For the Juiciest Bacon, Give Your Sous Vide Cooker the Night Shift

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

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I love the work that they do over at ChefSteps, but when I saw their video recommending sous vide bacon, I have to admit I rolled my eyes a little. This has got to be one of those "everything looks like a nail when you have a hammer" situations, I said to myself. You know, one of those times when sous vide is deployed just for the sake of sous vide, rather than to actually improve things. I mean, can you really improve on plain old fried bacon? What could possibly be the point of cooking bacon at 147°F overnight?

Still, I trust them enough that I decided to give it a spin.

Holy cow pig, that is some good bacon!

I mean, really, really good. The idea of bacon that's crisp and moist at the same time is appealing, but in practice, it ends up crisp in some areas and rubbery in others—which is why I generally prefer my bacon cooked completely crisp. But overnight sous vide bacon using an immersion circulator is the first bacon I've ever tasted that delivers on that moist-and-crisp promise. It's crispy on the exterior as you bite into it, but it quite literally melts in your mouth, like the finest confit pork belly, as you chew.

I suppose this makes sense, because that's exactly what it is: smoked, cured confit pork belly.

The ChefSteps method has you cook bacon directly in its package at 147°F (64°C) for at least overnight and up to two days before taking it out and searing it in a skillet on one side only. To satisfy my own curiosity, I cooked bacon at temperatures ranging from 135°F (57°C) to 165°F (74°C) for times ranging from one hour all the way up to two days.

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At temperatures above 155°F (68°C), the leaner sections of the bacon start to dry out, and they stay dry no matter how long you cook it. At 135°F, the bacon takes a full two days to completely tenderize. So the ChefSteps recommendation of 147°F was pretty spot-on. I rounded it down to 145°F (63°C)—I didn't notice that the two extra degrees made any difference, and 145 is an easier number to remember than 147.

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Bacon cooked at six different temperatures.

As for timing, you do need to let it go at least eight hours to get the tenderizing effect. A full day or more is marginally better, but I suspect most folks who are going to cook like this are dropping their bacon into the water bath the night before, then searing it for breakfast.

Speaking of searing, I tried searing at various temperatures, as well as on one side only and on both sides. Medium-high heat (around 325°F/163°C, if you have a temperature-controlled cooking surface) produced the best results, and searing on one side is definitely the way to go—if you sear on both, you end up over-crisping the bacon, thereby losing any of the advantages that sous vide offered it in the first place. That said, I do flip the bacon and cook it on the second side for just a few seconds to add some color.

If you've got a bacon weight or a finishing trowel, like I do, use it; you'll get better contact with the pan and better crisping.

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Searing on both sides is pointless.

What's great about this method is that you can cook the bacon directly in the package that it comes in, and searing takes only a matter of minutes, which means that after you drop it in the water bath the night before, breakfast the next morning is lightning-fast. Far faster than cooking raw bacon from scratch on a griddle or in the oven.

Even better is that you can par-cook in bulk. You can cook an entire pack of bacon—or as many packs as will fit into your water bath—all at once, then refrigerate directly in the vacuum-sealed bag. (You can also freeze for long-term storage.) When you're ready to eat, just open the pack, peel off the par-cooked bacon, sear it, and serve. It heats up in about the same amount of time that it takes to sear, which means that you get the best bacon you've ever had on your plate with just minutes of work in the morning.

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Seriously. All you have to do after you wake up is this...

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...followed by this...

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...and you get this:

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Oh, by the way, you want to do this with thick-cut bacon. The thicker the better, actually, in order to get a really great ratio of crisp seared surface and melty, tender interior. Want some inspiration? You can read here about our favorite supermarket bacon brands.

This won't be the only way I cook bacon from now on, but it will be my method of choice when I want to impress a brunch guest with something they've never experienced before.