Wondering between grilling or pan-frying a package of bacon? Here’s how to decide, along with our best tips for cooking it perfectly either way.
So you came here wondering: is it better to grill or pan-fry bacon?
Both grilling and frying yield bacon with a meaty aroma, crispy crust, and savory flavor. Grilling is trickier as your grill can flare up and burn the bacon. Pan-frying is easier but doesn’t impart the bacon with the smoky, woody smell of grilling.
Which method to go for boils down to your personal preference. But I’m going to make the case that it also depends on the day.
Let’s be honest to ourselves here. I don’t think you’re likely to fire up the grill, be it gas or charcoal, to cook up a dozen strips of bacon. You’re probably going to brown them in a skillet on your stove instead.
But if it’s Sunday, you just finished searing thick-cut steak or grilling burgers, your grill’s still hot, and you happen to have a package of bacon lying around in your fridge… I mean, is there anything better than some crispy, savory bacon for your coleslaw, burger, or even as a side on its own?
Whichever cooking method you end up going for, the important thing (and I’ll tell you why further down in this article) is not to try and cook the bacon over excessively high heat.
Bacon can be grilled, but it requires a certain technique. You can’t throw it on a hot grill and expect miracles to happen. Otherwise, the fat from the thin, delicate strips will melt and drip, flaring up your grill and scorching the bacon beyond salvation.
As any dad experienced in grill duty will tell you, flare-ups can happen on both charcoal and gas grills, and they’re nothing to be excited about. So the tips that I’m about to give you apply equally well to both.
Generally, there are three ways to cook bacon on the grill: in a preheated, well-seasoned cast iron griddle or skillet, on an improvised baking sheet made of aluminum foil, or directly on the grill’s grates.
There are ups and downs to each method, which we’ll talk about below.
Grilling bacon on a griddle:
The best way to cook bacon on the grill is on a preheated a griddle or cast iron skillet. The cooking vessel will provide a hot, evenly heated surface for the strips to sizzle on while catching all of the grease rendered from them. This method prevents flare-ups and makes clean-up easier.
Heat your grill, with the griddle or skillet inside and the lid on, to 400°F. On a charcoal grill, this translates to being able to comfortably hold your hand over the hot grill for no longer than 2 seconds. When you’re there, lay the bacon, cook for 6-7 minutes per side, lid on, then flip over and cook for another 2-3 minutes (or until browned and crispy).
Grilling bacon in aluminum foil:
If you don’t happen to have a griddle or skillet handy, consider creating an improvised sheet pan out of aluminum foil. Tear off a long sheet of foil and fold about a thumb’s worth of foil on all sides to form ridges, paying extra attention to the corners. Place the foil sheet on a hot grill, lay your bacon strips on it, and let them cook for a few minutes on each side.
It’s important to layer the bacon on the foil sheet only after you’ve placed it on the grill. Otherwise, the strips will weigh down on the sheet, and you’ll have trouble carrying it as it won’t be able to hold its shape.
Grilling bacon directly on the grates:
You can also cook bacon strips by placing them directly on a hot grill’s grates, over low heat on a gas grill, or over the indirect heat of a charcoal grill. “Do not put the bacon right over the fire,” the D’Artagnan team advises on its blog, “but just close enough so that it will cook.”
Grill the bacon with the lid closed, which will help keep the strips tender and juicy. On a charcoal grill, doing so will also infuse them with a smoky scent and taste that, frankly speaking, no other cooking method can rival.
When it’s raining or snowing outside—or it’s just too freakin’ cold—you can always cook bacon on the stovetop, in the confines of your kitchen.
Use a heavy carbon steel or cast iron skillet, though a thick-bottomed stainless steel pan will also do. Lightly grease your pan with cooking oil and a paper towel, preheat it over medium heat for 5 minutes, then layer the bacon strips and let them cook for a few minutes per side.
You don’t need a lot of cooking oil to grease a skillet. What I do is drizzle the equivalent of 1 tablespoon, then rub it thoroughly on the bottom and sides of my pan, soaking up any excess oil that’s pooling. As the bacon cooks, fat will render anyway, so I only do this to prevent the strips from sticking.
Once you’ve placed the strips on the hot pan, stand aside and let them cook. Ideally, you should flip them over only once. You want to allow the browning of the proteins and the caramelization of the sugars to happen, forming a crispy crust and adding depth of flavor to your bacon.
Should you use a grill pan or a flat-bottomed skillet, I hear some of you asking?
At the end of the day, as Serious Eats’ Culinary Consultant J. Kenji López-Alt demonstrated a few years ago, it makes less of a difference than cookware marketers would like to make us think.
If you use a grill pan, the ridges will elevate the bacon from the melted fat and keep it from coming out overly greasy. If you reach for a flat-bottom skillet instead, you can always get rid of the grease later by patting the bacon strips dry with a paper towel before serving.
What Makes Grilled and Pan-Fried Bacon So Good?
Browning—to drop some cooking science on you—is the result of something called the Maillard reaction.
A chemical chain of events takes place on your food’s surface when it gets heated from 284°F to 320°F and over, the Maillard reaction occurs when the sugars and proteins clash and fuse.
Hundreds of new aroma and flavor compounds get created as a byproduct of it, which is why cooked bacon, unlike raw bacon, smells so meaty and tastes so savory. However, heat your food above 356°F, and the Maillard reaction gets replaced by pyrolysis, a.k.a. burning.
Browning gives your bacon that meaty aroma and savory flavor; burning destroys its meaty smell and imparts an acrid, unpleasant taste to your strips.
The trick to perfectly grilled or fried bacon, in other words, is to cook it “just enough” over medium heat, then take it off the heat shortly before it starts to char.
That’s also why you shouldn’t fiddle around with the strips too much (for example, some people turn them over every ten seconds or so). Browning and caramelization take time to take place, so let the strips cook through on one side before flipping them over to the other.