Since bacon often comes from the belly of the pork, there is always a lot of confusion about the difference between bacon and pork belly. As a matter of fact, the two can also be interchangeable in recipes, with bacon working as the best pork belly substitute.
Despite the similarities, there are several differences between the two cuts of pork, and in this article, we are going to show you all of them.
What is pork belly?
Pork belly is a large slab cut of very rich and fatty meat that comes from the belly of the pig. It is completely uncured and unsalted, and it’s usually sold in big slabs in stores and at your local butcher, but you can also find it in strips.
Pork belly adapts well to different types of cooking and its deliciousness is popular all over the world, particularly in East and South Asian cuisine, including recipes from China and the Philippines.
This cut of meat makes for a perfect main dish when paired with vegetables, potatoes, beans, or other side-dishes. When cooked properly, pork belly becomes very tender and will melt in your mouth, while the crispness of the skin gives it a crunchy and delicious kick.
However, when overcooked pork belly can easily become unpleasant because the fats will harden the texture and give it a rubber-like consistency.
It is also important that your pork cut has no smell because fresh meat doesn’t have any smell.
Sometimes, vacuum-packed pork might have a light unpleasant smell that goes away as soon as you wash it or allow it to air. However, if your pork smells like eggs, then it’s most likely past its due date and you should throw it away.
What is bacon?
Bacon is the cured meat from the belly of the pork, but it can also come from other parts of the pork, or from a totally different animal.
You won’t find fresh bacon in stores, because bacon always undergoes long and intensive processing to become the food we all know.
It is most popular in the U.S., where it can be eaten during all meals (including breakfast), but its popularity has since then spread across the world.
Most bacon you find at the grocery store will be streaky pork bacon, which is made from layers of fat and layers of muscle, running side by side. While bacon has its fat content, it isn’t as fatty as pork belly because it is a particular cut of the underside of the animal, which has less fat in it.
Bacon can be very versatile in the kitchen and be used in salads, hamburgers, and even paired with sweet ingredients. It is usually cooked until it reaches a very firm texture, or until it becomes very crispy.
Bacon is sometimes frowned upon because of the additives it contains, which are a result of the curing process. In fact, U.S. bacon found in stores usually contains harmful compounds like nitrites and nitrates, which are meant to help preserve the meat.
On top of that, bacon is heavily salted during the curing process, which makes it more savory and helps to enhance the flavor of dishes.
Some stores might carry a type of bacon without these compounds, but they’re usually difficult to find. That’s why bacon should be consumed in moderation.
What are the differences between bacon and pork belly?
When looking at bacon and pork belly strips at the supermarket, you may wonder what is the difference between two products that look almost identical.
Indeed, pork belly and bacon share many similarities but are also more different than one might think, starting from their very origin.
Knowing the unique characteristics of both products can help you quite a lot in the kitchen, that’s why we compiled a list of differences between pork belly and bacon you can check below.
1. Pork belly and bacon may have different origins.
Both pork belly and bacon come from the same part of the animal, which of course is the belly. While we usually use pork belly to refer to the whole slab cut of the belly, bacon is only a part of this cut.
While all pork belly cuts can become bacon, not all bacon comes from the belly of the pork. In fact, there are different types of bacon that can come from other parts of the pig, or even from another animal completely.
Bacon can indeed take on many names depending on the part of the animal interested:
– Streaky bacon: bacon that comes from pork belly.
– Back bacon: bacon that comes from the loin and has a lower fat content.
– Slab bacon: bacon that comes from cheaper side cuts.
– Jowl bacon: bacon that comes from the cheeks.
– Cottage bacon: bacon that comes from the shoulder.
As for bacon coming from other animals, it takes the name of the animal it’s made from (beef bacon, turkey bacon, lamb bacon, duck bacon, etc). So while you can be confident that all pork belly is exactly what it is, when buying bacon you need to pay attention to its origin.
2. Bacon requires long processing.
The main difference between pork belly and bacon is the processing that bacon goes through before it can be cooked.
When buying pork, you will mostly find uncured pork belly, but there is no such thing as uncured bacon.
In order to turn cuts of pork belly into bacon, the meat is drained of all moisture with the help of salt. This process is very slow and usually takes a week, after which the meat is left to dry for 24 hours before it is smoked over a type of wood (usually applewood or hickory).
On the other hand, pork belly is not cured, has no additives and no additional salt, but you can smoke it right after cutting it.
