (28%) left in the fryer. That means that 46 grams of water (21%) was lost on cooking.

Subtracting 8.8 cals/g for fat x 61 grams of bacon fat rendered or 537 calories from 1152 calories gives 615 calories for the 113 grams of cooked bacon, which is 5.44 cals/g.

Thus the cooked bacon is 5.44 cals/gram and has a (remaining) fat content of ~29%.

At first this may seem surprising as the calorie content of the cooked bacon is not that much different than the raw bacon with all that visible (unrendered) fat. But the cooked bacon had only 29% fat as compared to 43% in the uncooked state. The calories/gram figure is about the same because the water loss on cooking concentrates the calories left in the cooked bacon.

 
Mainer February 15, 2022
But did you eat it?
 
W J. February 15, 2022
You betcha.
 
susan N. July 31, 2021
Yes, I love my Bacon, Pork, Beef : No fat. I always render in a simmering pan for about 2-3 min DRAIN and then FRY- My cholesterol feels more comfortable about this. And less salt that might be added makes my blood pressure happy also. Bacon lettuce and tomato season is upon us- don't forget the MAYO.(rendering a short time leaves just enough fat to not need xtra oil.)
 
Sesboz July 31, 2021
I use a Lodge cast iron square grill pan ( with the ridges) and bake my bacon in the oven at 425 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. Awesome bacon. Yes, it splatters but that is what the clean cycle on my oven is for. Loved your article!!
 
bonnie R. July 31, 2021
this just in... the absolute best way to cook bacon (and i've tried every way listed here) is in an air fryer. i used a ninja air fryer/grill and the bacon is perfectly cooked, quickly with very easy clean up. it's worth buying an air fryer just to cook bacon!
 
JoyGim August 1, 2021
Ooh I will try, 👌🏽
 
bonnie R. July 31, 2021
this just in... the best way to cook bacon is in an air fryer. i used the ninja air fryer/grill and i gotta tell you it's worth buying just to cook bacon.
 
Lori July 31, 2021
I like my bacon super crispy—o chewy fat and no rubber-like consistency. I have been microwaving it for 20 years and would never cook it any other way. I have no idea what odd taste hey are referring to. Maybe it was something in the paper towels they used. I only use plain white paper towels. And there is no reason whatsoever to take the too paper towel off during cooking. Cook 1 minute per slice for super crispy—maybe a little longer for super thick bacon. Another benefit of microwave bacon—the fat gets absorbed in the paper towels so the bacon has a little less calories and fat.
 
rbrock1225 July 30, 2021
Years ago I bought the panini press from Norpro. Its base is 8.5x8.5" and it weighs 2.5#. It has a ribbed base and an attached handle to lift it with. I use it _all_ the time: when I'm pan-cooking chicken and I want a good sear on the skin but also when I'm cooking bacon. It fits inside my larger skillets and allows you to have bacon that cooks quickly with what seems to be less shrinkage. Certainly less shrinkage lengthwise.
 
lambchop July 30, 2021
Has anyone tried a bacon tray made for the microwave? Many companies make one, but I’ve used a simple, inexpensive one from Nordicware for years. I place about five or six slices of bacon on the tray, cover the bacon with a paper towel, then microwave on high for about five or six minutes. I peek at around five minutes to see how it’s doing. Perfect flat, crispy bacon every time. No spatters, and you can save the bacon grease if you’d like. After you’ve either saved or discarded the grease, wipe the bacon maker with a paper towel, then pop it in the dishwasher for easy clean-up. This is the most foolproof, no-drama way of making delicious bacon!
 
NJBernstein July 30, 2021
Oh, for heaven's sake: in oven, on a rack! Over a parchment-paper or foil lined sheet pan. Turn once. Drain bacon on 2 layers of saved brown paper bag. Save rendered fat. Enjoy the simple cleanup of the rack. If you use foil to line, it can be rinsed off (after pouring off the rendered fat) and folded, saved in a plastic bag to be reused for next bacon time. Reusing parchment paper once drenched in bacon fat not an option. If it came out too dry, it was not due to rack method, but simply was cooked too long.
 
Brenda S. July 30, 2021
Foil-lined sheet pan and bacon right on the foil - whatever temp to however crisp (or not) you like it. Bacon stays flat, but cooks in the bacon fat so you get the effect of frying with less mess than stove top. Cooking on a rack comes out too dry for our taste.
You can still pour the drippings into your jar, and clean up is a breeze.
 
Chef C. July 30, 2021
Recently I’ve discovered the merits is cooking bacon on my Weber gas grill: it’s outside, cook it low and slow, no fuss no muss. Almost as good as in my le crueset skillet. Give it a go
 
kgw July 30, 2021
I put the bacon into my cold de Buyer black steel fry pan, and then set the burner to high...Then out come my "Chef's Press Professional 8 oz,", to sit on top of the bacon. A spatter screen tops it off. No turning necessary! Crispy parts, chewy parts!

The 2 presses make for great braided bacon for blt's, fyi! I always wipe down the stove after cooking... ;~]
 
JoyGim August 1, 2021
So u use a weight!? Definitely trying, 👍🏽
 
Dave A. August 1, 2021
I use a weight on cast iron skillet. I have a round one, and a square one. If I'm frying for my wife and I, I can do 7 or 8 slices at a time. The round, maybe, five, normally 4 though. I like my bacon between soft, and crispy. It has to be right in the middle. Now for BLT's I let it go a little longer
 
Patricia D. July 30, 2021
I cook bacon on a foil covered half sheet pan with a piece of parchment over foil. I spray two baking racks with Pam (for easier clean up). I put bacon on a rack and place on the pan. I turn the other rack upside down to hold bacon in place: keeps bacon from shrinking and helps it cook more evenly. I back at 400 cold oven convection roast for 20 minutes. Take off top rack and cook more if needed. I spray the first rack in the sink with hot water. When bacon is done remove to plate and let pan cool. Use parchment sheet to pour grease into container. Throw away foil. Put half sheet pan in sink with hot water and Dawn and put the other rack upside down in pan to soak.
 
Marguerite T. July 30, 2021
I think you left out the best method which is in the oven with or without parchment but starting in a COLD oven at 400 degrees for 20 mins or to whatever crispiness you like.
 
Pen July 30, 2021
Baking works fine for me. But here is the problem: I use only turkey bacon, and while it is great for just plain old eating (in a sandwich, with eggs, in salad, etc), I have never been able to find if I can substitute it for recipes with "real" bacon, perhaps wrapped around a chicken breast? Will it cook? Will it work?
 
Carol July 30, 2021
i prefer to broil my bacon. and many veggies. mind you it does take lots more attention than baking ;)
 
JoyGim August 1, 2021
So just straight broil in oven? For how long and must it be flipped?
 
Jennifer G. July 30, 2021
I'm a fan of baking bacon on a parchment lined pan with a lip but on a rack so the bacon fat can drip down. Also, easy to clean and results in crispy bacon.