Social media influencers seek a new level of expertise at Iowa State

Jess Pryles, creator of Hardcore Carnivore and current student in the meat science graduate certificate program, freeze-dried bacon in liquid nitrogen before conducting various tests to measure fat, moisture and protein content. Much of the work for his final project in the certificate program was held earlier this month on the campus of Iowa State University.

By Whitney Baxter

To fry bacon in water or not to fry bacon 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.

Priles, who lives in Austin, Texas, is the creator of Hardcore Carnivore and is known online for her expertise in cooking meat over a live fire. Earlier this year, he saw some viral videos on TikTok where people claimed that frying bacon in water makes for crispier bacon and cooks the muscle and fat more. Many of Pryles’ followers, who had also seen the videos, started tagging him on social media, asking if it was true.

When she asked Rodrigo Tarte, associate professor of animal science, a question during a phone conversation, she got the 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 for me to prove or disprove this claim,” Priles said.

He put together a research project with various parties, including:

  • Based on aroma, texture, and taste, the panelists rated bacon cooked in water and bacon cooked without water
  • Laboratory tests to determine the fat, moisture and protein content of bacon cooked both ways.

As for the results? For one, Pryles found that bacon is a very inconsistent meat because there are so many variables between one cut and the next, unlike other cuts of meat. Even using the same pan, the same cooking method and the same package and the same bacon from the same factory, he couldn’t get the same cooking results every time.

Data from the sensory panel showed varying results, with panelists unable to rate the sensory characteristics of one bacon higher than another in each tasting round. He 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 that putting water in the pan while you’re cooking bacon doesn’t work for everyone,” Priles explained in a video posted on social media. “From a very non-scientific but personal experience perspective, the best way to cook bacon is in the oven, on a rack so the air can circulate around it and make it more consistent.”

After earning a communications degree in her home country of Australia, she never thought that her curiosity about different cuts of meat and how to cook them would lead her down the path of meat education.

“I just started asking questions and quickly realized that there are a lot of people in the industry who are willing to help you,” Pryles said.

After taking several short courses in meat science at another institution, Pryles reached a point where he wanted to take his education to the next level. That’s what led him to apply to Iowa State’s meat science certificate program.

“I was disappointed to see all these influential people on social media claiming to know what they were talking about, but not all the information they were sharing was necessarily accurate,” Priles said. “Gaining some formal expertise through Iowa State’s online meat science graduate certificate program is validating my expertise in meat cooking and preparation.”

Essentially having two full-time jobs, Pryles has enjoyed the flexibility the online certificate program offers. She also appreciated the interactions she had with the professors at the program and their willingness to answer questions.

And although she didn’t have to come to campus to work on her final project, her visit enhanced her experience and gave her a chance to meet her professors in person.

“This week I felt like a true Iowa State student,” Priles said before returning to Texas.

Pryles is set to receive his graduate certificate in meat science later this semester. Learn more about her research projects and experiences at Iowa State by checking out her videos on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok – search for @jesspryles.

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