If you are a fan of Italian cuisine, you will probably know what guanciale is. And there is a high chance you have already tried it too.
This type of Italian cured meat was brought to fame thanks to incredibly delicious recipes such as pasta carbonara and pasta amatriciana.
Despite its popularity, it still is not an easy cut of meat to find around the world. But that should not stop you from recreating these fantastic pasta dishes at all (or any other kind of dish for that matter).
So, here is a comprehensive list of outstanding guanciale replacements when you are not able to find the real deal but still crave those delicious recipes.
The best substitutes for guanciale
Table of Contents
If your goal is to find the perfect guanciale substitute for your recipe, you need to understand what guanciale is in the first place.
Guanciale represents a type of Italian cured meat derived from the cheek of the pork. The meat is left to cure in a mixture of dried herbs and spices until it sheds a vast part of its weight.
Dried herbs like thyme or fennel are used in the mixture along with black or red pepper and garlic too.
After about three weeks or so, the guanciale is finally ready for consumption. And although it is not a very lean type of meat, the peculiarity of guanciale is that its fat melts during cooking.
This specific trait delivers an outstanding flavor and incredible depth to any dish you are about to create in the kitchen.
It is not impossible to find it in supermarkets near you or local corner shops around the world, but it is not a trivial task either.
Therefore, if you would like to cook some delicious Italian pasta dishes like pasta carbonara and pasta amatriciana, you might need a few ideas for the perfect guanciale replacement.
Luckily for you, we have found some amazing alternatives that are extraordinarily easy to find, and that will give your dish the same flavor and depth as guanciale.
This might be the obvious choice, but pancetta is probably the best substitute for guanciale. And, on top of that, it is the easiest cut of cured meat to find anywhere around the world.
Pancetta and guanciale both contain an elevated percentage of fat that often tends to melt away during cooking.
But the key difference between the two is their origin. Both pancetta and guanciale derive from pork meat.
Guanciale originates from the pork cheeks, while pancetta has its origins in the pork belly.
To put it in easy words, pancetta is the Italian version of bacon. The sole difference is that pancetta is not smoked, so it will not overtake the flavor of the original dish too much.
Technically, you will be able to find smoked pancetta in any supermarket. But originally, pancetta is not smoked, so that is a secondary addition to it.
Pancetta can be a suitable substitute for spaghetti carbonara or the amatriciana dish, being able to give you a fantastic result.
Both carbonara and amatriciana are popular pasta dishes from the central area of Italy. Using pancetta instead of guanciale might not be strictly traditional, but it will provide you with an incredibly close taste.
Prosciutto is another type of Italian cured meat and it can also work as an extraordinary guanciale alternative.
There are two types of prosciutto: cured ham and cooked ham. It is possible to use both as your guanciale substitute but they will give you unique textures and flavors to your dish.
In this case, cured prosciutto might be the best guanciale alternative between the two. As it is cured, just like guanciale, it has a more significant percentage of salt and spices, making it more similar in taste.
It typically comes in thin slices, perfect to be added in sandwiches or salads. But it is equally possible to ask for a thicker cut that can be used for cooking.
The only difference between cured prosciutto and guanciale is the cut. Prosciutto comes from the leg of the pork. This makes it a leaner and healthier cut of meat.
As it is leaner, the percentage of fat will not match the one contained in guanciale. Therefore, the recipe will lack that signature velvety and rich texture.
If you prefer bacon as your guanciale substitute, you need to be careful. Bacon can be different depending on where you are in the world, and not all of it can be the perfect alternative.
Bacon generally originates from the back of the pork and it normally can be found as a cured, smoked, or cooked cut of meat.
If you are looking for the best option to implement in your Italian-inspired recipes, you should probably go for the unsmoked bacon.
Cured and unsmoked bacon is as fatty as guanciale and it will give you a relatively similar feeling and taste to your dishes.
If you cook your bacon, it is also crispier and crunchier than guanciale, so that is a plus if you are a fan of this kind of texture.
If you are not too fussy about authenticity, or if you do not care about replicating the same taste, speck might be a worthy one.
Speck is another type of Italian cured meat. It is a little leaner than guanciale but it contains a hint of smoke to it.
As guanciale, it is also cured with herbs and spices, but different ones are employed compared to guanciale.
Speck is cured with bay leaves and juniper. These two ingredients can give a fantastic depth and a powerful taste.
Although it has a hint of smokiness to it, the speck might be a great guanciale replacement thanks to its saltiness and fat content.
The last Italian type of meat cut off this list. Lardo might not represent the obvious option but once you try it you will not be able to stop thinking about it.
It can be a fantastic guanciale substitute because of its fat content. In fact, lardo is essentially pork fat that melts nicely when cooked.
This characteristic gives your recipes and dishes that wonderful, ideal creaminess and silky texture that matches precisely with pasta dishes but it does not stop there.
Lardo can be used to add that gooey and greasy finish to your baked and roasted potatoes, or it can even be added to homemade bread or pastries.
You can use lardo in countless recipes, and it all depends on your creativity in the kitchen.
6. Salt pork
Salt pork is a salty cut of meat, as its name gives it away. It originates from the pork belly and it resembles bacon in many ways.
It is not smoked and it is a little fattier than guanciale, but that works anyway as a tremendous substitute for guanciale.
The only thing to keep in mind if you want to consume salt pork as a guanciale alternative is to rinse it well before using it.
As it is quite salty, its flavor might overpower the general taste of your dishes. As a result, it is always best to cleanse it properly and pat it dry before using it.
7. Pork belly
Pork belly derives from the same cut as bacon and salt pork and this might work too as a guanciale replacement for more than one reason.
First of all, pork belly is not smoked. As you already know, this is a huge deal to watch out for when you are looking for a guanciale substitute.
It is also fatty enough to be a fantastic guanciale replacement, but it is not a cured cut of meat.
That should not be a problem, as you can adjust the level of salt and spices during the cooking process.
8. Pork jowl
Pork jowl comes from the pig’s cheek just like guanciale so it has a similar, quite authentic cut.
The only difference is that pork jowl comes both as a fresh cut or cured. And it often comes in thin slices.
The fat content between these two cuts is also relatively similar. This will provide your dishes the same rich and creamy texture as guanciale.
However, the salt content in pork jowl might be a little higher than guanciale, hence it is not the healthier option.
How to choose a guanciale substitute
There are plenty of alternatives if you want to find the perfect guanciale substitute for your recipes.
It all depends on the level of authenticity you want to give to your dish, the creaminess, and the delicious taste.
If you are unable to get guanciale anywhere near you, you can still opt for an Italian cured meat like pancetta, prosciutto (preferably cured ham, not cooked), speck, and lardo.
But there are also other options out there, like bacon (always pick non-smoked bacon!), pork jowl, pork belly, and salt pork (remember to rinse it well before use).
These guanciale alternatives will give your dishes different but still fantastically delicious tangs that might even turn out to be better than the authentic dish.
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