Introduction: Preventing Bacon Shrinkage: an Experiment
Occasionally one finds an extraordinary claim being made. This happens in the wilds of the internet quite often. Not so often does it happen that these extraordinary claims are put to the test.
There is a meme making the rounds on the internet that contains one of these claims—that one can reduce the shrinkage of oven-cooked bacon by up to 50% by rinsing the bacon in cold water before cooking.
This claim has been examined, although not tested, by Lifehacker. They kindly assembled a shortlist of the literature on the subject, which we examined in order to determine applicable experimental techniques:
- Cooking Perfect Bacon, by Franalan.com
- Cooking Bacon, by ThriftyFun
- Mastering Man Food: How to Cook Bacon Properly by The Art Of Manliness
- Ditch the Skillet; Fire Up Your Oven to Cook Perfect Bacon by Lifehacker
In the spirit of inquiry, we decided to put this claim to the test in order to demonstrate the principles of the scientific method (Also, who needs an excuse to eat bacon? Is it not true that sharing is caring?).
After a quick review of the literature, we looked at the meme and decided it was a great problem statement, which we could use as the basis for a proper scientific experiment.
Step 1: Question
Is Perfect Bacon Possible?
Seems reasonable enough a question on the surface, but to get results (and real science!) out of the answer, we must establish a few experimental parameters, state a hypothesis, test it, and draw conclusions from our data.
Step 2: Hypothesis
Hypotheses are statements that are testable. Testable means that they can be falsified, or 'proven false beyond a shadow of a doubt'.
As it turned out, our hypothesis for this experiment was very clearly stated in the meme that was referenced in the Lifehacker article, thus saving us time and extraordinary mental effort.
We decided at this time that we wanted to also test whether this might prove true for pan-frying bacon (because, after all, subjective results are important to answering some questions that are within scientific purview!) and realized that we could do both an objective and a subjective study at the same time. The end result of this decision was the development of two hypotheses:
Main Objective Hypothesis: Running bacon under cold water before cooking will reduce shrinking by up to 50%.
Secondary Subjective Hypothesis: Maximum flavoring will be obtained by cooking bacon in the oven for 10 minutes at 365° Fahrenheit.
Step 3: Experimental Tools and Consumables
The tools for this experiment were fairly simple:
- Cast Iron Skillets, (2)
- Cookie pan, (2)
- Test Kitchen Reference Stove, (1)
- Colander, (1)
- Test Kitchen Reference Oven, (1)
- Tin Foil (For ease in cleaning)
- Note Book (essential for recording data)
- Stainless Steel Ruler (For ease in cleaning and avoiding cross-contamination)
- Measuring/Tasting Plates, (4)
- Reference Bacon (Safeway Thick Sliced Hickory Smoked Bacon, 3lb Value Pack)
Step 4: Experimental Protocols
Since we were seeking both objective and subjective results, it made sense to try more than one cooking technique for comparison. In order to replicate the conditions an average bacon consumer might encounter in the course of attempting to cook "perfect" bacon, we chose to follow directions to the letter.
In order to determine whether or not shrinkage had been reduced, it was decided to compare the initial measurement with the post-cooking measurement and average these results across the samples to get an accurate comparison.
Step 5: Testing and Measurements
In order to test our hypothesis, we acquired our reference material, also known as Safeway Farms Thick Sliced Hickory Smoked Bacon, in the amount of three pounds.
This was divided into four subgroups of seven slices each, which were then measured and consigned to their respective fates as the control and experimental groups.
It was decided that, in order to control for time and heat application, both pans would be in the oven at the same time and for the same duration.
Control: Cooked as described, 10 minutes in the oven on a foil-lined pan, at 365° Fahrenheit.
Experiment: Same as above, but after having been rinsed with cold water.
NOTES: It was discovered during the course of the Oven Test that the cooking time specified in our original documentation was insufficient. It was decided to extend the time our samples spent in the oven to 30 minutes to ensure that consumption by our testers would result in the best possible subjective experience.
Control: Placed in a single layer in an unheated skillet, cooked over medium heat for 10 minutes. Samples were turned occasionally by our intrepid experimenters, happily without injury. Since these samples were intended more for secondary comparative subjective analysis, our testing regime may have lacked the rigor of the Oven Group.
Experiment: Same as above, but after having been rinsed with cold water.
The samples were cooked, placed on paper towels to dry, and patted dry. Measurements were made, along with visual and textural observations.
Step 6: Data and Results
After crunching the numbers and examining the graphs, it became clear that they did not support our hypothesis.
Our main objective, reducing bacon shrinkage, was not achieved by either of our test cooking techniques.
As you will likely recall, our internet-provided hypothesis has us looking for a difference of 50% between the control and experimental groups. Since the results (viewable in the included spreadsheet) show us a difference of 0.23" for the skillet group and an even smaller 0.02" for the oven group, both of which are nowhere near a 50% change in the amount of shrinkage, it seems appropriate to call this meme busted.
Our measurements have been provided, should you wish to draw your own conclusions. Is it not reasonable to expect repeatability? For Science's Sake, yes!
Step 7: Observations and Conclusions
There was little difference in the visual characteristics of the control and experimental subgroups. No discernible flavor or texture differences were noticed by our testers, pulled at random from the staff here at Instructables. Adjectives such as "Delicious!" and "Crunchy!" were noted. Some anecdotes were shared about matching personal preferences, but these will be left out of the discussion, as they tended to be comprised of words such as "Nom" and "Nom Nom Nom".
The oven group, however, had clear visual differences (see photo, lower right!). Textural differences were reported, as many of our testers noted a tendency on the part of the experimental group to exhibit a more crisp exterior, and thus more crunch, than the control group. Many also noted that the bacon tasted 'drier' in the control group, which might lead one to expect more crispiness, but this was not entirely the case.
It is clear from our results that our objective hypothesis, at least in this case, is provably false. We did not see the expected 50% reduction in shrinkage between the experimental and control groups.
The conclusions we can draw from our subjective hypothesis, however, are provided here with a few caveats; one, that our sample size was vanishingly small when compared to that of the wider bacon-consuming public at large; two, that there are more variables than can be reasonably controlled for in this particular testing regime; and three, that bacon tastes fantastic no matter which technique you're using to prepare it.