Of all the ways to make bacon, baking it with Macon is by far the worst. Macon was a pig, and he was once the star player in an old Trey Parker and Matt Stone bit, "Bakin’ Bacon With Macon." In a dark twist, Macon eats the bacon. Yeah, they went there—but then when didn’t the creators of South Park?
There are, without a doubt, better ways to make bacon that don’t involve feeding it to an unsuspecting pig. You can, for instance, do what Stone and Parker do in the video (albeit poorly) and cook it on the stovetop. Or you can cook it in the oven. You can grill it, or even cook it sous vide. Some people say you can microwave it, but those people shouldn't be trusted with food.
The "best" method depends on how many people you're cooking for, what your personal bacon preferences are, and what type of recipe the bacon will be a part of. I'm personally a firm believer that properly cooked bacon rashers should be crisp in the meaty parts and slightly tender in the fatty parts; a little chew isn't unwelcome as long as it's not tough. Other people, whose opinions I will pretend to consider "equally valid yet merely different," like their bacon cooked until shatteringly crunchy all over, or, what is more commonly known as "burnt to a crisp." I'm not here to judge, simply to observe.
The advice below combines years of Serious Eats testing on bacon-cooking methods, plus plenty of original testing for this article. I've even gone ahead and retested some of the stuff we've covered before just to be thorough. In almost all of the tests, I used both thin strips of standard breakfast bacon—you can find our epic taste test of supermarket bacons right here—as well as thick-cut rashers.
Stovetop bacon is soulful bacon. It's the bacon you tend to as it cooks, that you flip and turn, eyeing each piece to ensure it comes out just right. It's bacon cooked in a cast iron pan that, over the years, becomes clad in polymerized layers.
Stovetop bacon can have some of the greatest dynamic range. It has the potential to be crispiest where it's crispy and fattiest where it's fatty and everything in between.
Stovetop bacon is also inefficient. The typical length of a strip of bacon just barely fits the diameter of a large 12-inch pan, making it difficult to put more than four or five pieces in the skillet at once. For this reason, cooking bacon for a crowd on a stovetop is a challenge. You can, of course, invest in an electric or stovetop griddle for additional bacon-cooking real estate, or you can move the bacon to the oven, which can turn out excellent strips with minimal attention from the cook.
The most important thing to do when cooking bacon on the stovetop is to manage the heat. Lower-to-moderate heat is better. Allow the pan to get too hot and the bacon will begin to scorch, the fat will smoke and burn, and all of it will take on an acrid taste that lingers in the mouth. While I fully respect the multitudes who like their bacon extra-crispy, it is a fact that such bacon always has at least a hint of this ashtray flavor. Judging by the popularity of crispy bacon, I suspect I may be more sensitive to this than many.
The Best Pan for Cooking Bacon
The best pan for stovetop bacon is a cast iron skillet. As with fried chicken, cast iron has a symbiotic relationship with bacon. The cast iron cooks the bacon with minimal to no sticking and has an easy cleanup (at least, it's easy if your cast iron is well-seasoned). The bacon, in return, provides a ready supply of grease to help maintain and improve that seasoning. After a lifetime of cooking bacon combined with basic proper care, your cast iron will reach the status of cherished heirloom, one that will destroy your children's relationships with each other as they fight over who gets to keep it (do not make the mistake of trying to decide for them by putting it in your will; a cardinal rule of parenting is, after all, not to declare favorites).
Also usable, but less ideal, is stainless steel. It cooks bacon just fine, but its more adhesive surface tends to lead to what you see below: stuck-on browned bits that then have to be scoured away. It's not worth the cleanup effort when cast iron is within reach.
The third option is nonstick. It works well, and cleanup is the easiest of all the options, but I still shy away from it. Even with a well-managed flame, the grease in a nonstick pan will get very, very hot—hotter than a nonstick surface should probably get, given the breakdown they're prone to at higher heat. If you have a cast iron skillet, why not use it instead?
Cold Start, Hot Start, Water Start
The standing wisdom is to start bacon in a cold, dry pan, allowing it to ramp up gently to a light sizzle in its own rendered fat. My tests more or less confirm this, but, compared to a hot start, the differences weren't all that dramatic.
More important than either is to control the heat throughout cooking—a cold start can quickly get out of control if the pan grows too hot and will leave you with bacon that's worse than a more carefully managed hot-start batch. Overall, though, a cold start gives you maximum temperature control right from the beginning.
Cold-starting bacon comes with one downside, which is that you're more likely to have the bacon stick to a cold pan. In a well-seasoned cast iron pan, this doesn't amount to much of a problem, so I don't think it warrants switching to a hot start, but it is worth remembering. Make sure to have a thin slotted offset spatula or other thin metal spatula, just in case the bacon adheres slightly—the spatula will be able to slide under and free it.
Some folks suggest starting bacon in a pan with water, similar to how fat is rendered to make schmaltz or lard. After the water cooks off, the bacon continues to fry in the rendered fat. I wasn't entirely happy with the results. The bacon came out well, sporting an impressive range of textures, with chewy bits, fatty tender bits, and crispy bits all in the same piece. But starting the bacon in water also disperses meat juices and proteins throughout the pan; when the water dries, those proteins and juices form a film over the surface of the entire pan, making cleanup a much bigger hassle. In a cast iron pan, I also found that the water start caused the bacon to stick to the pan much more aggressively.
The frequency of flipping has a minor impact on the resulting bacon. It can help reduce scorching and even out cooking, but most bacon is thin enough that it'll burn through no matter how often you flip it if you leave it in the pan too long. Once again, managing heat and removing the bacon at the right time (whatever that might mean to you) is more important than details like flipping a lot or a little.
