To Grill, Pan-Fry, or Roast Bacon?

There’s a time and place for grilled, pan-fried, and roast bacon. When in doubt, here’s how to choose.

Published Categorized as Articles
adogslifephoto /123RF

In the heat of summer, every bacon lover faces a difficult decision: “Should I cook it on the stove, roast it in the oven, or let it sizzle on the grill?” For a nation striving for unity, this dilemma has Americans deeply divided.

On one side are the cooks who swear by their recipes for pan- or oven-roasted bacon, often passed down to them from their fathers and grandmothers.

On the other side are the die-hard grillers, including myself, who say that the taste of bacon, especially when grilled over coals or burning wood, cannot be surpassed by any other cooking technique.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?

Many consider grilled bacon to be the best because it’s charred, crispy and smoky. Pan-fried bacon is the closest to grilled bacon, but it doesn’t have that smoky flavor. Pan-fried bacon is quick and easy to prepare, but it has one drawback: it dirties the stove and countertop.

Don’t expect much difference when it comes to the nutritional value of the three cooking methods. You’ll prepare the same strips of streaky bacon whether it’s on the grill, on the stove, or in the oven.

Fry bacon when: You don’t have time to prepare it on the grill or in the oven, or cooking a few strips in a large appliance doesn’t make sense.

Roast bacon when: You’re cooking for a large crowd and need to fry at least a couple dozen bacon strips. But time or weather prevents you from using the grill.

Grill bacon when: It’s grilling season, the weather is nice, and you want to cook up some hearty and smoky bacon strips for you, your family and friends when y’all gather in your backyard.

Join me as I explore the idiosyncrasies of each below.

Pan-Frying Bacon

Frying is the fastest way to prepare bacon. However, pan-fried bacon gets greasy and tends to splatter all over the stove, which is part of the reason it’s not popular with every cook.

First of all, there’s the greasiness. When you fry bacon, the fat melts, drips down from the strips and collects in the pan, then drips back onto the meat.

Greasy bacon, as any bacon lover can tell you, is the opposite of crispy bacon. This is especially true if you fry it in a flat-bottomed pan instead of a grill pan with tall ridges.

That being said, you can drain off most of the fat as you fry. And once the strips are cooked, you can place them on a paper towel (and pat dry with a second one) to soak up most of the excess fat.

What discourages many cooks from frying bacon in a skillet is the fact that it’ll contaminate the stove while frying. Some cooks use a splatter guard to contain the mess. But not everyone has one on hand or wants to buy one.

How to Fry Bacon in a Pan

Time needed: 15 minutes

How to make crispy bacon on the stove

  1. Preheat your skillet over medium heat.

    Heat your cast iron or carbon steel skillet over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Bacon and high heat don’t get along all that well, and if you try to fry it in a pan that’s too hot, the strips will burn. By the way, you want them to turn golden brown, not black.

  2. Space out the bacon strips on the hot skillet.

    Place the strips on your pan, without overcrowding them, and cook them uninterrupted for 3-4 minutes on each side. When they start to curl, you should turn them over and fry for another 2-3 minutes.

  3. Cook till they’re crispy and golden brown.

    When the bacon has turned crispy and golden brown, you know it’s done. If it looks like it needs a little more frying time, keep frying it, turning it every 30 seconds.

  4. Soak up the excess bacon fat.

    Place some strips of paper on your cutting board or on a large plate. Using tongs, remove the bacon strips from the pan and place them on the paper towels to soak up the grease on the bottom. Now take another towel and pat the strips dry to soak up the grease on the top.

  5. Rest before serving.

    Let the bacon rest for 2-3 minutes before serving. Not only will it cool so it does not burn your mouth when you eat it, but it will also make it crispier.

To fry bacon on the stove, you should reach for a heavy cast iron pan with a thick bottom.

A pan made of carbon steel, cast iron’s lighter cousin with very similar properties, also works well.

Cast iron and carbon steel have a high heat capacity, meaning they can absorb a lot of heat and transfer it well to your food.

They’re also poor conductors of heat, meaning they’re slow to heat up but also slow to cool down. They stay hot even when you put room temperature meat on them. That’s why they work so well for frying bacon, burger patties and thick-cut steaks.

Keep your skillets well seasoned.

Seasoning protects them from corrosion and rust and acts like a slick, non-stick coating that prevents high-protein, low-fat foods from sticking to the bottom and sides.

In most cases, you don’t need to add oil to the pan because streaky bacon contains a lot of fat to begin with. However, there’s a time and place for a drop or two of oil.

If for some reason you’re cooking lean bacon and are worried about it sticking, you can always soak a paper towel in flavorless cooking oil and grease your pan with it. My favorite cooking oils in the pantry are avocado oil, canola oil, and grapeseed oil.

With this knowledge, you’ll now be able to prepare the tastiest fried bacon every time you fire up the stove.

