Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: August 16, 2022

Pork belly and bacon are delicious cuts of pork and make a great addition to any meal.

We're all familiar with the universally beloved bacon, but is it the same as pork belly? Can you use them in the same way?

Let's look at what butchers and chefs define as the difference between pork belly and bacon.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • The main difference between pork belly and bacon is that bacon is smoked and cured, while pork belly is not.
  • This difference explains why pork belly is best roasted, while bacon is best fried.
  • Most bacon comes from pork belly but can be from the hog’s cheeks, shoulder, and loin.

If you're a pork lover, you've likely enjoyed both pork belly and bacon with their mouth-watering richness.

The two types of meat look similar, but their flavors and textures differ, so knowing whether to use pork belly or bacon for a particular cooking method or recipe can be confusing.

This guide explains the difference between the two meat options and how to use them.

Bacon vs Pork Belly: Quick Guide

Pork belly on pan, bacon strips close up image on wooden platform

There are five key differences between bacon and pork belly, influencing how you cook and serve these meats.

The most significant difference is that bacon, whether cottage bacon or slab bacon, is cured meat and smoked, while pork belly is not.

Bacon Pork Belly
Cut Belly, sides, back, shoulder, loin Belly
Preparation Cured, smoked, and/or dried Uncured
Cooking methods Frying, grilling Roasting, grilling, BBQ smoking
Uses Breakfast, sandwiches, burgers, salads, pasta, pizza Main roast/BBQ meat dish, stews, soups, ramen noodles, pulled pork
Cuisines US, UK, West European North European, East Asian

What Is Pork Belly?

Isolated pork belly on plate with pepper seeds, tomato, and spices

Let's begin with non cured pork belly, perhaps a less familiar cut of meat to many Americans, although much loved in Chinese and Filipino cuisine.

What Cut Is Pork Belly?

As the name clarifies, pork belly is a boneless, fatty cut from the pig's belly, which is the underside near the loin.

The entire pork belly is removed in a single piece, skin on, and weighs around 12 pounds.

The pork belly is then sliced into sections, sold as pork belly or ground, and used for sausages [1].

What Are the Best Methods for Cooking This Cut of Meat?

Freshly cooked pork belly dish

Pork belly is an inexpensive cut of meat because it is fatty and contains a lot of connective tissue.

Long, slow cooking methods are best to break down the fat and tenderize the meat.

However, as Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef, explains, these apparent pork belly disadvantages are advantages.

“Pork belly is very high in fat, which makes it a delicious and versatile cut… As a robust cut, it works well paired with aromatic flavors and Asian spices.” [2]

Traditional methods of preparing pork belly are roasting and braising, although it is typically sliced and deep-fried until crisp in Filipino cuisine.

Modern methods of BBQ smoking also suit pork belly, which is ideal for making pulled pork.

Well-cooked pork belly is succulent and melts in your mouth.

However, take care not to overcook wpork belly, or else you will cook out the fat and leave the meat tough and rubbery.

When to Use This Cut?

Choose pork belly rather than jowl bacon if you want to make a long-braised or oven-roasted dish, such as sticky Chinese pork belly or meat for ramen.

Pork belly is also delicious if you make pulled pork for sandwiches or tacos.

What Is Bacon?

Fried bacon on black plate on top of wooden board

Bacon is likely the more familiar of the two types of meat.

America’s favorite sweet and savory accompaniment is enjoyed with anything from breakfast pancakes and syrup to a crumbled topping for a dessert.

Bacon is so famous in the US that Guy Fieri, food writer and personality, gives the following as one of the laws of Flavortown, “When cooking bacon, count out three pieces for each person... then triple it.” [3]

What Cut Is Bacon?

Bacon is not the name of a cut of meat. Bacon can be made from various cuts of pork, either with the skin attached (with rind) or without (rindless).

Bacon is usually sliced very thinly, although you can buy slabs of bacon to cut thick bacon pieces (e.g., making lardons or fried bacon chunks).

Let's explore the most common cuts of bacon, guided by Gordon Ramsay, known for his colorful language, cheffing skills, and cooking magazine Taste of Home [4].

