“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.” -Thomas Jefferson
Ahhhh bacon, that most wonderful of man foods. There is just something about bacon that men love. Perhaps it is the sizzle of the bacon in the pan, or that hunger-pang inducing aroma that fills the house when the bacon hits the heat. Whatever it is, one thing is for certain: most men love bacon. Yet, for all our passion for bacon, many of us have never learned how to properly cook this most manly of meats. Cooking a good strip of bacon is just as essential a man skill as lighting a good campfire or being able to jump start an automobile, so let’s head to the kitchen and get those culinary skills of yours up to par.
“’Bacon,’” a sourdough friend translated, when asked what he meant by saying he’d gorged himself with vast amounts of tiger. ‘That’s because it’s striped. Sounds nobler when called tiger.’” –Skills for Taming the Wilds by Bradford Angier
Fortunately for those of us who don’t have a great deal of experience in the kitchen, bacon preparation is flexible. You can successfully cook bacon several different ways, all resulting in a wonderfully crisp, flavorful treat. In the following sections, you’ll be introduced to several different ways to prepare bacon, including classic styles and unusual twists.
The Classic Pan Fry
This is bacon the way your grandfather cooked it: on the stove and in its own grease. You will want to use a large flat frying pan, laying out the bacon strips in the pan so that they are not overlapping but generally fill the pan. Cooking only one or two slices at a time can cause problems because there will not be enough grease rendered from so few slices to keep the bacon from burning. Overlapping bacon will leave the overlaying pieces uncooked, resulting in unevenly cooked bacon.
The number one fatal error that many people make when cooking bacon is throwing cold bacon onto a hot pan over high heat. Set your bacon out for several minutes before you cook it, allowing the fat to loosen up a bit and return to a more natural state. When you are ready to cook, place the bacon in a room temperature pan and then place it over medium heat. This allows the bacon to gradually take on the heat and cook more evenly and avoids the scorching that so often results from dropping the bacon onto a high heat pan. Once the bacon begins to sizzle, you’re in business.
Another common error is in the flipping. There is no need to continually flip your bacon while it cooks. Allow it to cook evenly by flipping it only once, just as you would a good steak. Over medium heat, you can expect this flip to come around the ten minute mark, but all appliances are different so be sure to keep an eye on it. Once your bacon has reached a level of crispiness that is to your liking, offload it onto paper towels to soak up some of the remaining grease and partner it up on the plate with fried eggs and flapjacks.
The Rush Job
Of course, sometimes you don’t have twenty minutes to burn (no pun intended) cooking bacon. When you need to get out the door quick, the microwave offers a speedier option. There are many different styles of microwaveable bacon racks available on the market, most of which use a Foreman Grill style fat runoff system to drain away the excess grease while cooking. For good microwave bacon, however, this is not a requirement. Instead, place three layers of paper towels on a microwave safe plate and then lay out your bacon strips side by side. Cover the arrangement with another paper towel, and you’re ready to cook. As a general rule, one minute per slice is a safe cooking time, so four slices would be cooked for four minutes. However, microwave wattages differ so it is best to keep a close eye on your bacon the first time you try cooking this way. As long as your microwave has a rotating tray, you can spend the cooking time anticipating the wonderfully greasy goodness you are about to partake in. If your microwave lacks the rotating tray, however, you will need to give the plate a spin at least one time midway through the process. Once the microwave bell goes off signaling the start of the bacon bonanza, remove your bacon and uncover, allowing it to cool slightly before partaking.
The Way of the Pros: Baking
Ever wonder how restaurants serve such perfectly crisp and flat bacon? The answer is simple. Because most breakfast restaurants have to cook bacon in large amounts, which would require a great deal of time and grill space, they opt to bake it instead. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. If you have one, a slotted baking tray is the preferred way to bake bacon, but sans that a standard baking sheet will suffice. Lay out the required slices of bacon without overlapping on the tray and place it in the oven. You should expect the cooking process to take in the neighborhood of ten to fifteen minutes, but remember, bacon is an art, not a science, so keep an eye on it. The resulting product will be deliciously crispy, perfectly flat bacon the likes of which you’ve been overpaying for at that little diner down the street for years.
The Vermont Style
There are several options for spicing up your standard bacon fry. As a staple breakfast food, bacon matches up with several breakfast flavors incredibly well, especially one in particular…maple syrup. Marinating your bacon in maple syrup may seem odd, since bacon is not normally marinated before cooking, but it results in a delicious twist on an old favorite. The idea is simple enough: place several slices of bacon into a bowl and douse with maple syrup. The thinner, more traditional style maple syrup is recommended as it makes less of a mess during cooking, but your standard Aunt Jemimah will get the job done too (but you must then cease from calling it “Vermont Style,” as you have committed syrup sacrilege). Be certain that the syrup is coating all the bacon slices, then stash it in the fridge for a half hour or so to soak. Once you are ready to cook, simply fry the bacon up using the classic pan fry method, keeping in mind that the caramelizing sugar in the syrup will make the endeavor a little messier. Not only does this result in a delicious spin on your standard bacon, it also fills the house with an aroma that is sure to have everyone heading to the kitchen to see when breakfast will be ready.
The Brown Sugar “Cure”
Another option for spicing up your bacon is the brown sugar “cure.” To accomplish this, lay out your raw bacon at room temperature on a pan and coat both sides with brown sugar. While test driving this recipe, the author used dark brown sugar with delicious results, although light brown sugar will achieve a similar effect. It is critical that the bacon be close to room temperature so that the fat will be in a soft state and will therefore soak up the sugar. After letting the sugared bacon sit for a few minutes to “marinate,” begin the cooking process following the classic pan fry method. Be warned: once you have had bacon cooked this way, you may never go back to the old standard again.
The Gourmet Style
A gourmet twist on your standard bacon, panko bacon can easily be used as a side dish with any meal and is not limited to breakfast. Aside from the bacon itself, you will also need an egg, all-purpose flour, and panko bread crumbs (extra crispy Japanese style bread crumbs available at most supermarkets). You are going to set up three bowls as a sort of prep station. In the first bowl, place enough flour that you will be able to dip the bacon into it and completely cover it. Add in a dash of salt and pepper. In the next bowl, mix the egg with two tablespoons of water, creating what is known as “egg wash.” Again, add salt and pepper. Fill the third bowl with enough panko bread crumbs to cover a slice of bacon completely. Take a slice of room temperature bacon and dip it into the flour bowl first, coating the slice completely. Next, douse it in the egg wash, again completely covering the slice. Finally, dip it into the panko, coating the slice.
To cook, heat two to three tablespoons of vegetable or corn oil in a pan over medium heat. Once the oil has reached cooking temperature, add one to two slices of the panko bacon at a time. Fry the bacon until the panko coating is a nice golden brown on both sides, flipping as few times as necessary to maintain an even cooking. Once completed, place on a bed of paper towels and dab off any excess oil and grease.
…is not bacon.