Lots of foods take a long time to cook conventionally, but in a pressure cooker, they cook relatively quickly. Dry beans are an obvious example, and so are the tougher cuts of meat like ribs, brisket or chuck roasts. Bacon doesn’t really fit into that category, because it’s a quick-cooking ingredient in most recipes. That said, there are a couple of perfectly good reasons to pressure cook bacon – or with bacon – anyway.
Boiled Bacon in a Pressure Cooker
If you love Chinese food, you’ve probably eaten braised pork belly at some point. This is exactly the same cut that bacon is made from, but it’s cooked while fresh rather than after it’s been cured and smoked. Although it’s not a common dish any more, slab bacon can be cooked in much the same way. Old-school cookbooks refer to it as “boiled bacon.” When done right, it’s rich and tender, like pot roast, rather than crisp and salty.
The traditional way to cook it is by simmering for a couple of hours, but in a stovetop pressure cooker, it can take as little as 13 to 15 minutes at high pressure or slightly longer in an electric pressure cooker. If it’s meltingly tender when you stick a fork in it, it’s done. Otherwise, replace the lid, bring it back up to pressure, and give it a few more minutes.
You may also see recipes calling for slab bacon to be cooked this way as part of a main dish, like the loaded version of sauerkraut the French call “choucroute garnie.”
Blanching Bacon in a Pressure Cooker
Your pressure cooker can also be useful for blanching bacon, a pro’s trick for making the bacon extra-crispy. All it means is partially cooking your bacon by simmering it in water. It sounds odd, but it works very well. With sliced bacon, especially, it also reduces the salt and smoke, leaving a subtler flavor that’s a better fit for some recipes.
Sliced bacon just needs to be simmered for a few minutes in water, rather than actually being pressure cooked. Slab bacon cut into the finger-shaped sticks the French call lardons needs about twice that, perhaps 5 to 6 minutes. For larger portions of slab bacon, use high pressure and allow 1/3 to 1/2 the time you’d use to cook it fully, or roughly 6 to 7 minutes followed by a quick release.
Once the bacon is blanched, you can crisp and brown it as usual in a skillet or using the pressure cooker’s saute function. Blanching removes much of the bacon’s original moisture and fat, so it crisps and browns beautifully.
Bacon as an Ingredient
Unless you regularly cook old-school French classics like beef bourguignon, which call for lardons, you won’t use those techniques very often. Instead, most of the time, you’ll cook bacon in the Instant Pot because it’s used as a flavoring ingredient in one of your favorite recipes. To do that, cut the bacon to fit – halved or diced, as the recipe requires – and brown it using the saute function.
Instant Pot bacon cooked this way or in a stovetop pressure cooker is just like bacon cooked in a pan. The only difference is that the high sides of the pressure cooker limit grease spatters and speed cleanup. Once it’s done, drain it as usual on paper towels and reserve it for use in the recipe.
Usually, you’ll cook the bacon with the rest of your ingredients, so the whole dish is infused with bacon flavor. That’s how it might work for pea soup, for example, or a bacon-enriched mac and cheese. Bacon cooked this way won’t retain its crisp texture, though, so you might want to keep some back and use it as a crisp garnish to finish the dish after it’s cooked.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.