Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Three Ways to Cook Bacon & Rendering Bacon Fat

Bacon fat is simply the drippings rendered from cured bacon after frying. In the South, bacon fat (also called bacon grease or bacon drippings) is used to flavor many dishes, from cornbread to gravy and various beans & greens dishes. I LOVE using bacon fat to cook pan-fried potatoes as well as over-easy eggs. The fat is full of the flavor of the bacon, and adds an extra dimension of taste to the meal. Is bacon good for me? No, but it's an essential part of this Southerner's food pyramid. 


"Did you go to Upstairs Hollywood Medical College too?"

Using bacon fat predates the "bacon mania" of the past decade. Way before Bacon SaltBaconnaise, and things like bacon bras, bacon mints and bacon tuxedos, home cooks all over the US knew to keep their rendered bacon fat for later use (many likely remembering the WWII rationing of fat). Chances are, you remember a re-purposed can (usually a coffee can) that sat atop your grandmother's stove; hamburger and other greases were discarded, but bacon fat was held as liquid gold. This practice of saving fat most likely lost favor beginning in the 1980s, when the anti-fat health crazes began, and more people shifted to using olive oil. Luckily, the practice of saving bacon fat and using it in various recipes is definitely making a comeback

I always save my bacon fat; whenever a meal I prepare calls for bacon, I go ahead and cook my entire package of bacon. Leftover bacon keeps well in the refrigerator or fridge and can be used later on sandwiches or crumbled on salads (including pasta or potato salads). Though some sites suggest storing the fat in the refrigerator, I have always left mine out at room temperature and have never had it go rancid. 


This COULD all fit on one sandwich....

There are 3 ways to cook bacon; on the stovetop, in the oven, and in the microwave. I prefer to cook my bacon on the stovetop, primarily because I save the rendered fat. Oven-baking the bacon results in incredibly flavorful bacon, but dealing with a cumbersome baking sheet full of lava-hot fat isn't my favorite way to preface a trip to the burn ward. I am NOT a fan of cooking bacon in the microwave, and it's strictly due to the texture that the microwave cooking gives the bacon. However, I'll explain each method...


On the Stovetop:
As you probably already know, I prefer cast iron skillets. This DEFINITELY holds true for cooking bacon; not only do you get perfectly cooked bacon due to the even cooking & heat retention of cast iron, but you also great a great layer of seasoning for your pan. Cheaper bacon, with more fat and less lean, is perfect for rendering fat. I prefer to cut the bacon strips in half; they fit in the skillet better, don't curl as much, and are the perfect size for sandwiches.


This was Buy 1 Get 1 Free at the local grocery store.


The key to cooking bacon in a skillet is to go LOW AND SLOW. Heat the skillet over medium-low to medium heat; lower heat will prevent spattering. Place the bacon strips in a single layer in the skillet and let cook for 3-4 minutes without moving. Once the bacon begins to curl up, flip the slices with tongs and cook until crisp. 





Drain the cooked bacon on paper towels. Pour off the bacon fat in between batches; I filter mine through a mesh strainer directly into my fat container.


This canister cost maybe $5 at Wal-Mart.


Once the fat cools, it will thicken to a soft lard-like consistency. Store the fat at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if you desire. 




In the Oven:
This method is great for cooking a lot of bacon at once. Simply preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a wire rack atop a rimmed, foil-lined baking sheet. Place the bacon strips on the rack and cook for 20-25 minutes; the grease will fall to the baking sheet and the bacon will remain nice and flat. 


In the Microwave:
This method is really only suitable for when you just need a few slices of bacon cooked quickly for a sandwich and don't feel like using the stove. You can buy a special microwave-rack for bacon, but the easiest method is to simply line a plate with a few layers of paper towels, lay a few strips out in a single layer on top, and microwave on HIGH for 4-6 minutes or until the bacon is crisp. 




2 comments:

  1. If you have never had bacon smoked over pecan wood... you have not lived! In all seriousness, bacon smoked over pecan wood at 200 degrees for 1.5 hours is MMMMMazing!!!

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    Replies
    1. Wow. That sounds...AMAZING!! I'll have to try it!

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