There are not many cooking ingredients more appealing than bacon. This popular meat adds such a rich and salty flavor with a satisfying crunch to any dish, such as salads, sandwiches, and even gourmet main courses. Elvis Presley was a big fan – he incorporated bacon into his peanut butter sandwiches; and even healthier celebrities indulge by eating it occasionally.
That is why I am surprised by how frequently this well-loved piece of meat is not cooked properly. Bacon falls victim to three common mistakes that take away from its flavor: overcooking, overcrowding, and inconsistent cutting.
One of the major mistakes in cooking bacon is using a cooking surface that is too hot. Many times, we want our bacon to cook fast, but good bacon is not a quick fix. If you put bacon on a burner set too high, this will inconsistently cook it – leaving some parts burnt and other parts very soggy, whereas tasty bacon should have a classic and smoky crunch the whole way through.
The easiest solution is to place your pan on a burner on a low setting and allow it heat up for about 20 minutes. This ensures that the heat is even and can properly cook your bacon, but also lets the entire surface reach the right consistency.
Overcrowding and isolating
The amount of bacon you place in the pan is also very important. If you overcrowd your pan, it causes pieces to overlap which causes some strips to be burnt, while other portions are raw.
However, cooking only one or two strips in a pan is not good, either. Bacon needs lubrication from the fat it creates while cooking. If there are only a couple of strips and you intend to use a large cooking surface, there will not be enough fat in the pan and it will result in a charred and unappealing product.
The key is finding a happy medium between overcrowding and leaving the pan empty. It is important to use a pan that can properly hold the amount of bacon you want to eat, so each piece is cooked thoroughly and correctly.
Cutting bacon for more decorative use is also an easy way to make mistakes. Pulling bacon straight out of the refrigerator and slicing away can cause the strips to stick together, leaving you with uneven pieces or slices.
One tip I share with all my chefs is to place bacon in the freezer for about 20 to 30 minutes before you plan to cut. This creates a more solid piece to work from, where the fat does not spread apart and thereby avoids creating a messy cut. Evenly cut bacon is great for presentation purposes, especially if you are creating a dish for a special occasion.
Bacon is a great enhancement for many dishes. With these cooking tips, you will be prepared to accommodate most recipes that ask for this tasty ingredient. Then, the hard part will be trying not licking your plate when you are done.
Chef Albert DiIeso is the executive chef for Splendido, a resort-style continuing care retirement community in Oro Valley, where he oversees all kitchen operations and menu development for the community’s four dining venues.