People often joke that bacon makes everything better. I tend to agree. I use it a lot as a flavoring agent in recipes — a slice or two to infuse a pot of dried beans with porky richness, for example. But on #treatyoself days, I’ll cook up a mess of bacon as a more substantial component to a dish, or as a standalone food. This is the bacon to pile onto burgers or BLTs, or to enjoy alongside pancakes or waffles, dragging the strips through syrup or runny egg yolks. Yet I’ve never had a consistent, go-to method for cooking that bacon. I’ve cooked it in a skillet and in the oven, and I’ve resorted to the microwave when I was in a hurry.
I’ve read about air fryer and sous vide methods I’d like to try, as well as other hacks for easier cleanup or better texture.
To find which method or methods work best, I tested eight that are touted by trusted website sources and compared the results side-by-side. My house smelled amazing, by the way, and my folks were delighted to help me taste test :)
A Few Notes About Methodology
Tests: I tried each method twice — once with regular-cut bacon and once with thick-cut. For each method, I tested the number of bacon slices that fit into the cooking vessel (skillet, sheet pan, air fryer basket, etc.) and made note of that in my description.
Bacon: I used widely distributed grocery-store brands. For regular-cut bacon, I went with Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked Bacon. And for thick-cut, I chose Wright Hickory Smoked Bacon.
Time: The time listed is the cooking time; any preheating time is noted separately. I did not list cleanup time.
Ratings: I rated each cooking method on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing perfection. Texture, cook time, ease of preparation, cleanup, and appearance all factor into the ratings.
Method: Water in Skillet
Total Time: 15 minutes (regular-cut bacon); 16 minutes (thick-cut bacon)About This Method: This technique, touted by Cook’s Illustrated, instructs you to arrange bacon in a cold skillet and add just enough water to cover. You cook over high heat until the water boils, lower the heat to medium until the water evaporates, and then cook over medium-low heat until the bacon is done.
The theory here is that the water “keeps the initial cooking temperature low and gentle, so the meat retains its moisture and stays tender.” The site doesn’t specify what type of skillet to use, so I went with stainless steel, which is shown in the accompanying photo. There are no instructions to flip the bacon as it cooks, but I did (once the water evaporated) to make sure both sides were crisped.
The bacon stuck to the pan, and it cooked inconsistently, with crispier parts and chewier parts on each slice. I had noticeable shrinkage with the regular-cut bacon (but not so much with thick-cut). The thick-cut bacon also curled up a good bit, while the regular-cut stayed flat, and there was more popping and sputtering than I’d noticed with other stovetop methods.
Cleanup was a bit of a hassle because after the water cooked off, the skillet was covered with a sticky film that just adhered more firmly to the pan as the bacon finished cooking. I had to soak and scrub the skillet to get it clean.
My Takeaway: The texture wasn’t superior to that of bacon cooked using some of the other methods. Cleanup took longer and required more elbow grease, too, which is a serious buzzkill.
Bottom Line: Best to skip this method.Rating: 5/10
Total Time: 4 to 4 1/2 minutes (regular-cut bacon); 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 minutes (thick-cut bacon)About This Method: Although countless sources give instructions for this cooking method, I went with those in Food Network’s bacon roundup, as they seem both straightforward and authoritative. Here, bacon gets sandwiched between a double layer of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate and cooks on high for four to six minutes. I was able to comfortably fit four slices on the plate without overlapping slices.
It took me a few tries to get the timing right: The bacon easily went from a bit underdone to burned in a few seconds. You’ll likely need to check on the slices, remove ones as they’re done, and continue to cook the rest in short bursts. The bacon was very flat and appeared to be uniformly cooked. The regular-cut bacon was brittle and tasted a bit burned.
Thick-cut slices fared better, yielding lovely crispy-fatty pockets — when I finally got the timing right. Cleanup was a breeze: I simply tossed the paper towels and loaded the plate into my dishwasher. Even though there were no splatters in my microwave, I still gave it a spray and rub-down because the walls had a light oily film on them.My Takeaway: I wouldn’t use this method again on regular-cut bacon. I could see this method being useful if you only need to cook a few slices of thick-cut bacon, and you need to cook them fast — but I like to save my bacon drippings for later use, and with this method, the paper towels soak them all up.
You’ll need to check the bacon for doneness about a minute or two before the indicated cook time, and then cook in increments of 10 to 15 seconds until you get the right texture. Basically, although this method is the fastest, it requires some finesse.
