Bacon is that one ingredient that just works—in everything. Alongside eggs, crumbled over a salad, even mixed into chocolate, it elevates every dish with its smoky, salty flavor. And apparently we can’t get enough of it: The average American eats about 18 pounds of bacon a year. That’s a lot of bubbling skillets—and a lot of grease burns.
As much as we all love it and view it as a guilty pleasure, there’s a lot about this breakfast favorite that you might find surprising—it’s actually healthier than you might think, and there’s a very easy way to prepare it. Don’t worry, vegans, we have something for you, too!
Is bacon healthy?
Bacon has an image problem. Some think of it as a health food—celeb Kristin Cavallari and Paleo expert Mark Sisson (and Primal Kitchen founder) count it as a diet staple—while others know it as a calorie-bomb that’ll only expand your waistline. So what’s the truth: Is bacon bad, or just misunderstood?
Here’s what you need to know: Yes, it’s a high-calorie, high-fat food—but it’s not necessarily unhealthy for you. About 90 percent of the fat in bacon is monounsaturated (the same kind found in heart-healthy olive oil) or saturated fat (like the kind in coconut oil). Although saturated fat was vilified for decades, it’s become clear that it isn’t always harmful. Although there is a fair amount of cholesterol in bacon, further studies have also proven that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have an effect on overall blood cholesterol levels.
However, calorie and sodium counts are the two things to make note of with bacon. Like most meat, bacon is high in protein, B vitamins, and trace minerals; but it has way more calories than a typical cut of meat because it’s so high in fat. Some studies show that diets high in salt and sodium raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease, so if you’re concerned about your salt intake, you might want to cool it on the bacon-wrapped everything and limit your intake to a couple days a week.
Because good-quality bacon can actually be a great source of protein and healthy fats, a lot of diets recommend it. Paleo eaters are known to crumble bacon atop nearly anything, and there’s room for it on the Mediterranean diet, too. The only people that might want to steer clear of bacon are those avoiding high-sodium ingredients, and people who don’t eat meat. But, vegans and vegetarians, that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy that salty, smoky, bacon-y taste. We’ve got a recipe for you, too (keep reading!).
How to pick the best bacon
At its purest, bacon is high in protein and healthy fats. But because bacon is a processed meat, it can be exposed to some not-so-great additives, depending on the manufacturer. Typically, raw pork goes through a curing process where it’s soaked in salt and spices, and sometimes nitrates and sugar, to produce bacon. Curing the meat preserves it for longer, and nitrates fight bacterial growth and maintain the pink color.
Eating a diet high in processed meat has been linked to an increased likelihood of developing cancer. Some attribute this to the high amounts of nitrates in the meat, but this doesn’t exactly add up for a few reasons. First, someone who eats a lot of processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, deli meats, and sausage might not have the healthiest diet in general, and that lifestyle could lead to overarching health problems; there’s correlation, but not causation. Secondly, most vegetables naturally produce nitrates—in fact, the veggies we eat are where the majority of our dietary nitrates come from.
That being said, it’s best to pick bacon that hasn’t gone through a ton of heavy processing. Think of it this way: You buy a free-range, pastured, organic turkey for Thanksgiving because it’s been treated humanely, raised on an organic diet, and is more nutritious. Plus, that healthy turkey tastes pretty dang good, right? Same thing when you’re considering the source of your bacon. Organic, pastured bacon that comes from pigs who have lived on farms and eaten fresh grass their entire lives is far less likely to go through a lot of processing and exposure to chemical additives.
When choosing bacon from the store, try to go with a brand that’s:
- Made with all-natural ingredients
Why bake bacon?
It’s not like bacon is hard to make: lay it in the pan, heat it up, and flip it until it’s cooked through. But making it in the oven is so much easier. Here’s why it’s our preferred method.
There’s no hot grease splatter
First, there’s no sputtering grease to worry about—your hands, arms, and shirt will all be safe. That means cleanup is way easier, too.
You don’t have to hover over the skillet, tentatively flipping and pressing the meat while dodging flecks of hot oil. Put it in the oven, check back 15 minutes later, and that’s it.
You can batch-cook for a crowd
How big is your pan? If it’s like mine, you can fit six pieces at a time, max. That’s enough for two people (or maybe just one, depending on how hungry you are). But, what if you’re cooking for a crowd? In the oven you can whip up as many pieces as you need—if you fill up your first baking sheet, just whip out another one. They can go in together, and everyone can get their hot, crispy bacon at the same time.
You can go crispier (or not)
Sometimes attempting to make extra-crunchy bacon over the burner results in a blackened, inedible mess. One minute too long in the pan and you’ve ruined the whole batch. Not the case with oven-made bacon; you can actually lay the bacon over a wire rack, and set the rack over a baking sheet to catch the grease. It helps to crisp the pieces a little more quickly, and because they’re not basting in their own fat, they’ll become way crunchier without getting burnt.
It’s easier to customize
No doubt, classic bacon is delish. But drizzle a little maple syrup or brown sugar as it cooks to complement the smoky flavor of the meat nicely—and make it taste gourmet to guests. Adding the sweetener is easy to do in the oven, but much trickier over the stovetop where sugar is more likely to burn because of the higher temperatures.
How to make bacon in the oven
Here’s what you came for—the ultimate recipe for cooking bacon in the oven. You can thank us later.
Yield: 1 pound of bacon, about 6 servings
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
1 pound bacon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup, and then lay the bacon in one flat layer on top. Don’t let pieces overlap, or else they won’t cook properly.
Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes—cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat and desired crispness. When done, take the tray out of the oven and lay bacon pieces flat on a paper towel to cool.
How to make vegan bacon
So you’re meatless. But all this talk about salty, hot, crunchy bacon is tempting. We’ve got the perfect recipe—prepare yourself for coconut bacon.
Yield: 12 servings
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
In a bowl, combine all ingredients until coconut flakes are completely coated.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking pan with parchment paper, and lay flakes evenly over the pan.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, tossing occasionally. Let cool, then store in the fridge for up to seven days (or in the freezer indefinitely).
Our 3 favorite bacon recipes
Bacon is a little bit of a scene-stealer when it’s added into recipes … But we’re not mad about it. Here’s how you can integrate it into breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
Boiled eggs with bacon-wrapped asparagus
Cooking fresh asparagus in salty bacon bastes the veggies, leaving them perfectly moist while still slightly crispy.
Sauteed rainbow chard with bacon
A show-stopping side or a flavorful light lunch, earthy rainbow chard gets a bright little kick from the apple cider vinegar and bacon combo.
Bacon-wrapped chicken thighs
Say “bye!” to overcooked, dry chicken for dinner. These bacon-wrapped thighs are tender and flavorful (thanks to healthy fat!), and are almost impossible to mess up. Check out the video for a step-by-step tutorial.
Not to be too totally obvious, but bacon is delicious and should be enjoyed by everyone—whether they like it crispy, floppy, meaty, or vegan!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho