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Preventing Bacon Shrinkage: An Experiment

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Picture of 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:

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.

 

 
 
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Step 1: Question

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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

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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

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The tools for this experiment were fairly simple:

Tools:

  • 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)

Consumables:

  • Reference Bacon (Safeway Thick Sliced Hickory Smoked Bacon, 3lb Value Pack)

Step 4: Experimental Protocols

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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.


Oven Group:

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.

Skillet Group:


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

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Observations:

Skillet Group:

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".

Oven Group:

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.

Conclusions:

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.

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Zadig1 month ago

How does this change when the bacon is woven? I baked a seven strip by seven strip woven bacon mat in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes and found that the bacon shrinkage was minimal. I also found that when quartered, the bacon sheets were perfectly sized for standard bread sized sandwiches.

billbillt5 months ago

Testing and having to eat the bacon results is a rough job, but someone has to do it!....

hex4d6174745 months ago

"Is perfect bacon possible?" There is no such thing as imperfect bacon.

TheStuUurgE5 months ago
I learned the best way to cook bacon is in the oven on a sheet rack with something to catch the grease. Perfect crispy bacon every time
E_Shires5 months ago

I would like to point out the flaw in their baking technique though. When baking anything, if you put two trays in the oven, one over the other, you are adversely effecting how it cooks. The temperature will not be spread evenly that way. If you have to do that, you need to rotate the pans with equal times. Preferably more than once.

jdjonesdr6 months ago

stack 5 paper towels, lay bacon strips on top towel. Cover with two more towels. Microwave for 5 minutes. Let cool. Ridiculously crispy bacon that tastes GREAT! Virtually no cleanup afterwards.

"stack 5 paper towels, lay bacon strips on top towel. Cover with two more towels. Microwave for 5 minutes" THROW OUT THE BURNT BACON & EAT THE TOWELS

I suspect that what is going on here is that the salt is being washed away from the curing. Less salt, less shrinkage.

bharmer jdjonesdr6 months ago

Yep, JdJonesdr, that's the way I do it, and I agree. However, I've found that the number of bacon pieces will determine how many minutes it's cooked, so less bacon, less time. Also, if you let it cool too long, the fat that was cooked onto the towels may cool off too much and harden a bit making the bacon stick to the paper towel. I love this way of cooking bacon.

hungrybill6 months ago

You can improve the behavior of your bacon in the skillet by adding a few tablespoons of water as you begin cooking. This is much less messy than rinsing the bacon. The water boils off and the strips of bacon don't shrink as much and don't burn as easily. As in all worthwhile endeavors, don't rush it.

By adding water, you are controlling the temperature to 212º F. The skillet temp cannot rise above 212º until the water turns to steam. You are essentially cooking the bacon at a much lower temperature than 365º, which isn't a bad idea.

windshadow6 months ago

I found that if I cook my bacon veerrryyyyy sloooooowww on medium or less in a pan with generous amounts of oil-previous bacon fat. It minimizes curling and reduces shrinkage. I get very flat excellent bacon .

I just set a timer for 12 min. Turn on the stovetop flip once and they come out consistently good.

I do the opposite , I use a hot pan and I often turn them such that they curl in different directions an cook evenly without burning.

chrwei windshadow6 months ago

yes. this is the correct way. "medium" is just too hot, and the more grease the better, and none of that vegi oil crap :P. if you cook too hot the bacon grease will start to burn, turning dark. you want to keep it light.

I save my grease by stuffing a paper towel (usually the same one used to take up the extra grease from the cooked bacon) into a glass jar to make a filter basket, then pour slightly cooled grease into it, so that the particulates are removed, then store in the fridge. I'm not sure it's necessary to put it in the fridge, but it might keep longer than way.

However, though the bacon shrinks less using the oven method, you raise the cost of the bacon by running the oven at 365 degrees to cook it for 40 minutes. But who cares? Viva bacon!

mrdovie6 months ago

From "The Great Depression", coat the bacon in all purpose flour, by patting the bacon, both sides in the flour on a plate, then fry of bake. Not for the purist, but Oh My! for the rest of us! My dad taught me this trick.

cpedersen16 months ago

Ok Craftclarity, time for full disclosure. This is a contest where you use scientific method, right? So you use bacon in your experiment. And who was one of the fathers of scientific method? Francis Bacon ! This is absolutely the most blatant pandering for votes that I have ever seen! Of course I voted for you !

spyderjohn6 months ago

Soak in bourbon for 15min prior to cooking in the oven at 300deg for 35min. the result is amazing.

fzumrk spyderjohn6 months ago

Now you're talking. Booze up my bacon, please.

sharpstick6 months ago

Maybe it is assumed as a given, but you might want to recommend wearing clothing while cooking bacon on the stovetop.