Bottom line: OK for thick-cut bacon, if you’re in a hurry and don’t want the drippings.
Method: Nonstick Skillet
Total Time: 10 minutes (regular- and thick-cut bacon)About This Method: I used the instructions from Food52’s roundup of bacon cooking methods. I arranged bacon slices in a cold nonstick pan and cooked on medium heat, flipping the slices occasionally as needed.
The bacon curled up a little as it cooked, and it ended up with some charred spots and some fatty-chewy spots. These textural differences were apparent by looking at the bacon. There were a few splatters on the stovetop, but cleanup of the pan itself was easy; I was able to scrape every last bit of the rendered fat into a container for later use.
My Takeaway: This method seemed okay for cooking a small amount of bacon, but the inconsistent cooking was not ideal. I love having some tasty seared bits on my bacon, but some of the slices ended up charred in places and were unpleasantly burned-tasting.Bottom Line: It’s an okay stovetop method with easy cleanup.
Method: Baking on a Rack with Paper Towels Underneath
Total Time: 24 minutes (regular-cut bacon); 29 minutes (thick-cut bacon); + 10 minutes oven preheating time
About This Method: I was intrigued by this tip, given in a tweet: Filling in the blanks of his brief explanation, I lined a rimmed baking sheet with layers of paper towels, arranged a wire rack over the paper towels, placed bacon slices on the rack, and baked at 400°F till the bacon was done to my liking.
The bacon stayed the meatiest with this oven-rack method, with the least amount of shrinkage. To see what difference the paper towels made, I cooked one batch of regular-cut and one batch of thick-cut bacon over paper towels and one batch of each with no paper towels. The paper towels definitely helped with cleanup, but didn’t eliminate it entirely; the unlined pan gathered lots of grease and some splotchy scorched spots that I had to scrub off. But even with the towels, the rack had to be scrubbed, and that was, frankly, time-consuming.I know what some of you are thinking — and no, the paper towels don’t catch fire or smoke at 400°F. They do soak up the hot rendered bacon fat, basically eliminating any chance that you’ll burn yourself with hot grease. Of course, if you value bacon drippings like I do, this method isn’t ideal.
My Takeaway: This technique is great for cooking a large amount of bacon; you could do two pans at once (that is, if you have enough pans and wire racks). I liked how baking the bacon on a rack makes it easy to control the end product: I cooked one batch until it was crispy and one batch until it was meaty-chewy, with a Canadian bacon–like texture.
And okay, I admit that I might be a baby (or maybe even a bit lazy), but I really hated scrubbing baked-on bacon bits off a wire rack. I tried washing it in the dishwasher, but some stuck-on bits remained, and I had to get out my brush and scrub anyway.
Bottom line: This is a good technique for cooking a large volume of meaty bacon with easy cleanup of the pan — but be prepared to scrub the rack.
Method: Air Fryer
Total Time: 8 minutes (regular- and thick-cut bacon)About This Method: I was intrigued by the idea of cooking bacon in the countertop appliance of the moment and combined the instructions given by PopSugar and the blog A Pinch of Healthy: I arranged the bacon slices in the basket of my air fryer and cooked at 400°F, pausing to shake the basket occasionally, until the bacon was crispy, which for me was 8 minutes.
I tumbled them by shaking the basket every few minutes — so they curled up a good bit as they cooked. Thick-cut bacon slices had a crisp exterior and chewy-fatty interior, and regular-cut slices were pretty uniformly crispy throughout. I made sure to pour out drippings from the outer pan after the first batch, before I cooked another batch, to help prevent smoking.
On subsequent batches, I did still get a little smoke and the faint smell of burning plastic — but these things did not affect the taste or texture of the bacon. To clean up, I scraped the drippings into a container for later use and washed the basket and the outer pan by hand.
My Takeaway: This method works well if a few things fall into play: You only need a few slices of bacon (depending on the size of your air fryer), you don’t care if the bacon curls up or doesn’t sit flat (especially in a smaller air fryer, you’ll likely have to fold the bacon to get it in), and you don’t mind pulling out your air fryer (or even keep it on your counter).
Bottom Line: If you’re an air fryer devotee, go for it.
Method: Sous Vide
Total Time: 12 hours sous vide + about 2 1/2 minutes searing time (regular- and thick-cut bacon)About This Method: OK, this one is admittedly a little outside the norm. But, hey, if you have a sous vide circulator, why not give it a try? The method was gushed over by J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats for yielding bacon with a crispy exterior and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness within.
You simply place a full package of bacon, in the store packaging, inside a large container with enough water to cover it and cook with the circulator at 147°F for 8 to 24 hours. I settled on 12 hours with a Breville Joule circulator and, although López-Alt stresses that this is only worth doing with thick-cut bacon, I tested with regular-cut, too, for consistency.
After the low, long cooking, you open the package, pull off individual slices, and sear in a skillet on one side then just briefly touch them to the pan on the other side so the bacon doesn’t look raw.
López-Alt was not wrong: This technique is wasted on regular-cut bacon, which just doesn’t have enough substance to showcase the tenderizing effect of sous vide cooking. With the thick-cut bacon, however, I ended up with slices that had a thin, crispy, shellacked-like layer on the outside and a juicy-fatty interior. The bacon was, indeed, buttery tender and uniformly flat, with little shrinkage.
My Takeaway: This is obviously not your everyday bacon or even your Sunday bacon. If, however, you want to wow some breakfast guests — and you have an immersion circulator — the results are noteworthy and worth the effort. Plus, López-Alt notes you can do the sous vide part way ahead of time and hold the bacon in the fridge for a few days or even freeze for a couple of months. Shortly before you’re ready to serve, just sear the bacon (thawed if it was frozen) briefly to finish it.
Bottom Line: It’s worth a try if you have the equipment, and will result in incredible textures (crisp, fatty, meltingly tender).
Method: Cast Iron Skillet
Total Time: 8 minutes (regular-cut bacon); 11 minutes (thick-cut bacon)About This Method: Many sites tout this old-school method for cooking bacon. I went with the directions in Serious Eats’ roundup of bacon methods, where you place strips in a cold cast iron skillet and cook over moderate heat, flipping the bacon occasionally until it’s done to your liking.
The regular-cut slices curled up a good bit, but the thick-cut ones remained overall pretty flat. With both cuts of bacon, I got slices that were crunchy and seared in places and chewier-fattier (with a crispy crust) in other places, probably because the ends wanted to curl up and cook without making full contact with the pan. The well-seasoned pan meant the bacon didn’t stick, and cleanup was moderate. I had to wipe away spatters on the stovetop, and I scraped the drippings into a bowl for storage and rinsed and wiped dry the skillet.
My Takeaway: I truly love this kind of bacon. It’s nostalgic; it’s good grandpa bacon.
There’s something about the amount of sear and fat and chew that you end up with that’s just delicious. And, perhaps I’m imagining this, but even though you’re only cooking over medium heat, I believe there’s almost an equivalent of wok hei here, where the bacon picks up character and flavor from the pan itself. It’s a good method for cooking up a few slices (up to maybe six in a large pan), that allows you to hang onto those flavorful drippings.
Bottom Line: This is great for folks who want to cook a small amount of bacon and value crispy and chewy in each slice.
Method: Baking on Parchment Paper
Total Time: 18 minutes (regular-cut bacon); 24 minutes (thick-cut bacon) + 10 minutes oven preheating time
About This Method: Martha Stewart’s technique promises a “spatter-free” way to get “perfectly crispy bacon.” You simply line one or two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, arrange the bacon on top, and bake at 400°F until it is crisped to your liking. When the bacon is done, you transfer it to a paper towel–lined plate or platter to drain.
Because the bacon sits in its own rendered fat as it bakes, it cooks more quickly than if you cooked it on a rack. The fatty parts also get wonderfully crispy (if you like that), because they’re basically fried. If you prefer your bacon chewier, you can simply cook it a few minutes less to achieve that effect.
Both regular- and thick-cut slices cooked evenly and completely flat, without any need to flip them as they cooked. One cleanup tip: Make sure to cut a large-enough sheet of parchment paper so that there is overhang on all sides. Then fold the excess up so that the drippings don’t seep through any cracks. I tried this (it’s not shown in the photo) and when the bacon came out of the pan, I let the drippings cool slightly, lifted up the parchment, and directed the drippings into a container for storage. I threw away the parchment and inspected the pan — there was not a trace of grease. It went back in the cabinet without even a rinse.
My Takeaway: I loved the texture and appearance of this bacon, and that it cooks hands-free with no babysitting. I also loved that this method works for a few slices or up to 20, and that, if you use the overhang trick, cleanup is just so incredibly easy.
Bottom Line: Effortless cleanup (that allows you to save drippings), pretty slices, and easy control of the crispiness or chewiness of the bacon.
This method has it all.