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Why Does Bacon Shrink?

Most bacon shrinks or shrivels when cooking due to a loss of moisture and rendering of fat during the cooking process. The amount of shrinkage varies from bacon to bacon, but a bacon that shrinks significantly during cooking is either very fatty or it was cured with high water content. High heat during cooking can also play a factor in the shrinking of bacon.

Bacon Shrinkage Due to Water Content

Lean cuts of bacon that shrink a lot during cooking shrivel up because of high water content in the curing solution used during bacon production. Mass produced brands of bacon that are readily sold at your local supermarket are notorious for loading up their bacon with extra water. Most grocery store bacon will shrink significantly compared to bacon made by a small butcher shop. Grocery store bacon is made by large processors who sacrifice quality of their product in exchange for easier profits. They can make the bacon more cheaply and charge customers a lower price because a significant portion of the product is water, a cheap and abundant resource (depending upon your part of the country). In return, customers take home bacon that looks thick and hearty, yet when cooking it shrivels into a thin strip of disappointment. There’s a good bad reason why that bacon is only $2.99; you get what you pay for.

Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe Bacon Cooking Measured
This bacon starts at 10.5″ before cooking.
Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe Bacon Finished Cooking Measured
It shrunk 4.5″ or 43% of its precooked length!

Bacon Shrinkage Due to Fat Rendering

Another leading cause of shriveling bacon is the amount of fat content and how much it renders during cooking. Rendering is the process of the animal fat turning from a solid into a liquid while cooking. Fat does not retain water so the large meat processors cannot inject fattier pork bellies with extra water as readily as lean bellies. Therefore, in this case, moisture loss is less of a possible cause of why bacon shrinks when cooking. At Bacon Scouts, we give a higher grade in our bacon rankings to meat markets who sell bacon made from leaner, well-trimmed bellies. Every American bacon will have some amount of fat in it, but the fat to meat ratio is important. We like to see a lot more pink than white when buying a package of bacon; It’s a sign that the butcher is taking the time to create a quality product. The meat, not fat, is what will hold the smoke flavor and saltiness that are signature parts of the bacon eating experience.

You can control the amount of fat rendering somewhat by adjusting the temperature you use to cook your bacon. I strongly recommend baking bacon in the oven in order to get the best results and the least amount of mess. Our proven oven method will give you perfect bacon every time. You can even experiment with lower heats and longer times to get different results. For example cooking bacon at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour can reduce shrinkage a bit.

Dry Cured Bacon Shrinkage

So far we have been talking about bacon that is wet-cured, meaning that it is injected with a brine to cure the meat. Dry curing is a different and is the traditional method to curing meat. It uses no water and more salt to cure the meat, therefore dry cured bacon will not shrink nearly as much as the more common wet-cured bacon because there is less moisture to lose while cooking.

If you are tired of shrinking bacon, you are not alone. Millions of Americans experience significant bacon shrinkage when cooking mass produced bacon brands. Adding additional water to the curing solution is an inexpensive way for these meat processors to sell more weight at a lower cost. Water is less expensive than meat, so the additional water increases the weight of the product thereby reducing the amount of expensive meat needed to create the final product. This also allows grocery stores to sell bacon at super cheap prices at the expense of consumers who are essentially buying water.

Thankfully, we have vetted a number of butcher shops where you can find high quality bacon with lower shrinkage rates than the major grocery store brands. We have also partnered with a few of those meat markets to make their bacon available to purchase online.

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