Bacon Shrinkage (revisited!)

We previously examined bacon shrinkage caused by different stove-top techniques. However, it was uncertain how much of that length loss was simply due to differential doneness. Here, we wanted to try again with more control for “doneness”, as well as examine the impacts on different bacon thicknesses.

Initial observation:

As mentioned previously; Cook’s Illustrated had a small set of instructions for “How to Make Perfect Bacon”, and our initial examination lead to some questions.

Question:

How does bacon shrinkage compare between wet and dry stove-top techniques when similar mass losses are attempted? Additionally, is there a significant difference between using thick vs thin bacon? The previous test used a pretty thick-cut bacon.

Equipment & Materials:

  • 2 types of bacon (we use bacon from a local company (thick) and John Morrell Applewood Smoked (thin))
  • water
  • tape measure
  • pan
  • stopwatch or cell phone timer
  • ideally, a helper to take notes… bacon grease, while delicious, doesn’t mesh well with paper and pen

Procedure:

  1. measure the length of each bacon strip
  2. mass and each strip
  3. place 3-5 strips in a pan (I cooked 3 at a time of the thick bacon, and 5 or so of the thin bacon… note that my thin bacon consistently tore mid-strip so I was really cooking 5 half-slices at a time)
  4. cook via the dry below (see below)
  5. repeat steps 1 & 2 for the cooked bacon
  6. remove strips to an oven on warm
  7. repeat all, but cook via the wet method (see below)
  8. alternate methods until all bacon is cooked

Dry Method:

  1. cook bacon over medium heat
  2. avoid getting burned by the leaping bacon fat
  3. cook until desired doneness is reached

Wet Method:

  1. add 100 mL of water to the pan with the bacon
  2. cook with high heat until the water boils
  3. reduce heat to medium
  4. cook until all the water simmers away
  5. turn heat to medium-low
  6. continue cooking until desired doneness is reached

NOTE: the order of dry and wet cycles was intentionally switched compared to the last trial, and the amount of water was doubled (50 to 100 mL). For greater precision, length measurements were taken in centimeters this time, rather than in inches.

Data:

See the Data Appendix section at the end for the full table measurements that went in to producing these plots and conclusions.

Plot 1:  The thick and thin cut bacons group in distinct regions. The overlap of the wet and dry methods is more complete for the thick-cut bacon, which indicates that one of the primary goals of cooking bacon to a similar doneness was achieved. However, there is only a partial overlap between the thin-cut bacon fields, which is likely due to the much smaller mass margins involved. Note that Length Loss is lower (within each bacon group) for bacon with with least mass-loss.

Plot showing the Length loss and Mass loss (as a % of initial mass) of two types of bacon cooked by different methods.

Plot showing the Length loss and Mass loss (as a % of initial mass) of two types of bacon cooked by different methods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plot 2: Same data as in plot 1 above, but with Length Loss shown as a % of original length. The different types of bacon had very different starting lengths. While there is a distinct vertical spread, overall there is a linear trend indicating that (unsurprisingly) the larger the mass loss, the larger the length loss.

Plot showing the Length loss as a % vs Mass loss % of two types of bacon cooked by different methods.

Plot showing the Length loss as a % vs Mass loss % of two types of bacon cooked by different methods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plot 3: Mass loss versus cooking time. As determined last time, the wet method takes quite a bit longer. The plot makes it more obvious though, that the thin-cut bacon is losing more mass than the thick-cut bacon when cooked with the same technique. This factors in to one of the “Surprise Results” below.

The % of mass loss by cook time. The wet method took longer than the dry method.

The % of mass loss by cook time. The wet method took longer than the dry method.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprise Results:

The amount of total fat rendered from the bacon, and salvaged from the pan, varied widely. While 191.7 g of fat was extracted from the bacon in trial 1 (obtained from the previous post on this topic), only 96.0 g of fat was obtained from the same size package of the same brand this go ’round. The smaller package (12oz) of thin sliced bacon produced a whopping 170.5 g of fat.

Conclusion:

The bacon slices (rashers) were much less uniform in size and shape this time, and there was a definite difference in workability. The thick sliced bacon was much easier to remove from the packaging, and work with in the pan. The thin slices could not be removed intact from the packaging, and were much more likely to stick to the pan when cooking via the dry method.

