The Real Reason Bacon Shrinks When You Cook It

Does cooking bacon make you feel like you're playing the "how it started/how it's going" meme? You pull a thick, long slice of bacon from the package, only for it to shrivel to half its size during cooking. It's a breakfast bummer.

According to Bacon Scouts, bacon shrinks due to its fat content. While it cooks, the fat renders out of it, making the strip of bacon smaller. The higher the fat, the more likely it will suffer from shrinkage. Cheaper cuts have more fat, and thus shrink more. The website recommends looking for meat that's mostly pink, which is the mark of better quality bacon. Too much white means too much fat, which depletes your bacon meat.

Surprisingly, the bacon-obsessed site also points to the higher water content in the cheaper supermarket bacon as another culprit for the shrivel. While the bacon looks like it's thick and hardy in the store, the water-plump quickly drains when the bacon hits the pan. Once again, the website suggests purchasing quality bacon from a butcher. The cuts may cost a little more, but worth it for the better bacon. 

According to Downton Abbey Cooks, purchasing bacon from a local, quality butcher not only gives you a less fatty slab that's not plumped with water but it also cuts down on preservatives. Artisanal bacon's delicious wood-smoked taste is because the meat is actually smoked. Cheaper cuts rely on additives to mimic a smokey flavor rather than the real thing.

How to keep bacon from shrinking

Many cooks agree that the oven method is the best way to cook bacon. Not only does it make clean up a breeze, but your arms (and stovetop) are protected from the grease splatter. You can cook more bacon at one time without being a slave to the stove. Plus, it helps cut down on shrinkage. Alton Brown cooks his bacon on a rack, with a paper towel spread on the baking sheet beneath to soak up the fat, making clean up even breezier.

However, Cooks Illustrated recommends cooking the bacon directly in the sheet pan so that the meat cooks in the fat as it renders out. According to their testing, this keeps bacon crispy but without drying it. While cooking at lower temperatures rendered bacon chewy because of the longer cook time, the higher temp resulted in uneven cooking, so the magazine suggests a happy medium. That's also the sweet spot for maintaining bacon strip size since Bacon Scouts says high heat also causes bacon to shrink. 

You can also confit your bacon. Epicurious spoke to diner owner John Koutsouris, who pre-cooks his bacon by covering it in oil and popping it in a broiler for 20 minutes until partially cooked. It's finished to order on the grill top. Koutsouris says this method cuts down on shrinkage while also rendering a perfectly crisp slice. Enjoy that butcher-quality bacon — oven cooked or confit — on a Benedictine and bacon sandwich or on a classic breakfast sandwich.