A few days ago, we told you about the Bacon Challenge, a contest to show off creative bacon cooking skills. Today, let's talk about cooking fundamentals and show you the best way to cook loads of bacon.
The target? Perfectly crisp, beautifully de-fatted, flat strips of bacon like you'd get in a restaurant rather than wrinkled, fatty-in-places-burned-in-others bacon so commonly made in home kitchens. Read on for the lowdown to pull this off in mass quantities.
The secret to professional results? Bake bacon in the oven, not a fry pan. A fry pan can hold only a few slices at a time. An oven can bake many pounds at once, and with greater evenness.
Lay your bacon on a rimmed sheet pan without overlapping the slices. The typical jelly roll pan (a.k.a. half sheet pan) will hold a pound of bacon slices, depending on how thickly they're sliced.
Set the sheet pan on the top rack of a cold oven. Set the oven at 425F degrees and allow them to bake for 10 minutes. Remove the slices, flip each slice over once, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes, or your desired level of crispness.
Another reason not use a fry pan or a griddle? The hot air of the oven heats the bacon more evenly than the a sizzling fry pan and helps to minimize shrinkage and curling. Once curled, bacon won't cook evenly in a skillet, leaving browned spots as well as undercooked fatty spots.
Why start in a cold oven? The bacon will have a chance to render out much of its fat and moisture in the gentle rising heat. Once the oven reaches temperature, the slices will brown perfectly.
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Speaking of moisture in the bacon -- most bacon is cured by injecting it with a brine, which adds a large amount of water to an already-flabby cut of pork belly. The original point of curing bacon was to preserve pork bellies by salting it and removing moisture. It's not as easy to find, but dry-cured bacon is made the old-fashioned way -- by coating the raw pork bellies in sugar, salt and curing salts and allowing them to draw out moisture before smoking it.
Lest you think I'm advocating the most expensive, hand-made bacon as best -- sometimes, the cheapest, thinnest, off-brand discount bacon is what you want. When? When you're wrapping bacon around something that cooks quickly. Think bacon-wrapped dates or jalapenos, or the grilled bacon-wrapped asparagus at Japanese izakayas like Honda-Ya or Shin Sen Gumi. Thin bacon crisps up faster than thick bacon and in this context, serves as much for its crispy-meaty texture as its flavor.