McLovinGyver6 months ago

Great! Even if the hypothesis hasn't prooved, its a very important result and base for further research in baconology. Btw, there are serious researchers doing that since decades. A small tip to reduce systematical errors and better measurement: Do not use one block of Bacon for each grouped Test. If you are mixing them after slicing (Test 1 (T1) to Test i (Ti)) and ignore the sides (just eat them anyway) (So you get ( 0 | T1 | T2 | .. | Ti | T1 | ... | Ti | 0 )) This will reduce systematical bacon-block based errors and one can use a precise weighing scale and correlate that with lenght. Also the process of watering the bacon should be varied and controlled. Just a few more weeks of work and it is worth to get published ... voted ;)

Not to mention that the temperature of "cold" water is subjective. Rinse times. The type and cut of bacon. Curing methods used. Thickness. I could go on. But my suggestion is you need to get back in the kitchen and perform more experiments. This is hardly settled.

But, it was enough for a vote. LOL

zephyr68 zephyr686 months ago

Oh, and make enough for everyone. Flavor is a big subjective wrench. Must use a large sampling....

jdawgaz6 months ago

ahhh. chicken fried bacon with white gravy. yum.

clazman6 months ago

I was really interested when I read of the "scientific method" being used to perform a qualitative analysis.

The bar chart was "neat" but it displayed what.

Was I disheartened to find no scientific analysis.

All I see is a two dimensional analysis. No measurement of the thickness

No discussion of weight before and after no measurement of the amount of water driven off. No discussion of the amount of fat that exude from the bacon. No discussion of weight of the bacon before and after. Oh, I'm wrong, the initial weight of the bacon was noted.

QED. yuck!

lbrewer426 months ago

Try getting bacon from a local, private butcher sometime. I have found that the amount of meat per strip is much higher than store bought and its a LOT better tasting IMHO. As I have gotten older I have seen store bought bacon go from being like the private stuff - meaty - to being little more than strips of fat.

My guess is that over the years the way they raise the animals has changed to one of trying to be more rapid in fattening them rather than waiting for the animal to grow (hence more muscle), but I admit this is all just a guess.

also, the corporate meat machines soak their bacon (and other meats) in water to add weight and therefore less meat overall--akin to the butcher putting his thumb on the scale.

This was silly overall, and 'bacon-abusive' with reference to the 'skillet' group. Blackened bacon...mppht...

agreed: severely overcooked. the intrepid experimenters should be flogged with raw bacon for their affront to baconage worldwide.

Heck Yeah!!!! The burnt bacon was the first thing I noticed. SEVERE bacon abuse, bordering on bacon blasphemy!

willco16 months ago

It's Bacon. I'm not sure you can ruin bacon. Test material being otherworldly good regardless of prep.

Perfect beacon recipe:

1/2 Cup Canola oil

1 Slab Thick Cut Bacon (peppered preferable)

Put Oil and slab of bacon in skillet large enough to hold it. turn on to medium heat cook till done separating bacon as you cook. Once bacon is to desired level of cooking remove. Consume immediately at kitchen counter the moment it is cool enough to eat.

Serve crumbs with eggs on the plate to who ever was stupid enough to believe it would make it to a plate to be served.

Buy the way great post keep up the good work.

Science!
Plus BACON!
Perhaps the perfect Instructable.
Except no parmesan cheese, the other perfect food.

Thank you for your great work.

jrfrank6 months ago

We bake our bacon on parchment paper, not aluminum foil, at 400 degrees F. Works great!

castleroc6 months ago

A cast iron bacon press is the key. Used in restaurants, it should be preheated before use so that one side of bacon does not cook slower. Pinned by the weight, the bacon cooks without shrinking nearly as much. a recent find in walgreens

Maple Bacon Jerky... My newest vice. loved your 'ible

merrysunshine6 months ago

I appreciate all the work that went into this project. Superb effort. I always do mine in the oven too sometimes adding some maple syrup

Thank you for drawing our attention back to this most wonderful and nutritious food! I'm sure you had an awesome time working up this one! Bacon favorites, anyone? Peanut butter/bacon sandwiches are The Best!!!

jsadler16 months ago

There is a creature called a bacon iron. One simply uses a flat pan or griddle and the bacon is cooked while being pressed by a flat iron weight. It works.

wonderful instructable, i do hope you win the contest and get rich and famous!

criggie6 months ago

FYI in sStep 7, the picture shows two "Skillet control groups" in the mouseover labels.

foehn6 months ago

The suggested towel-microwave-bacon cooking method negates the possible collection of very esthetically pleasing bacon fat for its use in cooking.

If'n yer gonna cook bacon, save the fat for cooking things in bacon fat. Delicious.

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