It has been decades since my husband and I decamped from Metropolis and moved to the country, which means one thing: We've had our fair share of power outages. In 1996, just three months into owning our first home, the power went out in a freak snowstorm that kept us in the dark for 11 days. We were younger then is about all I can say about how we got through it. Fortunately, that one snowstorm is still the record holder; most of our power outages since then have been no more than a few days (which is still plenty). With the exception of the freaky August 2003 power outage that knocked out electricity for 55 million people in the Northeast, all of our blackouts have been in the winter and, for the most part, we were prepared.
Recently, on a beautiful, calm Saturday morning, just as we started to make breakfast and tucked the bacon into the oven, we heard a huge crash outside the house and saw a flash of light. Then, the radio suddenly went off (the only immediate evidence on a sunny day that we had lost power). When I looked out the window, I could see the power lines dancing on the poles in front of the house, and then I spotted the tree limb in the street. One of the old maples near the road must have pulled down a line.
Decades ago, after that 11-day outage in our first house, and even though at the time it felt like an extravagant expense, we justified the purchase of a gas grill by positing that when the power went out, we could at least cook a few things. This theory, however, mostly didn't work out, as the principal reason for most blackouts was lousy weather. This made it easy to pass on schlepping out to the stone garage where the grill was kept and dragging it out into open air to cook in the rain or sleet or snow. It's one thing to traipse about in bad weather when you know there is a hot shower and a warm bed awaiting you at home; doing so in a blackout is not as enticing. Instead, we'd just light a fire in the fireplace, wrap ourselves in blankets, and eat crackers. Rule number one in a power outage: Do not open the fridge.
But that calm morning, with no weather to hinder us, and the grill now conveniently located on a deck outside the kitchen door, we could happily carry on with fixing breakfast.
I had long been making bacon on a sheet pan in the oven. Rather than frying a few pieces at a time on the stove and getting grease everywhere, I loved that I could set up nearly a pound of bacon on a sheet pan, bung it into a hot oven, and move onto other breakfast duties. The only hitch was that you really needed to keep an eye on it. At 400 degrees, it could go from not-nearly-done to black-as-coal in no time.
The power went out 10 minutes after I'd put the bacon in the oven, and a quick peek determined I was still in the safety zone. So I decided to leave it in the oven and cook everything else on the grill. (I know there are people who cook bacon on the grill, but it worried me how easy it would be to drop a couple of rashers though the grates and have flare-ups for days.) I popped a cast-iron pan on the grill, let it heat up for a few minutes, and with a good pat of butter, over-easy eggs were a snap. The sturdy country sourdough bread was easy to toast on the grill, and a little char was even desirable. Best of all, it was possible to have them done at the same time with no need to dart back and forth between the stovetop and the toaster oven. Even the coffee pot on the automatic drip machine had retained adequate heat to make it to the breakfast table at a reasonable temperature.
By far, though, the best delight of the morning, was the bacon. Sitting on that sheet pan with the heat slowly subsiding made for shatteringly crisp, perfectly stiff rashers of bacon. It is now the only way I cook my bacon — Canadian, hickory-smoked, thick-cut, regular cut, and (dare I say) turkey bacon are all fair game.
Even though I am Chief Cook around here, with decades of experience, somehow breakfast is the meal that often takes my breath away — and not in a good sense. During the week, it's usually just an English muffin or granola. But on weekends, we like to make some variation of eggs and toast with whatever breakfast meat (ideally bacon) might be on hand. It still surprises me how often I find this stressful. Maybe it's my complete obsession with making sure that the eggs are perfectly cooked. Eggs have to be served the instant they are done — they can't be parked at all or they'll keep cooking, or worse, cool down. Toast is best when it's hot out of the toaster and the butter melts on it. At our house it's impossible to toast more than four slices at a time, in some cases, two; so unless you can delegate toast duty to someone else, and they are efficiently toasting and buttering, you're going to end up with greasy hard bread that tastes like it's been sitting out for days. Some breakfast meats can sit on a platter for a few minutes, but it's really not ideal, and especially not ideal for bacon. In 10 minutes they'll be sitting in a pool of darkened fat.
Cooking bacon in the oven
My accidentally newfound technique for cooking bacon has helped reduce the stress and has given me a few legs up. I now put the bacon in a 400-degree oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. I cut off the power when the bell goes off; I can forget about it and all will be well. 20 minutes and a package of bacon later, breakfast is served.
- After sitting for 10 more minutes once the oven is off, you'll have slightly chewy but crispy bacon; this is my preference.
- Five more minutes buys you more crisp and less chew.
- Another five delivers that shatteringly crisp bacon that I love so much. (As long as you don't leave it there for an hour, when the bacon fat might start to congeal, you're fine.)
Cooking bacon in the oven like this means you're rendering the fat low and slow, ensuring maximal crispiness.
One additional benefit is that the bacon fat seems less likely to scorch, and once the rashers have been moved to a paper towel–lined plate and the pan has cooled a few minutes more, it's fairly easy to dispense with the fat, or better yet, pour it into a heatproof container to keep in the fridge for sautéing other foods and lending a touch of smoky flavor to anything and everything. Oh, and you'll never have to avoid bacon grease splattering near and far across your kitchen the way you do when you pan-fry bacon on the stovetop. Cooking bacon in the oven is a clean freak's dream!
Makes one pound of bacon, depending on the thickness.
I prefer thick-cut, and think the texture is better for this technique, but have also tested the recipe with standard thin-cut bacon. Plus, thick-cut bacon is more delicious (don't try to tell me otherwise).
- Preheat the oven to 400°F with the rack in the middle of the oven. (Note: It is important that the rack is in the middle; if it's too low, the bacon could scorch. If it's too high, it'll cook unevenly.)
- Place bacon on a heavy aluminum half-sheet pan. I don't line my pans with aluminum foil or parchment paper. While this makes for slightly easier clean-up, I find that the bacon doesn't get nearly as crispy and may even stick to the foil. Some home cooks may line a rimmed baking sheet with a baking rack so that the bacon grease drips off the bottom and both sides of the bacon get effectively crispy, but I love seeing each strip cook in its own shallow pool of grease. (The bacon can be quite close, even touching, just not overlapping. This can be a bit like playing with a puzzle depending on how irregular your bacon is, but I flip the pieces around until they fill the sheet pan. Occasionally this means one or two strips don't fit and I set them aside for some other use.)
- When the oven reaches 400°F (feel free to use an oven thermometer to measure the accuracy), put the sheet pan in the middle of the rack. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, turn off the heat, leaving the bacon in the oven with the door closed. (It's OK at this point to take a quick peek, but too much peeking will let out the heat too quickly and the results won't be the same. If your oven bakes unevenly, rotate the sheet pan before cutting the heat off.)
- I like to leave it in for another 15 minutes, at least — sometimes longer — and I won't start my eggs or toast until around that time so everything is warm when it comes to the table. I've left it in the oven a full 30 minutes before, and it was still crisp and warm. This comes in handy if I'm hosting a lot of guests for breakfast or brunch and don't want the oven to come to room temperature.
- Because this renders the crisp bacon flat, leftovers (what's that?) can be stacked and stored, taking up very little space in the fridge. Store cooked bacon in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator, or up to one month in the freezer (yes, you can freeze it!).