Oven Bacon: The Best Way to Cook Bacon for a Crowd
The oven has a few things going for it. First, you can cook a lot more bacon at once in an oven. Arranged on a rimmed baking sheet, multiple servings are possible with minimal effort. Slide a second baking sheet in the oven, and you're practically ready to open for business. It's no accident that the oven is often where bacon is cooked in restaurants, especially if they don't have the kind of huge griddle used by short-order cooks.
The oven also delivers more even heat to the bacon, reducing the risk of any parts of it singing and scorching before the rest of it is done. Relatedly, as long as you keep an eye on the bacon and make sure it doesn't overcook, the oven method is also relatively hands-off.
Kenji has written about the oven method before, and my testing for this article agreed with his findings. He's a self-professed crispy-bacon lover, so he and I differ there, and thus our preferred oven methods differ. The only time I prefer crispy bacon is when I want it for a sandwich or to crumble on something like a baked potato. In those settings, there are enough other ingredients to provide cover for the burnt flavor of extra-crispy bacon that I otherwise dislike, while the textural role bacon plays—shattering with ease—is of primary importance.
You can read Kenji's article on oven bacon for a crowd to get more details on his testing; I'll sum things up more quickly here.
The Best Way to Cook Bacon in an Oven
For these tests, I cooked bacon on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (both laid out flat and crumpled into ridges, so that the fat could drain down below while the bacon remained aloft); on parchment paper; sandwiched between parchment paper with another baking sheet pressed down on top; on paper towels (which I read somewhere was an Alton Brown tip); and on a wire rack.
- For crispy bacon lovers, the best method is to cook the bacon on parchment paper or a flat sheet of aluminum foil. As the fat renders, the bacon fries in it, growing more crispy all over.
- For those who want a range of textures from crisp to chewy (Me, raising hand: Present!), cooking the bacon in a way that allows the fat to drain is better. Crimping foil into ridges with peaks that lift the bacon up and valleys that drain the fat takes a minute of time to set up, but it leaves you with easier cleanup later. A wire rack has no setup time, but then you're stuck scrubbing the wire rack later, which is a drag. Foil is the way to go.
- For sandwiches, sandwiching the bacon between parchment sheets and baking sheets is ideal. This holds the rashers flat, which leads to easier sandwich architecture later. The bacon takes a little longer to cook this way, since steam is trapped between the baking sheets and paper, but the bacon does eventually crisp up.
- Paper towels did grotesque things to the bacon in the oven, their rough surface creating too much traction against the slices of meat. Held tight against the towels and unable to retract, the bacon became as thin and brittle as ashen paper, and anatomical structures one would rather not see in their bacon becomes visible to the naked eye. Instead of breakfast, it looked like medical tissue samples destined for biopsy.
The Best Oven Temperature for Bacon, and Hot Versus Cold Start
Oven temps below 375°F can take maddeningly long to finish cooking the bacon, making them less ideal, especially in the morning when you want breakfast on the table. Above 425°F, and you run into the opposite problem: The bacon can quickly scorch. Anything between those two temps can work. The lower end of that spectrum cooks the bacon more gently, helping to tenderize it, while higher heat leaves some chew behind.
My best batches, however, came from an oven cold-start. Just like in a pan, putting the bacon in a cold oven and letting it heat up as the oven does offers a couple advantages. First, it builds some good tenderizing time into the process without actually adding to the overall cooking time that you'd get if you started with an oven preheated to a lower temp. Second, it's efficient: By putting the bacon in the oven as it's heating, you get a jump-start on cooking. By the time the oven has reached its target temperature, the bacon is halfway to done, if not closer. All that's left is to let it crisp to your desired level.
My attempts at broiling bacon didn't leave me with much positive to say about it. The intense heat of the broiler singes the bacon, especially where it curls upward from the heat. Unless you like bacon with seriously burnt edges, I'd skip it.
How to Grill Bacon
The first thing to know about grilling bacon is that thin rashers are a disaster. They scorch on the grill grates in a matter of seconds, or stick and tear, or flop down between them and burn. You need thick-cut bacon for a grill; extra-thick is even better.
Cooking bacon on the grill is best done over a two-zone fire, with the bacon arranged right on the edge of the two zones. This way it's close enough to the direct heat to crisp it but not so close that it gets hammered and burns. With a two-zone fire, you can also move the bacon around, away from the coals if it's threatening to burn before enough of the fat has rendered, or sliding it over them if the bacon needs more browning and crispness. Flipping the bacon frequently throughout helps mitigate the risk of burning even more.
How to Cook Bacon Sous Vide
As with grilled bacon, you want very thick-cut bacon if you're going to cook it sous vide. That's because the whole advantage of sous vide is getting a pronounced texture difference between the seared exterior and melting interior. If the bacon is too thin, it'll just crisp through and through when you go to sear it, undoing any benefit the sous vide approach would have offered.
Kenji has tested this before and found that the ideal cooking temperature is 145°F with at least an eight-hour cooking time, which means it's perfect for dropping the bacon in its original vacuum packaging (minus any paper that it came with, obviously) into the hot-water bath the night before. The next morning, just take the bacon out of its package and crisp it on a hot griddle or cast iron pan.
Microwave Bacon: Just Don't
There are people who claim this is a good method for cooking bacon. It does technically work, in that it produces bacon that is cooked. Judging by appearances, the microwaved bacon suggests success. But the reality is stranger, landing the rashers in an Uncanny Valley in which they appear to be crisp and rendered and browned without quite being crisp and rendered and browned. It's like what an android might think cooked bacon should be, a kind of plasticky pablum that would be better off as display food in a window next to convincing replicas of sushi and soup—not for humans with hearts and souls.