Roasting Bacon

Frying is a relatively low-effort, low-fat way to prepare crispy, tasty bacon in the kitchen, especially in winter or when the weather doesn’t permit outdoor cooking.

The advantage is that you can roast a large amount of bacon at once if you’ve enough pans in your cupboards. In short, the oven is the best choice if you want to prepare bacon for a large crowd.

The downside is that roasting (and preparing for it) usually takes time. You need to preheat the oven, then put the bacon in and give it enough time to cook through.

How to Roast Bacon

The best baking dish for frying bacon is a roasting pan, essentially an aluminum sheet pan with high sides and a wire rack.

The wire rack lifts the bacon strips off the bottom of the pan, just like the grates on your grill, so they don’t get soaked with fat dripping off them.

If you only have a regular baking sheet at home, place the bacon strips on a sheet of parchment paper (parchment paper is heat resistant, not like butcher paper or wax paper).

Preheat your oven to 350°F, which should take you above 15 minutes, and use the time in-between to bring the bacon strips to room temp and arrange them—in a single layer—on the rack or the sheet of parchment paper.

Roast the bacon for 15 to 20 minutes. Thinner strips require a shorter cooking time than thinner strips. Also adjust the cooking time based on how crispy you want them.

If you’re using a wire rack, you don’t need to turn the strips. If you’re baking on parchment paper, flip them halfway through the baking time.

Let rest for 3 minutes on a plate or cutting board lined with a paper towel. Use tongs to transfer the strips from the pan to the lined surface. The towels will soak up the excess fat and crisp the bacon perfectly.

Grilling Bacon

Bacon grilled on charcoal is a treat, don’t get me wrong. But nothing adds flavor to your meat like firewood. Remember to always use hardwood and, when in doubt, go for apple, cherry, hickory or oak.

If your gas grill is equipped with a pull-out smoker box, make smoked bacon by putting soaked wood chips in it. If this isn’t the case, you can make a smoker pocket by wrapping the chips in aluminum foil and poking a few holes in the top of the foil.

When you cook the bacon on the grill grate, the fat will run out of the strips and collect in the fat collection tray. When the bacon is finished cooking, it’s golden brown, intensely smoked and very tasty—a combination few carnivores can resist.

Grilling bacon, however, can be tricky: with so much fat, bacon quickly starts to burn, whether on the grill, on coals, firewood or gas. And as any dad who’s ever grilled can tell you, flames are the enemy of perfectly cooked meat.

Others who’ve written on this subject advise you to wrap the bacon in aluminum foil or fry it on a flat-bottomed cast-iron griddle.

I don’t agree with this advice, and neither should you. If you wrap the bacon in aluminum foil, it’ll be soggy, and if you grill it on a apartment-bottomed grill, it’ll be greasy. Just place it against the grate.

To prevent bacon from flaring up on your grill, cook it over indirect heat. Without coals or a flame directly underneath, there will be no flare-ups.

How to Grill Bacon

To grill bacon, you first need a preheated grill. So pull up the lid, light the grill, and then turn half of the burners to medium, keeping the other half off. Close the lid and preheat for 15 minutes.

For those of you who grill with charcoal, you should light it and wait until it turns white and starts to ash over. This can take from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the type and quality of coals you’ve.

Bacon is grilled over indirect heat, so that the streaks have time to become crispy and golden brown. Another equally important reason you do this is so the dripping fat doesn’t cause flames on your grill, which would severely burn the bacon.

To get indirect heat on a gas grill, preheat the grill by turning half the burners on medium and keeping the other half off. Then fry the bacon in the middle, flame-free zone.

For a charcoal grill, stack the coals in two piles on the left and right sides of the grill so that you can place a drip pan in the center and cook the bacon over it.

Grease the grates generously with cooking oil so that the meat doesn’t stick (and gets better grill marks), then place the bacon strips on the grates, close the lid and let them cook for 3-4 minutes without any interruptions.

Once this time has elapsed, open the lid, turn the strips to the other side, then close the lid and let them cook for another 2-3 minutes (since the bacon is thin, the strips take less time to cook after turning).

If the bacon hasn’t reached the desired doneness at this point, continue grilling with the lid closed, turning in 30-second intervals.

When the bacon is done, remove it from the heat and let it rest on a sheet pan with a wire rack for 2 to 3 minutes before serving. The wire rack will lift the strips so they don’t end up with mushy bottoms after resting.

That, my friends, is my battle-tested technique for grilling bacon.

Which Is Better?

If you’re short on time, fry in a pan. If you need to prepare a large quantity, fry. On all other occasions: grill, baby, grill!

I don’t know about you, but I’d fire up the grill any day just to cook up a dozen strips of bacon. But that’s me, and I’m a meathead in all senses of the word.

Nothing—and I mean nothing—comes close to grilling bacon, radio on and beer in hand, in the shade of a sunny summer day. Outdoor cooking is as much about living the life as it is about enjoying the food.

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *