What Are the Differences Between Pancetta, Bacon, Guanciale, and Prosciutto?
Salty, fatty, savory, meaty, and delicious any time of day, cured pork is a special ingredient that carnivores adore. "The aroma of fresh cured meats can't be denied," says Peter Parrota of Calabria Pork Store, a renowned butcher shop in the Bronx, New York. "You know you are getting something fresh when you smell the aroma and the spices that have been working together, curing for weeks on end." Below, we're explaining the key differences between popular cured pork products—bacon, pancetta, guanciale, prosciutto, and lardo—and how to use them in your cooking.
There's nothing like the smell of crispy bacon strips on a Sunday morning. Whether you serve bacon with pancakes and eggs, layered on top of a cheeseburger, or wrapped around meatloaf, it certainly adds savory, fatty flavor to any meal. Bacon comes from the belly of the pig and is priced moderately compared to other cured pork products, says Parrota. Some types of bacon are uncured, some are cured with salt and artificial nitrates, and some is smoked over applewood or hickory wood chips. While it excels as a simple side at breakfast, bacon is also a standout addition to a sandwich such as our Cabbage-and-Bacon Sandwiches or Chicken-Salad Club Roll. You can also try tossing bacon in a salad (Corn-and-Avocado Salad with Goddess Dressing is a stunner!) or using it as part of this Bacon-Cheeseburger Meatloaf, a perfect Sunday supper.
A staple Italian ingredient, guanciale (which translates to pig cheek) is generally very fatty and less meaty than bacon or pancetta because it comes from the jowl of the pig. It's also the least expensive of the three. Guanciale is typically cured with salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, and garlic, then aged for several months to further develop its flavor. You can find it in specialty grocery stores, butcher shops, and Italian markets. Try cooking with guanciale in this recipe for homemade Ricotta Raviolo with Garlicky Greens or Italian classics like Pasta Carbonara and Bucatini All'Amatriciana.
Pancetta, which also originated in Italy, comes from the belly of the pig and is more expensive than bacon or guanciale because the curing process is time-intensive. It is typically cured in a salt brine for a few days before being seasoned with spices and herbs to infuse the meat with even more flavor, explains Parotta. While you can find smoked pancetta, most pancetta is not smoked. Pancetta is typically sold pre-diced or rolled. It's a key ingredient in our recipe for Grandma's Bolognese, Cornbread Stuffing with Pancetta and Scallions, Porchetta-Style Roast Pork, and even this classic creamy Clam Chowder.
What's an antipasto board without an elegant display of paper-thin slices of salty prosciutto? This pork product, which comes from the hind leg of a pig, can be cured anywhere from a few months to a few years; whereas bacon, pancetta, and guanciale are usually cooked, prosciutto is eaten as is. Of course, there are so many inspired ways to use prosciutto beyond as an appetizer. Toss it with chunky rigatoni in this Prosciutto Carbonara with Spinach, wrap it around thinly pressed chicken breasts for our Chicken Saltimbocca with Sage, layer it on top of this Asparagus-and-Potato Gratin, or press it in a sandwich, such as these Spicy Turkey Medianoches.
This cured pork product is made with a slab of pork fat from the back of the pig. It's salt-cured and seasoned with herbs such as rosemary, garlic, and oregano and has a melt-in-your-mouth fatty flavor that is buttery and so flavorful. It's not as easy to find as these other cured pork products; check with a local Italian grocery store or cheese shop to see if they sell this unique, delectable food.