By Whitney Baxter
To fry the ham in water, or not to fry the ham in water? That’s the question Jess Pryles, a current student in Iowa State University’s meat science graduate certificate program, sought to answer for her final project while on campus earlier this month.
Pryles, who lives in Austin, Texas, is the creator of Hardcore Carnivore and has become known online for her expertise in cooking meat over live fire. Earlier this year, she saw several viral videos on TikTok of people claiming that frying bacon in water resulted in crisper bacon and a more even cooking of muscle and fat. Some of Pryles’ followers, who had also seen the videos, started tagging him on social media, asking if it was true.
When she posed the question to Rodrigo Tarté, associate professor of animal science, during a phone conversation, she ended up getting an idea for her final project in the certificate program.
“It started as an innocent question that I thought would have a quick answer, but it turned into a challenge to myself to prove or disprove this claim,” Pryles said.
She put together a research project with a number of aspects, including:
- a sensory panel to determine how panelists rated bacon cooked in water versus no water, based on aroma, texture and taste, and
- laboratory tests to determine the fat, moisture and protein content of ham cooked in both ways.
What about the results? For one, Pryles found that ham is a very volatile meat because of the many variables between one cut and the next, unlike other cuts of meat. Despite using the same pans, the same cooking method, and the same bacon from the same package and the same factory, she didn’t get the same cooking results every time.
Data from the sensory panel also showed mixed results, with panelists unable to rate the sensory attributes of one ham higher than the other in each round of tasting. She also learned that, depending on how salty the bacon is, cooking it in water can reduce the saltiness.
“Here’s the takeaway — the problem is, putting water in the pan while you’re cooking bacon isn’t going to work for everyone,” Pryles explained in a video posted to social media. “From a very unscientific point of view, but from personal experience, the best way to cook bacon is in the oven, on a rack so the air can move around and make it last longer.”
After earning a communications degree in her native Australia, she never thought her curiosity about different cuts of meat and how to cook them would lead her down a meat-related educational path.
“I just started asking questions and quickly realized that there are so many people in the industry who are willing to help you,” Pryles said.
After taking a few short courses in meat science at another institution, Pryles had reached a point where she wanted to take her education to the next level. That’s what led him to apply to Iowa State’s meat science certificate program.
“I was frustrated seeing all these influencers on social media claiming they know what they’re talking about, but not all the information they’re sharing is necessarily accurate,” Pryles said. “Having formal expertise gained through Iowa State’s online meat science graduate certificate program will legitimize my expertise in cooking and meat preparation.”
Essentially holding down two full-time jobs, Pryles has enjoyed the flexibility that the online certificate program has provided. She also appreciated the interactions she had with the professors in the program and their willingness to answer questions.
And even though she didn’t have to come to campus to work on her final project, her visit only enhanced her experience and gave her the opportunity to meet her professors in person.
“This week I felt like a true Iowa State student,” Pryles said before returning to Texas.
Pryles will receive her graduate certificate in meat science later this semester. Learn more about her research project and experience at Iowa State by watching her videos on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok – search for @jesspryles.