Our in-depth guide will tell you all you need to know about the differences between pork belly and bacon.
Everyone loves bacon. It’s one of the most popular foods in the U.S. and you can find it just about anywhere. Whether served as a breakfast side, a burger topping, or in a BLT sandwich, bacon is delicious.
Pork belly is a little harder to find in many places, but it’s becoming more and more popular both in restaurants and on backyard grills.
- Basically, most bacon is just a more processed version of pork belly that’s been cured and smoked. Pork belly is more natural and hasn’t gone through the smoking and curing process.
- Pork belly is less expensive per pound than bacon.
- Pork belly is considered healthier than bacon.
What Is Pork Belly?
As the name suggests, pork belly is a cut of meat from the underside of a pig. Grocery stores and butcher shops generally sell it either as a large slab or in long slices somewhat thicker than pre-packaged bacon.
What Is Bacon?
The sliced bacon you buy at the supermarket is simply pork belly that has gone through a smoking and curing process that preserves the meat with a mixture of salt and nitrates. Different types of wood can be used to give bacon a variety of flavors. Applewood and hickory are commonly used to smoke bacon.
What Part Of The Pig Is Bacon From?
In the U.S. most bacon comes from the belly. This is sometimes called “streaky” bacon because of the alternating streaks of fat and meat.
But sometimes other cuts of pork are used including:
- Back bacon from the loin (popular in the U.K.)
- Jowl bacon from the cheeks
- Cottage bacon from the shoulder
- Slab bacon from the less expensive side cuts
- Streaky bacon from the belly (most common cut in the U.S.)
Pork Belly vs Bacon
Though they’re quite similar, there are some key differences between pork belly and bacon.
Curing: Bacon is an ultra-processed food that is smoked and cured with salt and nitrates to extend its life and add additional flavors. Pork belly is a more natural product that hasn’t gone through the same processing techniques.
Health: Neither cut is a particularly healthy option. Both bacon and pork belly are high in fat and bacon is also treated with nitrates and large amounts of salt. Eaten in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet neither presents a significant health risk. But overindulging could increase risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
Flavor: Bacon has an intense salty flavor and may also take on additional flavors imparted by the wood used in the smoking process. Since pork belly in untreated it has a more mild flavor and needs some salt and other flavors added.
Price: The curing process takes several days and additional expenses, so bacon is generally more expensive per pound at the grocery store.
Thickness: Bacon is typically sliced very thin and even “thick-cut” bacon isn’t particularly thick. Pork belly is either sold in a slab or in slices cut thicker than bacon would be.
Preparation: Bacon can be cooked in an oven or microwave but it’s most often fried quickly in a skillet until nice and crispy. On the other hand, pork belly needs to be cooked low and slow. It can be smoked, grilled, or braised and will be softer and more tender than bacon. Of course, overcooked pork belly can be tough and rubbery.
Can You Substitute Pork Belly For Bacon?
If a recipe calls for bacon you can usually swap it out for pork belly. Keep in mind you’ll need to adjust cooking time and seasoning. Bacon is salty and cooks fast. Pork belly is unsalted and takes longer to cook.
For example, carbonara is typically made with cured meats like pancetta or bacon. If you use pork belly instead, you won’t get that rich depth of flavor you get with bacon.
When To Use Pork Belly Or Bacon
So how do you know when to use bacon and when to use pork belly? Here are some tips…
Obviously bacon is great by itself, but it’s also an amazing ingredient that enhances all sorts of recipes.
Use bacon to add some crispy flavor to a hamburger, grilled cheese, or egg sandwich. Crumble it up and toss into a salad or pasta dish. Use it to wrap scallops or pineapple chunks. Or use it to add a little savory flavor to sweet treats like cinnamon rolls.
Pork belly is more often the main protein in a dish and can be oven roasted, smoked, braised. It’s a popular item on Asian menus and also works well for making burnt ends.
Pork Belly And Bacon Recipes
Looking for ideas on how to prepare pork belly? Here’s some great recipes to try:
And here are some recipes to try with bacon: