8 Brilliant Cooking Methods for Bacon, Potatoes, Eggs, and More from 2019

published Dec 24, 2019
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Credit: Image: Joe Lingeman, Design: The Kitchn

It seems like there are dozens of ways to cook important, everyday foods from eggs to bacon, and it’s hard to know which method is going to give best results with the least amount of work. The side-by-side test — of recipes, and of skills and methods — is still the best way to evaluate, and in 2019 we really went to the test kitchen with our Kitchn Showdowns. Here are the results of our Skill Showdowns from 2019, from bacon to eggs to potatoes and beyond.

What’s a Kitchn Showdown? Flashback to mid-2018, when the Kitchn team was trying to decide what to write about for Thanksgiving, when someone had a brilliant idea: What if we tried making the big dishes (turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.) from several different food celebrities, to see which ones were better? It was such a good idea, we started doing it every month, with a variety of dishes, and thus the Celebrity Recipe Showdown series was born. And this year, we took it even one step further. Instead of testing recipes, what if we just compared some of the basic methods of cooking things?

Starting in September of this year, we’ve been doing Skill Showdowns. We tested a variety of different methods for eight simple foods: hard-boiled eggs, bacon, mashed potatoes, poached eggs, baked potatoes, caramelized onions, softened butter, and browned pie crust. Below you’ll find each of the methods we’ve tested.

1. The Best Way to Make Hard-Boiled Eggs

We launched the series in September by diving into seven different methods for achieving a hard-boiled egg. Maybe “boiled” is a bit of a misnomer, since at least one of the methods involved baking them in the oven! We also tried simmering, steaming, and a recent popular favorite, the Instant Pot. Then we tested them for taste and texture, but also for peel-ability. Ultimately we found a brand-new go-to method!

Read more: We Tried 7 Ways to Hard-Boil Eggs and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: Kitchn

2. The Best Method for Cooking Crispy Bacon

This test wasn’t just one of our most popular articles of the bunch — it was one of our most popular articles of the year. But that makes sense: Who doesn’t love bacon? And who doesn’t want to know the best way to make it? For this test we went all out, trying eight methods, including sous vide and an air fryer. And we tried them on both thin- and thick-cut bacon. What we discovered is that, while it’s hard to get bacon to turn out badly, there really is a best way.

Read more: We Tried 8 Methods of Cooking Bacon and Found an Absolute Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Design: Kitchn

3. The Best Way to Make Mashed Potatoes

While we’d compared celebrity recipes for making mashed potatoes in the past, looking at which combo of ingredients yields the tastiest dish, we hadn’t really looked at the methods to figure out which combination of cooking and mashing would result in the best texture — fluffy and smooth but not gluey. So we broke out the slow cooker and Instant Pot, tried steaming and sous vide, and even baked some potatoes for a no-boil method. The result? A lot of mashed potato leftovers that we were only too happy to have on hand, and a newfound method for making them.

Read more: We Tried 6 Methods for Mashed Potatoes and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Design: Kitchn

4. The Best Way to Poach Eggs

Poached eggs have a reputation for being both difficult and fancy. While we have no qualms about the latter, it seemed like the former was something worth addressing. So we tested out five different methods of poaching eggs, including swirling the water first to create a “whirlpool,” using a lot of water, straining the egg first, and seasoning the water with vinegar before straining the egg. The end result? We found two methods we liked — and none of the methods really bombed. But more importantly, we found that poaching eggs is both easy and quick — and you can make them ahead of time. Ingenious!

Read more: We Tried 5 Egg-Poaching Methods and Found 2 We Loved

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

5. The Absolutely Best Method for Baked Potatoes

Who doesn’t love a baked potato? It’s possibly one of the world’s most perfect foods. And for the most part, it’s pretty simple: Turn on oven, put in potato, and wait about an hour. But is the oven the best way to bake potatoes? You can technically bake them in the microwave, the slow cooker, the Instant Pot, and even the grill. So we put all the methods to the test. And ultimately we discovered that putting a little more effort in yields reliably better results.

Read more: We Tried 6 Methods for Baking a Potato and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Design: Kitchn

6. The Best Method for Caramelized Onions

About a half dozen years ago, writer Tom Scocca at Slate called out recipe writers for lying about how long onions actually take to caramelize. Although many recipes start with the instructions “caramelize onions for five minutes,” actually getting softened, browned, truly caramelized onions can take an hour or more. It’s time-consuming, but the delicious results are worth it. (Our solution: Make them in bulk, and then freeze what you need for later.) But what method yields the best, most consistent results? We scoured the internet and dug up six of the most popular techniques, and pitted them against each other to find out.

Read more: We Tried 6 Methods of Caramelizing Onions and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Image: Joe Lingeman, Design: The Kitchn

7. The Best Method for Softening Butter

As December rolled around, our thoughts began to turn (as they do) to baking — specifically cookies and pies. And many baking recipes call for readers to use softened butter — but they don’t always tell you how to soften the butter, or what softened butter should look like. It turns out there’s a pretty specific definition (softened butter is between 65°F and 67°F, and it “easily bends without breaking and gives slightly when pressed”), and a number of different methods advised to achieve it. We put seven methods to the test, and found that one of the most consistent and quick methods is also really, really satisfying.

Read more: We Softened Butter 7 Different Ways and Found an Unexpected Favorite

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

8. The Best Wash for Browning Pie Crust

For our last test of the year, we elected to try out methods of browning pie crust — specifically, we wanted to know which kind of pastry wash worked best for getting that rich, golden sheen on the top of a pie or pastry that lets you know it’s ready to eat. Although bakers have experimented with dozens of kinds of washes — from sugar water to clarified butter — we settled on five of the most common, including two kinds of egg washes, a milk and a dairy-free milk, and coconut oil. Then we baked a crust with no wash at all, for comparison. You can see the results above, and click the link below to read how it went.

Read more: We Tried 6 Ways to Brown Pie Crust and Found a Clear Winner

What Should We Try Next?

In 2020 we’ll keep our Showdowns coming. What would you like to see battled off? Are you looking for the perfect tender chicken breast? The best way to thicken a soup? The most foolproof method for … what? You tell us! Tell us in the comments or slide into our DMs @thekitchn at Instagram.