I run a butcher shop in Chicago called The Butcher & Larder. As you can imagine, in the eight years I’ve spent behind the butcher counter, bacon has played a big roll in my day-to-day business. The butchering team cuts, cures, smokes, slices, and packages hundreds of pounds of bacon every week, and the public never tires of it.
But as universally adored as bacon is, there is a never-ending debate on how best to cook it. Being a butcher is a lot like being a bartender: Once people get comfortable, they tend to open up, so I hear a lot of stories about people’s bacon-cooking habits. The question always arises: Is bacon best cooked starting with a hot pan or a cold pan?
I cook my bacon in an oven (and suggest you do too), but there are plenty of reasons you might opt for cooking bacon on the stovetop. Maybe you’re in a small kitchen without an oven, or you’re pressed for time, or maybe there’s also a soufflé in the oven and you can’t open the door (what a breakfast!).
When it comes to the hot vs. cold pan debate, critics will say that starting with the pan preheated will result in crispier slices, while others have told me that starting with a cold pan takes too long. But perfectly cooked bacon is worth waiting for, and to me, this means starting in a cold pan that won’t burn your bacon before it’s had a chance to get uniformly crispy. Here’s four more pointers to achieve bacon nirvana:
Start with the heaviest skillet at your disposal. Cast iron is the best, but anything with a heavy base will do. Lay the bacon slices in the pan so they are not overlapping, and turn the burner to medium heat.
Have at the ready a pair of tongs and a container in which to pour the rendered bacon fat. This is where it gets a bit tricky and requires your full attention: The problem with most home stove tops and non-commercial cookware, especially when used together, is that food cooks unevenly. Pans will have hot spots and burners only heat the middle of the pan, causing unevenly cooked bacon resulting in charred edges and flabby middles.
Once the bacon starts sizzling, give it a flip and move the pieces from the center of the pan to the edges, and vice versa. This is a little time-consuming, but will result in evenly cooked strips. If the bacon renders a lot of fat and the slices are starting to submerge in it, pour off the excess fat into your prepared container. When you return the pan to the heat, the defatted pan will cook a little quicker, so keep a close eye. Cook the strips like this until they are just starting to get that beautiful, amber color.
Continue the “flip-and-shuffle” until the bacon is just shy of how you like it, then remove from the pan to a plate lined with paper towels. The bacon will continue to cook outside of the pan for a few minutes, crisping up to exactly the texture you like.