3. Pork belly is cheaper than bacon.
The curing process that turns bacon into the savory food we all know is quite long and expensive, which translates into a higher price for bacon in comparison with pork belly.
In particular, curing bacon takes several days and includes a lot of additives to enhance the flavor, all things pork belly doesn’t need, and that contribute to inflating the price of the final product.
There isn’t a specific price range for bacon, as the curing process is not one and the same. Usually, bacon is cured by the butcher or the store that sells it, so even in the same area bacon could have a different price from store to store.
4. Pork belly and bacon have different properties.
While it’s true that pork belly and bacon can be swapped in almost every recipe that calls for pork, they are cooked and work very differently.
Bacon is usually cooked until it’s nearly crisp and there are also people who’d rather have their bacon fully crisp. In comparison, pork belly is a softer and tender type of pork meat that can be very versatile to cook.
That’s not to say bacon isn’t versatile, as we all know bacon can fit basically anywhere. You can also use bacon as a replacement for pork belly when the recipe calls for pork, but in that case, you probably won’t get as good a result as you would with a tender pork belly.
Moreover, when looking for pork belly taste, bacon might not always be a good substitute because it’s an over-processed cut of meat, which means it has a stronger flavor and a high amount of salt content that enhances it.
5. Pork belly has more benefits than bacon.
With everything you’ve learned about pork belly and bacon so far, you may have already guessed that bacon isn’t exactly the best or healthiest food out there.
Sure, we love its savory taste, which makes it one of the most popular foods across the U.S., but we cannot forget how bacon is made.
The long curing process, the additives, and the high amount of salt needed to turn bacon into the food we all know strongly decrease the ratio between benefits and detriments, in favor of the latter.
In comparison, pork belly is more beneficial to our body, since it’s lacking all the additional ingredients of bacon and its seasoning is completely under our control.
6. Bacon and pork belly are used in different recipes.
Sliced pork belly and bacon look almost the same and it’s easy to confuse them and think they can be used interchangeably even when there’s no reason to.
While they’re good substitutes for each other, if a recipe calls for one rather than the other, it would be better to stick to the pork cut required. There are also some dishes where you absolutely cannot swap them (think of a pizza with a pork belly topping… it wouldn’t work, right?).
Both bacon and pork belly are extremely versatile in their own way. Bacon is good on its own, but it’s great to enhance the flavor of other dishes as it isn’t really enough as a main dish.
It can be fried (not deep-fried), braised, baked, or roasted. It can be added to sweet dishes as well because its saltiness matches sweet flavors and produces great salty-sweet snacks.
Despite being uncured and milder, pork belly adds a rich layer to dishes and it can be cooked almost in every way. In fact, it can be roasted, fried, grilled, and braised. Unlike bacon, pork belly is not a good addition to sweet dishes, but it can be the main protein source of your meal.
7. Bacon is easier to cook than pork belly.
When planning your next meal, if the choice falls between pork belly or bacon, it’s important to keep in mind that while bacon can be cooked even by first-time cooks, it may be harder to get cooked pork belly right on the first try.
It’s impossible to make mistakes with bacon because most of the time it’s enough to place it into a frying pan and let it cook for a few minutes.
While cooking pork belly doesn’t require many steps, results may vary. In fact, it’s not easy to ensure the crispiness of the skin while at the same time preventing the meat from becoming too dry.
When the pork belly isn’t properly cooked, the high-fat content in it will give the meat a sort of rubbery texture that is not pleasant to eat, which is why pork belly may not be easy to cook for the less experienced.
Pork Belly vs Bacon: are they the same?
What is the difference between pork belly and bacon? Sometimes it can be hard to tell for less experienced cooks, so here is a list of the main differences between the two:
– Pork belly is uncured and unsalted, while bacon goes through long processing.
– Bacon is heavily salted and contains unhealthy additives to make it more savory.
– Pork belly has more fat than bacon.
– Bacon is more expensive than pork belly because of its processing.
– Pork belly can work as a main dish, while bacon is usually a side dish or topping.
– Bacon works well with sweet ingredients too.
– Pork belly requires a longer cooking time than bacon.
– Bacon doesn’t always come from pork belly, it can also come from other animals.
– Pork belly is harder to cook for beginners.
While both pork belly and bacon can be a delicious part of your meal and are often interchangeable, they should be used according to what the recipe requires. When both can fit into your recipe, remember that pork belly is the better option for your diet.