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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Making Bacon: Oh Yeah

“I was out by the yarde eating hotte buttered corne.”

No sooner had the words parted from Ms. Featherbottom's lippes than did hee knowtice the rosy flush of a cheeke hott with emotion. And his heart sank; for in that moment, the sweete sweete acte of mayking baconne wouldst forever carrye with it the stings and arrowes of outrageous innuendoe.

– Excerpt taken from
A Ribald Life: Six True Tales by Sir Humphrey B. Porkington (1854)
At least 480 times a day someone writes in to ask, “Hey Slab: what is the best way to make bacon?” And I just blush. Because it's a sexy question friend, and an extremely important one to boot.

As Rakim wrote, “I ain't no joke, I used to let the [pork] smoke.” And he's right, champ – making bacon is serious business. Vladimir Putin Serious. No mistakes allowed, nobody's smiling, strictly business Business. It is also far more difficult than you might think.

Why so?

i) Gustatory anticipation. Bacon is maddeningly delicious. The minute that first slice hits the pan, sizzle and aroma invoke sharp auditory and olfactory arousal. Which means you are immediately concentrating on the ends (eating) rather than the means (making).

2) It takes forever. There really is no fast way to satisfactorily cook bacon. Low and slow heat works best but, according to the New England Journal of Ambulatory Pork Science, it is medically impossible not to want to crank that sh*t up; even a Frenchman would try and cut corners.

C) Is it done, dun? It's difficult to tell when bacon is done. Difficult, not impossible. Once you get past the urge to eat it near-raw, you must stifle the urge to overcook. Bacon is not unlike a fine slice of prosciutto: fat and meat are equally important to the flavor-equation. So don't overcook unless you want a salty dry product. (You don't.)

Now that the dangers are clear and present, how best to make bacon?

The Alton Brown method, as adapted from The Food Network:
  1. Place strips of bacon onto a sheet pan fitted with a rack or parchment paper and place into a cold oven.
  2. Turn the oven to 400 degrees and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your bacon.
  3. Remove and drain on paper towels.
  4. Behave!
I have to say Alton knows his stuff, and this is by far the easiest way to prepare bacon. It produces toothsome, evenly cooked slices, and severely cuts down on the urge to fret nervously whilst awaiting full cookage.
Baked or Fried: Either Way Kills Braincells!

My only problem with “The Alton Brown” method? It feels like a cheap victory. I actually enjoy all the stuff that makes bacon makin' stressful: the sizzle, the smell, the discipline, the hovering, the rewarded patience. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to see my bacon render and hear it fry on a hot pan. And I freakin' love bacon presses, which have no place in the oven-bake method.

So if you like low hassle go A.B.; if you want to bring the heat...
  1. Buy a griddle. You need something with a long flat surface to accomodate a reasonable amount of bacon.
  2. Heat said griddle to warm, reduce heat to low and add bacon slices. Be careful NOT to crowd.
  3. Top with a bacon press after the fat begins rendering (it will be slightly translucent, but not curled). This helps keep the strips flat and stimulates even cooking.
  4. Wait and wait and wait. In the interim I suggest either 1) drinking, b) calling the Dell customer service department, or III) doing something mind-numbing and/or infuriating to keep yourself from turning up the heat too quickly. Slow and low, homeskillet.
  5. The strips will start to carmelize slightly; remove the bacon press, flip those strips, and keep close watch; you're almost there. NOTE: This is the only time you can safely crank the heat, but it is not advised. Only if you are super crazy hungry and have the “bacon sweats.”
  6. DO NOT OVERCOOK. This is the number one mistake people make with bacon, and the ramafications are nothing pretty. (hint: Israeli-Palentinian conflict) Your bacon will continue to crisp up and cook a bit off-heat, so pull it just before you think it's ready. Above all, do not attempt to render all the fat; this is what gives the final product sweetness and fine texture (i.e. deliciousness and chewiness).
And there you have it. Griddle and bacon press reviews coming next, and then (gasp) the results of our almighty Blind Bacon Tasting. Oh yeah.

–J. Slab

p.s. Bacon Sweats: (n) a physical state of moist chills brought about by the mental anticipation of eating delicious bacon in the near future.

p.p.s. bacolicio.us cordially invites you to “grease your friends.” (via D-Listed.)



Blogger monkey said...

I've tried the bacon suspended on a rack over a pan in the oven method before (although not specifically Alton's) and found the bacon to be not as crispy, and in fact, kinda rubbery. Seems as though it needs to cook in its own rendered fat whether stovetop or oven to get that just right crispy-melty texture.

12:31 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

interesting stuff, monkey. i used parchment (in lieu of racks) the last time i baked bacon and did notice a pallid texture; assumed this was due to undercooking. in a blind face off (using racks), most of our tasters couldn't tell much of a diff with pan-fried.

but your point about cooking the strips in their own fat is a great one, and seems intuitively spot on. that, and the sizzle; i freakin' love the sizzle.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous James said...

Have you been waiting to try Bacon Salt, Baconnaise or the highly popular Bacon Lip Balm? Well, today is the day to plunk down your dough and find out what everyone else has been raving about.

4:45 PM  

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