How To Tell When Bacon is Done: From Chewy to Crisp

For meat eaters, there are few scents more enticing than the aroma of bacon as it cooks. These cured strips of pork belly are a highly versatile ingredient, even making their way onto some craft cocktail menus. If you’re wondering how to tell when bacon is done, read on.

How to Tell When Bacon is Done

Bacon is considered fully cooked when the meat changes color from pink to brown and the fat has had a chance to render out. It’s fine to remove the slices from the heat when they’re still a bit chewy, but bacon is usually served crisp.

How To Tell When Bacon is Done: Things To Look For

A staple of American breakfasts, bacon comes from the belly of the pig. When it’s cooked properly, the fat will slowly render out, leaving behind smoky and savory strips of meat.

Bacon is an interesting meat to prepare because its properties set it apart from just about every other cut you can think of. If it isn’t cooked enough, it will be downright inedible. On the other hand, if it’s overdone, it will end up tasting like charcoal.

Unlike most cured pork products, which are safe to eat without being cooked, bacon can harbor bacteria that need to be exposed to heat before the meat can be consumed. Furthermore, the meat is rubbery and unpleasant before it’s cooked.

Some people prefer to remove bacon from the heat when it’s still chewy. Others won’t consider eating it unless the meat has been cooked until all the fat has rendered and crisped up so that the meat melts in your mouth.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the state of “finished” bacon. It’s a matter of personal preference. However, there are ways to tell if the bacon has cooked long enough to be enjoyed. Here are the main characteristics to watch out for.

Texture

First and foremost, the meat needs to have a certain degree of crispness. Even if you like your bacon on the “rare” side, the strips should have enough body to be lifted easily from the pan without dangling.

To avoid burning your fingers, use the back of a spoon to test the texture of the bacon. If it’s too soft, you should allow it to cook for a few minutes longer. Once it approaches the point of doneness, be sure to check it often, as it can burn in a heartbeat if you’re not careful.

We should also point out that you shouldn’t wait until the bacon feels overly stiff, even if you prefer it well done. Until they’re removed from the heat, the strips will still have some “give” even when they’ve been burned past the point of endurance.

Shape

As bacon cooks, the natural moisture in the meat will begin to evaporate, which causes a degree of shrinkage. Much of the fat will render and melt away, too.

When this happens, you’ll notice that the edges of the bacon will start to curl away from the edge of the pan. This is normal, and it’s a step in the right direction. When all the edges have curled and the meat has turned brown, the bacon is close to being done.

Color

Like most fresh pork products, raw bacon is light pink in color, with strips of creamy white fat running through it. As it cooks, the meat starts to darken until it achieves a reddish brown color.

When the bacon begins to shift from pink to brown, it’s time to start testing it to determine whether it’s reached the desired texture. If it turns too dark, it will start to taste bitter.

Moisture

Whereas raw bacon leaves a slimy residue behind on your fingers, cooked bacon will be almost entirely dry. After you remove the slices from the fat and drain them on paper towels, they should be perfectly crisp and very light.

Can You Use a Meat Thermometer For Bacon?

In most cases, this method won’t work because the slices are too thin to get an accurate readout. If your strips of bacon measure more than 1/2 inch thick, on the other hand, it’s fine to use an instant-read thermometer. The bacon should be cooked to a minimum of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Methods for Cooking Bacon

In the Oven

This is a carefree method that yields crisp, evenly cooked strips of bacon. The only drawback is that it creates a lot of dishes to clean up afterward.

To begin, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the bacon strips on a wire rack. If you don’t already have a rack that’s designated for meat products only, consider investing in one. Even when the racks have been washed, bacon grease can leave behind a sticky residue that may contaminate your cookies or other baked goods.

Set the wire rack on top of a sheet pan or baking dish. Make sure the pan has sides high enough to catch the bacon grease as it renders. Otherwise, the fat will drip right onto your oven’s heating element, which could result in a grease fire.

Place the pan in the oven and cook until the bacon is done to your liking. Regular-cut bacon should be cooked for at least 12 minutes. If the slices are extra thick, they should stay in the oven for at least 20 minutes. In either case, cook it for a few minutes longer if you like your bacon on the crispy side.

