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When I was a kid, every month we would go out to a high-end restaurant or country club buffet for Sunday brunch. At these buffets, I would be confronted with hotel pans with fancy chrome lids resting in their stands above Sterno stoves. In one of these pans would be one of my favorite things: bacon. Thin, very evenly browned in a deep red color, lacking any char marks, and also with none of the broad strips of chewy fat I was used to, these paranormally crispy, light productions were somehow piled high in ten pound portions in a pan, free for the taking.

Now, my parent's and my own history of pan-cooking bacon produced none of these qualities. Differential rates of shrinking end up with bacon that never cooks evenly and turns wrinkly (whereas many strips of 'Buffet Bacon' end up flat as a board), and always with significant texture differences between fat and lean streaks, something that was difficult to discern in this dish. I've finally managed to create a bacon product I enjoy more than my parent's iteration, with thick center-cut bacon cooked on low heat for half an hour, only half a dozen strips at a time... but I still wonder at the crispy deliciousness I enjoyed as a kid, produced in such quantities as I can barely imagine. The few attempts I've made at oven-cooking bacon either resulted in the strips sticking together or a series of small greasefires.

How would I replicate 'buffet bacon'?

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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Restaurants--especially large scale catering and buffets--almost always bake bacon.

It is extremely effective, and very easy.

Lay the bacon out on rimmed sheet pans, in a single layer. For extra crispiness, use a rack, but cleaning the racks is not fun.

Bake at 350-400 F (I give a temperature range since you may be using the oven for other items) for approximately 20-30 minutes (depending on temperature, thickness of bacon, and desired level of crispiness).

If you didn't use a rack, remove the bacon to paper towels to soak up the excess grease.

The bacon will be very flat and very uniform, and can get very crispy.

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BTW, at small quantities (say six slices or less), microwaving can produce extremely good results as well. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 6 '13 at 0:32
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The simplest answer to this is to cook at approximately 350-375 degrees F laid out on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. This is a pretty good example:

Instructions How to make perfect oven bacon or How should I cook bacon in an oven

  1. Put your oven rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 375° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Lay the bacon strips out flat on the baking sheet, leaving space so they don't overlap.

  3. Pop the bacon in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. If it's thick bacon that produces a lot of grease you'll want to drain the grease halfway through.

  4. When the larger grease bubbles subside and smaller bubbles appear on the bacon, you know it's done. If the bacon is already firm in the oven then it's cooked too long. Bacon firms up as it cools, generally.

Important to note parchment works better than foil, and you'll have to adjust the cooking time based on the thickness of the cut of the bacon and cooking preference.

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While you can certainly roast bacon at higher temperatures, when I have time, I really prefer going "low and slow." Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet (lined with foil for easy clean-up -- you don't need parchment this way).

Then bake at 250F or at any temperature above, until the desired texture. Depending on the thickness of the bacon, at 250F this could take 1-2 hours. If needed, you can always speed it up near the end by turning the oven up, but watch carefully if you go too high, since slow-cooked bacon can transition to crispy rather abruptly at high temperatures.

What does this get you that higher temperatures don't? At lower temperatures, the fat will have time to render more completely. Instead of going from chewy to crispy, the bacon will gradually go from chewy to soft and "melt-in-your-mouth" to crispy.

Also, at lower temperatures, you have better control. It's less likely you'll end up with a few overdone pieces somewhere on the baking sheet. The bacon will shrink slowly but won't curl very much at all, so you can very flat pieces of bacon (some people seem to like that for sandwiches and such). And you can target exactly the texture you want -- personally, I've come to like my bacon slightly crispy with a few running bits of "melt-in-your-mouth" fat.

Just don't do this if you want chewy bacon, which you won't get. To get the style you described, I'd bake at 250F until the bacon just starts to brown, and then turn up to 300F or so for a few minutes to crisp and get rid of the extra fat.

A final benefit is the rendered fat. If you like reusing bacon fat, the fat produced by low temperature won't have burned bits or be discolored or have off tastes -- it will cool into a perfect white mass.

I've sometimes seen this style of bacon at buffets. The way you can generally tell at restaurants is by whether the bacon has curled up around edges. If it has, it was roasted at higher heat. If it's relatively flat and easier to break/pull apart, it probably was roasted at lower temperatures for a longer time.

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