Debate: How Crispy Should Bacon Be?
The proper flaccidity or rigidity of morning bacon is a very personal issue that many couples will encounter during the course of their relationship. Extra Crispy has enlisted married couple Kevin Pang and Anne Dwyer to help talk us through the issue in a safe, loving way. Show your support on Twitter using the hashtags #teamcrispybacon, or #teamfloppybacon.
Kevin: I suppose this is the sign of a happy nuptial. The issue we’ve argued most passionately about these last four years revolves around bacon.
Anne: I wouldn’t call it an argument. I would make breakfast on Saturdays and, much to my confusion, you’d tell me I overcook the bacon.
Kevin: I love you, babe, but you totally overcook it.
Anne: You like your bacon one way, I like mine another. But you—fancy-pants food writer—like to point out that I’m wrong. Isn’t food subjective? No one’s wrong here.
Kevin: Here’s what it comes down to. You like your bacon extra crispy, verging on crunchy. You want to hold one end of the bacon and have it stay straight like a ruler. I, however, believe the ideal bacon is flaccid and pliable. I seek ribbon curls of pork in my life.
Anne: On the B.C.I. (Bacon Crispness Index), I want somewhere between a 9.5 and 10. You want no higher than a five.
Kevin: I understand everything’s subjective and a matter of personal porcine preference. You think bacon should be fried to a shatter, that’s your prerogative. I think the deeper issue here is fat.
Anne: It’s true. Bendy, rubbery fat is texturally repellent to me, especially white bacon fat. You bite it and extra grease oozes out of it. My tongue says, “Oops, I ate the wrong part.” It feels like a mistake.
Kevin: Not a mistake. It feels soooo right.
Kevin: The mouthfeel of fat is pure satisfaction. Neuroscientists have concluded it tickles the pleasure receptors in our brains. Once you eliminate fat from bacon, you’re essentially consuming cured pork saltines.
Anne: I didn’t grow up chewing on fat. I would cut it off pork chops and steaks. I remove chicken skin with any sign of yellow flab. Don't get me started on ham fat. To me, that’s the inedible part. I think you consider it the treat. I imagine you—actually, I know—that you think fat is the reward for eating all that boring lean meat. You save it until the end.
Kevin: If fat equals flavor and you don’t like fat, then by the transitive properties of deliciousness, does it mean you’re no fan of flavor?
Anne: That’s low. Look, fat’s coolest feature is the ability to morph from soft and slack to golden and crisp. If you don’t cook bacon fat fully, you’ve only reached half the bacon joy. Floppy, unrendered fat is bacon that has unrealized potential.
Kevin: Think of Peking duck. When you bite in, ideally there are two consecutive sensations: A crackle through the brittle skin, followed immediately by the toothsome, not-quite-rendered-through cushion of subdermal fat. When this happens, there’s this pleasurable slickness of rich, savory, animalistic oils that leech onto the palate. That is the joy of Peking duck. Bacon should be the same.
Anne: Shudder. Subdermal fat, blech. I think there’s something cultural to this. I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family, and you grew up Chinese. We were brought up on different foods, eating behaviors, and, important in this case, textures. I’ve never known anyone who loves jiggly, wobbly food as much as you do.
Kevin: We Chinese do love our gelatinous foods. If you’ve ever had shark’s fin, bird’s nest soup, or even tendon, there’s very little taste to them. We just like how it slips and slides in our mouths. We eat for texture as much as we do for flavor. Same goes for bacon—my molars should be able to sink into the strip. It should bear a nudge of resistance. Chewing is good.
Anne: Let’s zoom out and look at bacon not in a vacuum but in the aggregate, as part of your complete breakfast. The glassine, brittle bacon is the perfect dance partner to the springiness of sausage, the silkiness of scrambled eggs, and the crunchiness of buttered toast. Bacon has a defined role in the breakfast textural spectrum.
Kevin: I concede the point. But we don’t have the luxury of preparing a royal breakfast every day. Life’s too short, just skip straight to the best part. The bacon part.
Anne: I have a theory. Before we met, you’d go through a lot of bacon in your bachelor days, right?
Kevin: Uh... so?
Anne: I’m guessing that even with bacon, you sought instant satisfaction. Me want bacon, bacon now. So when you cooked it, you’d turn the stove on to 11 and scorch your bacon in a minute. That almost never gets it to a crispy state. I think you like flaccid bacon because you’re conditioned to not waiting for good bacon. Proper bacon. I believe in low and slow fat rendering. I can wait.
Kevin: So, who’s right?
Anne: I think we’re both right. This isn’t like steak, where cooking it well done would be an act of heresy. Bacon is far more flexible. On Saturday morning, I’ll just take your flabby weird bacon out of the skillet two minutes before my model, faultless bacon. Everybody wins.
Kevin is a contributing writer to the New York Times and Lucky Peach, and Anne works in residential leasing in downtown Chicago. They met at a New Year’s Eve party, talking about how best to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. They’ve now been married for four years and recently welcomed their first newborn. They’re still talking about food.