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Why Does Bacon Shrink When You Cook It?

Sizzling bacon in a pankrasyuk /Depositphotos

So you’re wondering why bacon shrinks when you cook it? Let us sate your hunger for knowledge!

The creation of bacon is, without a doubt, one of the greatest achievements of mankind. Crisp, fatty, and delicious―bacon is the golden standard of food. People all over the world love bacon, and many home cooks love to indulge in a delicious meal of bacon and eggs.

If you’ve ever looked at your bacon when it finished cooking and thought, “Wow, that’s not as big as when I put it in the pan,” then you know the frustration of every bacon lover across the world. So, just why does bacon shrink when you cook it?

Bacon shrinks as a natural function of the fat-rendering process and the removal of moisture from the meat. Very fatty bacon or bacon cured with water will shrink more than a lean cut.

There are a lot of reasons behind why bacon shrinks when you cook it. But, thankfully, there are some handy tips and tricks to get the most out of your bacon in every meal.

The rest of this article will explore why bacon shrinks when it’s cooked as well as what kind of bacon to look for to get more out of your meat.

Bacon Shrinks Due to Its High Water Content

It’s as simple as that: all the excess moisture in the bacon is removed when cooking. Any liquid in the pan will begin to boil under heat, allowing it to turn gaseous and escape the pan. As the water evaporates, your bacon shrinks.

Of course, this happens to all foods that you cook to some degree. It’s normal considering that most foods are part water. However, when it comes to store-bought bacon, there is a typically a high water content in the curing solution, especially that $2.99 stuff you can find in the meat section of any supermarket.

Grocery stores often sacrifice the quality of their meat for easier profit. Less meat means less expense, after all. To inflate the apparent size of the meat and reduce production costs, store-bought bacon is often filled with excess water.

Not only can companies skimp on the amount of actual meat in the product, but they can also tempt consumers with lower prices! In fact, Bacon Scouts estimates that cheap bacon can lose up to 40% of its length when cooking.

In the end, when you’re buying a cheap cut of bacon, you’re going to end up with exactly what you paid for… mostly water.

Bacon Shrinks Due to Fat Rendering

With fattier cuts especially, bacon can lose some of its length and mass when it is rendered. Rendering is the process of fat cells liquefying under heat, which may be what’s causing your cut of bacon to shrink so much.

Lower quality cuts are often fattier and thus tend to shrink more. A higher quality cut of bacon will have more pink (lean meat) than white (fat) in it and won’t tend to shrink as much due to the lesser amount of fat present in the meat.

The meat, after all, is what retains most of the flavor when cooking and what gives bacon its iconic rich, smokey flavor, although some people prefer the fattier taste.

How to Reduce Shrinkage When Cooking Bacon

The best thing that you can do to effectively reduce shrinking is to buy a better cut of meat. Gourmet bacon not only tastes better than store-bought bacon, but it also won’t be pumped full of water to exaggerate the size.

Gourmet bacon is also typically made with more lean meat, making it a much better option to reduce the amount of fat lost when rendering the bacon. Avoid brands that mass-produce bacon and find a trusted butcher that can deliver high-quality products.

Related: What Butchers Do With Unsold Meat

Buying local not only supports your community, but you’re also more likely to get a good high-quality cut for a decent price if you’re a regular customer.

Another way to reduce the amount of shrink when cooking bacon is to purchase dry-cured bacon. This kind of bacon doesn’t use water in the curing process, so you’ll lose a lot less moisture when cooking dry-cured bacon.

To reduce the amount of fat rendered (and, therefore, the mass lost) in the cooking process, you can bake your bacon in the oven. Doing so often offers better results than pan-frying bacon. It also helps prevent bacon fat from jumping out of the pan and burning your arm.

Microwaving your bacon, on the other hand, is the least recommended method and is the most surefire way to render the fat quickly and lose mass on your bacon.

One myth that does nothing for reducing bacon shrinkage is rinsing it with cold water. Doing so just makes your bacon wet. That’s it. There’s no magic scientific benefit to rinsing off your bacon before cooking it, and this urban legend needs to be put to rest for good.

The Long and the Short of It

Bacon is one of heaven’s great gifts to man, and you always want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your bacon-y goodness. The first reason your bacon isn’t maintaining its length is that the cut is cheap and pumped full of water during the curing process.

Mass-produced bacon just isn’t high-quality, and companies love to put a lot of water into the bacon to make it seem bigger and save on costs. All bacon also has some fat on the meat, which renders when cooked and shrinks as a result.

Cheap bacon is fattier and will shrink a lot more than lean cuts. Dry-cured bacon is a great alternative to make sure your bacon isn’t more water than meat since dry-cured bacon is cured using salt and has less moisture to lose throughout the cooking process.

As such, buy your meat from a local, trusted butcher who can provide you higher quality meat.

When you cook bacon, consider using the oven to slow down the fat rendering process and stop bacon from shrinking too much under heat. Anyway you slice it, bacon is better when there’s more of it.


Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.

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