Overall, the loss of length seems to be primarily the result of mass loss rather than method of cooking. However, taste testing did  seem to show some distinct differences between the two methods, which was not evident in trial 1.

Only taste testers A and B were available for this trial, and due to preferences for medium bacon, all of bacons were considered overdone. This was partly because the dry technique was conducted first, and other batches were cooked to achieve similar mass losses.

In general, the dry technique produced tougher and drier bacon. These characteristics made the bacon harder to eat, especially with the thick-cut variety. The wet-cooked bacons were considered more flexible & tender, however the fat was harder to bite through in some cases (again more of a noticeable issue on the thick-sliced bacon). One interesting observation was that for the thin bacon, there was a distinct flavor difference between the two techniques. The wet-cooked thin bacon had very subtle, almost fruity flavors (from the applewood?) but the dry-cooked thin bacon had a much more pronounced meaty/bacon flavor. The flavor of the thick-cut bacon did not seem to be impacted by the cooking technique.

Overall, taste testers preferred the wet-cooked, thick-cut bacon. Wet cooking made the thin-cut bacon much easier to work with in the pan (no sticking or shredding) but had distinct impacts of final flavor!

Recommendations: having 3 taste testers would have been beneficial as Taste Tester B remarked that: “Eating this much bacon by itself is way too salty”.

Data Appendix:

Bacon Data Table (Trial 2). “Type” refers to the bacon brand. V = Vollworth’s, which is a thick-cut local brand. J = John Morrell, which is a thin-cut national brand.

Mass start (g)

Mass end (g)

Mass loss (g)

Start Length (cm)

End Length (cm)

Length Loss (cm)

Method

Type

Cook time (min)

36.8

15.4

21.4

27.9

18.9

9

Dry

V

5

40.7

14.9

25.8

28.9

16

12.9

Dry

V

5

41

19.3

21.7

28.5

18

10.5

Dry

V

5

43.3

21.1

22.2

29.5

18

11.5

Wet

V

14

38.9

16.6

22.3

28

16.5

11.5

Wet

V

14

49.6

18.7

30.9

28.5

15.5

13

Wet

V

14

51.2

22

29.2

28.5

15.5

13

Dry

V

7

50

17.6

32.4

28

14.5

13.5

Dry

V

7

52.6

17.5

35.1

26

13.5

12.5

Dry

V

7

53.4

26.4

27

28.5

18

10.5

Wet

V

15

48.0

18

30

29

16.5

12.5

Wet

V

15

15.5

5.2

10.3

17.5

9.5

8

Dry

J

7

19.4

4.9

14.5

19

13

6

Dry

J

7

14.5

4.4

10.1

18

10

8

Dry

J

7

17.4

5.9

11.5

18.5

12

6.5

Dry

J

7

16.0

5.7

10.3

16.5

10.5

6

Dry

J

7

15.9

6.0

9.9

16

12.5

3.5

Wet

J

13.75

15.7

6.6

9.1

16.5

12.5

4

Wet

J

13.75

18.3

7.7

10.6

17.5

12

5.5

Wet

J

13.75

14.2

5.8

8.4

18

11.5

6.5

Wet

J

13.75

15.1

5.9

9.2

14.5

10.5

4

Wet

J

13.75

13.8

5.6

8.2

16.5

10.5

6

Wet

J

13.75

11.4

2.7

8.7

13.5

6

7.5

Dry

J

4.5

12.2

3.6

8.6

10.5

5.5

5

Dry

J

4.5

13.2

3.0

10.2

12.5

6

6.5

Dry

J

4.5

12.5

3.3

9.2

12.5

8.5

4

Dry

J

4.5

13.6

4.5

9.1

12

7.5

4.5

Dry

J

4.5

11.6

3.5

8.1

12

8.5

3.5

Wet

J

11

13.7

4

9.7

11.5

7.5

4

Wet

J

11

14.2

4.3

9.9

16

7

9

Wet

J

11

15.1

5

10.1

16.5

10

6.5

Wet

J

11

13.5

5.5

8

17

9.5

7.5

Wet

J

11

 

 

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