If you’d like, you can use tongs to flip the slices halfway through the cooking time, but that’s not necessary with this method. Because the rack ensures that both sides of the bacon are exposed to the heat, it should cook evenly without being turned.

When the bacon is done, use tongs to remove the slices to a row of paper towels. Allow them to drain for about a minute before serving.

On the Stovetop

When you cook bacon on the stovetop, you’ll have more control over the timing. This is crucial if you like bacon on the chewier side of crisp. The downside? It requires your full attention at all times.

Use a set of sturdy tongs to arrange bacon slices in a cold skillet. Make sure to add them in a single layer, or the edges won’t cook evenly.

Set the skillet on a burner over medium heat. Cook, using the tongs to flip the slices every minute or two until the bacon has cooked to your liking. Depending on thickness, this could take anywhere from 7 to 12 minutes.

Remove the bacon and allow it to drain on paper towels for about one minute.

On the Grill

This is my favorite way to cook bacon, which should come as no surprise. It allows you to enjoy the great outdoors and gives the bacon a marvelous smoky flavor. As a bonus, this method also keeps your stovetop from becoming spattered with bacon grease. All you need to ensure success is a sturdy cast iron skillet.

Fire up the grill, setting the temperature to 400 degrees. If you’re using a gas grill, set the burners to medium-high. For charcoal grills, build a medium-hot fire.

Set a cast iron skillet on the cooking grate. Let it heat up for a few minutes. If the cast iron is rusty, make sure to give it a good scrubbing before you add the bacon.

Arrange the bacon strips on the skillet and close the lid of the grill. Let them cook for 7 or 8 minutes undisturbed. For extra thick slices, wait 10 minutes.

Lift the lid and use tongs to flip the bacon. Continue to cook until the strips are done to your liking.

Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Let drain for a minute or two before enjoying.

Other Methods for Grilling Bacon

While we prefer the skillet method, there are other ways to cook bacon on the grill. They just require a bit of extra care to ensure success.

Over Indirect Heat

Build a two-zone fire and place the bacon strips directly on the cooking grates over the cooler section of the grill. Don’t set them over direct heat, or they’ll be burned in no time. Cook the strips for two to three minutes, turning them often to avoid charring.

On a Wire Rack

This is a nice alternative that mirrors the oven method. Preheat the grill to 400 as directed above, then set the bacon on a wire rack. Place the rack on the cooking grate and close the lid. Turn the heat off and let the bacon cook undisturbed for about two minutes. It should be nice and crisp when you remove the lid.

On a Baking Sheet

Use this method if you don’t have a cast iron skillet. The process is identical, except you’ll be using a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet instead of a skillet. Be aware that the bacon strips may have a chewier texture as a result.

In the Microwave

We like to think of the microwave as a last resort. It can work well enough if you’re pressed for time, but try to stick with alternate methods if you can.

Make a triple layer of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate. Arrange bacon slices on top, making sure the edges don’t overlap.

Microwave the bacon for 3 to 6 minutes, depending on how crispy you’d like it. We would recommend pausing the cycle halfway through to check on your progress. That way, you can adjust the remaining cook time accordingly.

Preparing Canadian Bacon

Canadian bacon is a cured meat product that originates from the pig’s loin area. As a result, it’s far leaner than bacon made from pig belly and requires a different cooking method.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. You may need to add more oil to the pan as you go along, depending on how much meat you’ll be preparing.

If the Canadian bacon isn’t pre-cut, use a sharp knife to carve slices from the roll. Some people insist on thin slices, while others favor thicker rounds. Using a whole roll allows you to slice the meat to your liking.

Using tongs, transfer the bacon slices to the pan. Cook for about five minutes, turning the slices halfway through to ensure that they crisp up on both sides. You might need to leave the bacon on the heat for a minute or two longer to get it nice and crisp.

Transfer the slices to paper towels and allow them to drain for a minute or two. Serve with eggs and grilled pineapple.

Final Thoughts

The best way to test bacon for doneness is to keep a close eye on it. Because the meat is typically sold in very thin slices, it can overcook quickly. Once you know what signs to look for, it’s easy to cook strips of bacon to your liking.

Happy grilling!

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