I love having fried bacon along with my morning eggs, but the mess and lingering odor it generates means that I don’t make it nearly as often as I would like. There are those who swear that the solution to bacon’s ills lies in microwave cooking, but I’ve never been terribly impressed by the uneven results. Bacon, in my opinion, should be well browned and shatteringly crisp.
Another approach altogether is to cook the bacon in the oven. I’ve seen it done at restaurants, where bacon must be cooked in large amounts, and I wondered if I could translate the method to home cooking. Theoretically, the odor—and any splattering fat—would remain in the oven.
A rimmed baking sheet seemed like the best pan for the job. I quickly saw that any old rimmed baking sheet would do as long as it was reasonably stout—to prevent warping—and had edges tall enough to contain the rendered fat, which can be prodigious. While some recipes that I found suggested placing the raw bacon on a wire rack set in the baking sheet so that the rendered fat could flow freely, I discovered that this approach caused the bacon to overcook in spots and dry out. Some fat, it seems, is a must. I decided that it was best to simply spread out the bacon on the baking sheet—12 slices, or about 3/4 pound, fit without overlapping. This was enough to feed four or more (though considering my bacon-thieving children, I might have to make two batches).
As for actually cooking the bacon, I “oven-fried” baking sheets of bacon on the middle rack at temperatures ranging from 300 to 500 degrees (preliminary testing suggested that higher and lower rack levels lead to uneven cooking). At the lower temperatures, it took a long time for the fat to render and the bacon to crisp, which resulted in tough pieces of fibrous bacon. At the higher temperatures, the bacon crisped quickly and well but cooked unevenly: The parts in direct contact with the hot baking sheet came close to burning. I ultimately decided that 400 degrees was ideal: The bacon was medium-well after 9 to 10 minutes and crisp after 11 to 12 minutes. The texture was more like a seared piece of meat than like a brittle cracker, the color was that nice brick red, and all the flavors were just as bright and clear as when the bacon was pan-fried. And the oven-fried strips of bacon were more consistently cooked throughout, showing no raw spots and requiring no turning or flipping during cooking (which is a must with pan frying). Because the heat hits each strip from all sides, there is no reason for the bacon to curl in one direction or another, and when the strips do curl, the ruffled edges cook as quickly as the flat areas do.
The pieces cooked consistently; the only difference was between those in the back and those in the front of the oven. I corrected this by simply rotating the baking sheet once from front to back during cooking. That was about the limit of my contact with the hot grease. There was no doubt in my mind: For crisp, evenly cooked bacon with minimum cleanup, the oven is the way to go.