Social media influencer seeks new level of expertise at Iowa State

Jess Pryles holding up a mesh, wire basket with freeze dried bacon pieces in it, over a pot of smoking liquid nitrogen. She is wearing a white lab coat and a red ball cap, standing in a laboratory.
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 on it to measure fat, moisture and protein content. Much of the work for her final project in the certificate program was conducted on Iowa State University's campus earlier this month.

By Whitney Baxter

To fry bacon in water, or not to fry bacon in water? That is the question Jess Pryles, current student in Iowa State University’s meat science graduate certificate program, sought to answer for her final project while she was 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 a couple viral videos on TikTok of people claiming that frying bacon in water resulted in crispier bacon and a more even cook of the muscle and fat. Several of Pryles’ followers, who had also seen the videos, started tagging her on social media, asking if this was true.

When she posed the question to Rodrigo Tarté, associate professor in animal science, during a phone conversation, she ended up getting an idea for her final project in the certificate program.

“It started out as an innocent question that I thought would have a quick answer, but it turned into a challenge for myself to prove or disprove this claim,” Pryles said.

She put together a research project with a variety of aspects, including:

  • a sensory panel to determine how panelists rated bacon cooked in water versus without water, based on aroma, texture and flavor, and
  • lab tests to determine the fat, moisture and protein content of the bacon cooked both ways.

As for the results? For one, Pryles discovered bacon is a very inconsistent meat due to the many variables between one slice and another, unlike other meat cuts. Despite using the same pans, the same cooking method and the same bacon from the same package and the same factory, she did not get the same cooking results each time.

The data from the sensory panel showed varying results, as well, with panelists unable to rate the sensory attributes of one bacon higher than the other in every tasting round. She also learned, depending on how salty the bacon is, cooking it in water can decrease the saltiness.

“Here’s the takeaway - the problem is that putting water in the pan while you cook bacon is not going to work for everyone,” Pryles 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 move all around it and make it more consistent.”

Having earned a communications degree in her home country of Australia, she never thought her curiosity about various meat cuts and how to cook them would lead her down a path of meat-related education.

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

After taking several short courses in meat science at another institution, Pryles had reached a point where she wanted to take her learning to the next level. That is what led to her applying to Iowa State’s meat science certificate program.

“I was getting frustrated seeing all these influencers on social media claiming they knew what they were talking about, but not all of the information they’re sharing is necessarily accurate,” Pryles said. “Having some formal expertise gained through Iowa State’s online meat science graduate certificate program is going to legitimize my expertise in meat cooking and preparation.”

Essentially having two full-time jobs, Pryles has enjoyed the flexibility the online certificate program has offered. She has also appreciated the interactions she’s 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 heightened her experience and gave her the opportunity to meet her professors in person.

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

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