Imagine you are at the supermarket trying to decide between pancetta vs. bacon. How do you choose which meat to buy? Both are savory, cured meats made from pork belly. However, while it might be easy to confuse them, they are pretty different. Bacon and pancetta, its Italian cousin, undergo distinct processes that result in meats with different flavors, textures, and cooking uses. Let us explore what separates them, examine their nutritional content, and learn about the best recipes for each meat.
Pancetta vs. Bacon: What are they?
Pancetta vs. Bacon: What is pancetta?
Aged pork belly, cured in pink salt, makes pancetta, the Italian cousin of bacon. The pink salt gives the pancetta its distinctive pink color. Producers add herbs like black pepper or garlic to pancetta. After seasoning, they roll the pancetta up tightly and tie it with string. The meat then dries for several weeks before being sliced and sold.
Pancetta cooks until it becomes slightly crispy. Unlike bacon, which must always be cooked, pancetta can be eaten raw. Raw pancetta frequently appears on charcuterie boards. Additionally, pancetta is commonly wrapped around other food to impart its flavor. For cooking purposes, cubed pancetta meat cooks more evenly. This is why pancetta is sold cubed at some stores.
Look for pancetta near meats like salami and prosciutto in the deli section. Pancetta arrotolata, or rolled pancetta, and Pancetta tesa, or flat pancetta, are the two most common types found in American delis.
Pancetta vs. bacon: What is bacon?
Unlike pancetta, the curing process for bacon does not involve aging. However, smoking the bacon with Applewood, hickory, and mesquite wood is a common practice. The smoking process adds depth and flavor to bacon. Once the smoking process is complete, bacon is sliced into long, thin strips. The meat cooks crispier than pancetta and has a smokier flavor.
Bacon is a highly versatile food that appears in everything from sandwiches and salads to breakfast favorites like bacon and eggs. Bacon comes in many varieties worldwide, including Canadian bacon, Irish bacon (better known as “rashers”), and peameal bacon, a type of Canadian bacon rolled in cornmeal.
Look for bacon with a high meat-to-fat ratio. The fat melts away while cooking, leaving savory, delicious meat. Bacon fat can also be rendered and used in other dishes.
Pancetta vs. Bacon: Key Differences
The table below illustrates the key differences between pancetta and bacon.
|How they are processed||Pancetta is aged and salt-cured.||Bacon is only salt-cured and sometimes smoked.|
|Flavor and Texture||Its taste is rich, salty, and a little tangy.||Chewier than pancetta, bacon is savory with a smoky flavor.|
|Culinary Uses||It is often used in Italian cuisine, like pasta and risotto. It is also sometimes eaten raw.||Bacon is famously versatile. It is a popular breakfast food staple. Burgers and salads often include bacon.|
|Nutritional Differences||The curing process makes the salt content very high. Some varieties have a higher fat content than bacon.||Due to the curing and smoking processes, the salt content is high. It also has a lot of fat and protein.|
The processes of these two meats lead to different flavors and textures. While pancetta is associated with Italian cuisine more frequently, bacon is a fixture in American cuisine. They also have similar nutritional profiles. However, both pancetta and bacon have a lot of salt and fat, which may raise concerns among those watching their salt and fat intake.
Pancetta vs. Bacon: Nutritional Differences
Below is a nutritional comparison of pancetta and bacon. Nutritional values vary depending on the recipe.
The nutritional differences between these two meats are subtle, but both foods contain high fat and sodium. Being cut from pork belly contributes to the high-fat content of both meats. Additionally, the curing processes for these meats add salt. Be mindful of portion sizes and consider your dietary needs when incorporating them into your diet.
Pancetta vs. Bacon: How to use them in recipes
Now that we know what pancetta and bacon are and how they differ, what can we make with them? The best rule is to use bacon when you want a crispy, smoky flavor and pancetta when you need a savory flavor and a softer, salty meat.
While these meats are similar, they are only sometimes interchangeable in recipes. However, if you cannot find pancetta, it is usually okay to substitute bacon. If you are substituting for raw pancetta or thinly sliced pancetta, it is best to use prosciutto as the meat substitute rather than bacon.
What can you make with pancetta? This delicious, cured Italian meat will add pork flavor to any recipe, but here are some favorites to try out.
- Carbonara Pasta – Add pancetta to this creamy pasta and yummy comfort food.
- Minestrone Soup – This classic Italian soup benefits from the addition of pancetta.
- Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta – Even if you dislike brussels sprouts, you may change your mind after this recipe.
- Gruyère and Pancetta Brioche Sandwich – This hearty sandwich is perfect for brunch.
Bacon is so famous you probably already use it in many recipes. However, here are some recipes you might consider.
- Bacon Tomato Pasta – This simple pasta dish is the ultimate comfort food.
- Bacon and Cheesy Potato Casserole – Another delicious comfort food to consider is this casserole. You really can't go wrong with bacon, potatoes, and cheese.
- Bacon and Cheese Quiche – Bacon is always a great addition to quiche.
- Bacon Wrapped Beef Patties and Green Beans – Skip the bread and wrap small beef patties in bacon instead.
- Smothered Pork Chops with Onions and Bacon – This easy recipe will satisfy everyone at the dinner table.
Pancetta and bacon both come from cured pork belly but undergo different production processes. Producers dry and age pancetta for several weeks, while bacon undergoes curing and smoking without aging. This makes them taste slightly different – pancetta is tangy and salty, while bacon has a smoky, savory flavor.
While some dishes can use either pancetta or bacon, they are not entirely interchangeable. When you want to add a crispy, smoky flavor to a dish, use bacon. Pancetta is best for dishes that call for tangier, softer meat. While it is unsafe to eat raw bacon, some kinds of pancetta are safe to eat raw. Always check the pancetta brand and follow the recommended guidelines for safe consumption.
Finally, because both meats have high salt and fat content, it is wise to eat them in moderation. When consuming these foods, consider their cooking methods and accompanying ingredients. Moreover, limit portion sizes to enjoy these delicious meats as part of a well-rounded diet.Print
- 6 thick slices of applewood smoked bacon, diced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2–1/4 cups milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1–3/4 cups shredded Colby-Jack Cheese, divided
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
- 14 ounces diced tomatoes, drained
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cook bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes or until crisp, stirring frequently.
- Use a slotted spatula to transfer bacon to a paper towel; set aside.
- Add flour to drippings in pan; cook and stir 30 seconds, being sure to scrape up and browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add milk and salt; bring to a boil. Simmer 1 minute or until sauce thickens, stirring frequently, watch closely to avoid scalding.
- Remove from heat; stir in 1-1/4 cups cheese until melted.
- Stir in cooked macaroni and tomatoes. Transfer to a greased 9-inch baking dish or shallow 1-1/2-quart casserole dish.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until heated through.
- Mix to avoid top drying out. Crumble and sprinkle reserved bacon and remaining cheese over macaroni; continue to bake 5-7 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Category: Main Course
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Igor Dutina/Shutterstock.com.