Streaky Pork Bacon

Most bacon you find in the US is made from pork belly, so the two cuts are often the same. Bacon made from pork belly has characteristic strips of fat, hence the name "streaky bacon."

Streaky bacon may be cut thin or thick or sold as a whole smoked pork belly slab bacon. Thickly sliced pork belly bacon is suitable for making smoked bacon jerky.

Back Bacon

Slices of back bacon on white plate

Despite the name, back bacon is not from the pig's back; it's made from the same part of the pig as pork chops, including the loin and pork belly.

Back bacon is famous in the UK, especially in Ireland and Europe, and is much meatier and leaner than streaky pork belly bacon.

Szalonna is a Hungarian variety of back bacon, flavored with paprika and garlic, usually cooked over an open fire.

Canadian bacon, where the slices are trimmed round and taste more like ham, is a kind of back bacon.

A unique variety of Canadian bacon is peameal bacon, which is wet-cured and dipped in crushed dried yellow peas or cornmeal.

Jowl Bacon

This cut is from the jowls or cheeks of the pig. Guanciale is an Italian style of bacon made from pork jowls and is not smoked but cured and dried.

Cottage Bacon

Cottage or buckboard bacon is a pork shoulder cut. This bacon is the same cut as pork butt or Boston butt, so it is hearty and meaty.

How Is Bacon Prepared?

Isolated pork belly no background

What makes a cut of pork into bacon is the way it is prepared.

Unlike pork belly sold by butchers, bacon first undergoes a preservation process, including salting, curing, and smoking.

Bacon that has been salted and cured but not smoked is called pancetta and is a typical Italian product.

This preservation process is the most notable difference between pork belly and bacon.

It also accounts for the price difference: bacon is more expensive than pork belly because of the time-consuming preparation.

The curing or salting process takes butchers up to a week.

The meat is heavily salted in this process, which draws moisture from it. The bacon is then left to try for about 24 hours.

After curing, the smoking process begins. The meat is smoked over hickory or applewood for the typical bacon flavor.

Different varieties of bacon are flavored slightly differently.

For instance, speck is typically flavored with juniper berries, or Chinese lap yuk has soy sauce, cinnamon, sugar, and star anise added.

Most bacon includes additives, such as added flavor enhancers, like nitrates and sodium, and colorants.

Some bacon is produced nitrate-free for health reasons, but the flavor is different from regular cured bacon.

What Are the Best Cooking Methods for Bacon?

Top view of freshly fried bacon

Because bacon is usually very fatty, the best cooking methods are frying and grilling, which crisp up the fat.

It's best to cook bacon over a medium rather than high heat, as the fat can burn quickly.

Start with a cold pan or grill to prevent curling, and separate the bacon in the pan so that it does not tear.

When to Use Bacon?

The question is more likely: when not to use bacon?

Bacon adds a delightful salty tang to most dishes, from salads to pasta, makes a lovely filling for sandwiches (BLT, anyone) and burgers, can enclose sausages or fruit, and is a tasty topping when crumbled on soups or pizza.

Because of its sweetness, bacon is also ideal for crossovers into dessert territory, such as maple-glazed bacon bark.

Is Bacon Always Made of Pork?

Close up image of a fried crunchy bacon

Some people avoid eating pork belly and bacon for religious or lifestyle reasons.

You can find bacon substitutes, such as veal, beef, mutton (macon), or turkey "bacon."

Vegan options like tofu and coconut are also available.

These bacon-like alternatives are not bacon but have been cured, smoked, and flavored to taste somewhat like bacon.

Conclusion

Pork belly and bacon are luscious, uber-fatty cuts of pork derived from the pig's belly.

The crucial difference is that bacon is cured and smoked, which changes its flavor and texture entirely.

That is why pork belly and bacon need to be cooked and served differently.

For your organic pork belly and bacon meat needs, drop by our review of ButcherBox. They are a meat delivery service company from Boston that provides the best quality organic meat out there.


References:

  1. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-pork-belly-4777191
  2. https://www.jamieoliver.com/features/the-ultimate-guide-to-pork-cuts/
  3. https://www.foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/chefs/2019/7/guy-fieri-shares-the-laws-of-flavortown

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