For those of you who consider bacon something you'd never eat because it's unhealthy, please scroll down to the *
I'm not a trained chef; however, I consider myself a good cook. Yet for years one seemingly simple dish evaded me: Cooking bacon so it didn't have over- or under-cooked sections. I researched the topic pretty heavily because my husband loves bacon; I was even hired to write an article covering expert tips on bacon cooking. I tried frying bacon in a pan, microwaving it, and baking it in the oven. I tried using a bacon iron, a cold skillet, and a hot skillet. But it wasn't until recently I began cooking up truly satisfactory bacon. Here's how I do it:
1. Choose the right pan. The ideal skillet is large and cast iron. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, choose any large, heavy skillet.
2. Preheat the skillet over medium heat. To test the hotness of the pan, run your fingers under water, then flick a tiny amount of water in the skillet. If it sizzles, the pan is ready.
3. Cut the bacon in half, crosswise. Previously, I tried using bigger skillets to accommodate long bacon slices, but if the skillet is bigger than your stove's burner, the bacon will not cook evenly and you'll end up with fatty sections or sections that are over-cooked. The key to solving this problem is deceptively simple: Just make the bacon slices smaller.
4. Using tongs, place the bacon in the skillet without overcrowding. I put 3 pieces - perhaps 4, tops - in the skillet at one time.
5. Cook one side of the bacon until it shrivels and the edges are golden. Then turn the bacon using tongs and continue cooking. It doesn't hurt to turn the bacon several times.
6. Whenever you turn the bacon, use tongs to press down any ends that want to curl up. It only takes a few seconds and then the bacon will lay flat naturally.
7. Remove the bacon just before it's reached the level of doneness you prefer. It will continue cooking after you remove it from the pan. Don't worry if each side of the bacon appears more or less cooked than the other side. Drain the bacon on 3 layers of paper towels.
8. Don't drain the skillet if you cook up another batch of bacon. The only time I drain the skillet is if the bacon drippings start covering the top of the bacon I'm cooking.
When all the bacon is done, feel free to use the drippings in the skillet for other foods you're cooking (like eggs). To avoid overgreasiness, you generally don't want more than a tablespoon of drippings in the skillet, however. Pour off the rest into a heat-proof measuring cup or similar container.
Once the drippings have cooled but aren't quite solid, I pour them into a canning jar, put the lid on, and store the drippings in the refrigerator. It keeps for months. You may also freeze it.
* Yes, I know, we've all been told bacon and bacon grease is terrible for us, but consider this: People have used lard (pork fat) for thousands of years, and processed fats (like vegetable oil) only recently. No study has linked poor health to lard, and many studies argue lard is better for us than a lot of the other fats we eat. Besides, nothing adds flavor to a dish like bacon drippings; it only takes a dab to do the trick!
For more information on lard as a cooking fat, check out this piece at About.com, another at The New York Times, and the documentary Fat Head.