Is pork belly basically the same thing as bacon, and is bacon pork belly? What are the differences between these two tasty, meaty treats?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare the two — including what makes both bacon and pork belly unique, their similarities, their differences, and how to cook and enjoy both.
What is Pork Belly?
Pork belly is a cut from the belly part of the pig with both fatty layers and lean meat, creating an incredibly juicy and flavorful combination.
People from all over the world use pork belly recipes to cook it in various ways — roasting, braising, and grilling. Best of all, you can make delicious bacon from this savory delight!
What is Bacon?
Bacon is made from pork belly, but it goes through a unique curing and smoking process.
First, the pork belly is trimmed of excess fat. Then it’s typically wet- or dry-cured by applying a mixture of salt, sugar, and sometimes other seasonings directly onto the meat’s surface.
This curing method helps enhance flavor and contribute to the desirable texture and taste of bacon.
Commercial bacon is often cured with nitrates and nitrites as part of the curing process. These compounds help preserve the color, flavor, and safety of the bacon by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and preventing spoilage.
Because there is ongoing debate about the health effects of consuming nitrates and nitrites in processed meats, some manufacturers offer uncured bacon and nitrate- and nitrite-free options for those who prefer to avoid these additives.
After curing, the pork belly undergoes the smoking process, which gives it that irresistible smoky flavor. Finally, it’s cut in slices. The result? Those incredibly tasty, savory, flavorful strips of crispy deliciousness we all love!
What is Slab Bacon?
Slab bacon is like bacon’s bigger, thicker cousin. Instead of being sliced into thin strips, slab bacon is kept in one big piece. When you cook slab bacon, you can cut it in any thickness or size you wish. Slab bacon is great for making bacon lardons.
What is Salt Pork?
Think of salt pork as bacon’s lesser-known sibling. Just like bacon, it’s made from pork belly, but rather than being smoked, it’s cured with salt to preserve it.
Fun fact: People used to eat salt pork in the old days before the refrigerator was invented, as the curing process helped keep the meat stay fresh for a longer time.
Pork Tenderloin vs. Pork Belly
Pork tenderloin is a lean and tender muscle found along the pig’s back, while pork belly is a rich and fatty cut of meat found on the underside of the pig.
Pork tenderloin is much leaner than pork belly, and is suitable for quick cooking methods like grilling, roasting or smoking. (Check out our recipe for amazingly delicious Bacon Wrapped Smoked Pork Tenderloin!)
Side Pork vs Pork Belly
The primary difference between side pork and pork belly lies in the specific area of the pig from which each meat is sourced.
Side pork is obtained from the side of the pig, specifically the rib area, and typically includes a higher proportion of lean meat compared to fat.
On the other hand, pork belly is derived from the underside of the pig, specifically the belly area, and is characterized by its alternating layers of meat and fat.
8 Key Differences Between Pork Belly vs. Bacon
Here are the main differences between the two meats:
- Pork Belly refers to the raw, unprocessed cut of meat taken from the belly of the pig.
- Bacon is a processed meat product made from pork belly. It undergoes curing, smoking, and sometimes additional flavoring before being sliced.
2. Curing and Flavor
- Pork Belly is not cured and has a natural, milder flavor.
- Bacon is cured with salt, sugar, and sometimes other seasonings, resulting in a saltier and more savory taste.
3. Texture and Appearance
- Pork Belly typically has alternating layers of fat and meat.
- Bacon is usually sliced and has a distinctive crispy texture when cooked due to its fat content.
4. Cooking Method
- Pork belly can be cooked in various ways, such as roasting, braising, smoking or grilling.
- Bacon is most commonly pan-fried or oven baked until it becomes browned and crispy.
5. Uses in Cooking
- Pork belly is used as a main course or ingredient in various dishes, both savory and sweet.
- Bacon is often used as a breakfast main course and as a tasty, savory ingredient in dishes like sandwiches, pastas, dinners, burgers, salads, and appetizers.
6. Nutritional Profile
- Pork belly is rich in monounsaturated and saturated fats, while offering moderate protein that is essential for muscle repair. It provides B vitamins (niacin, B12), minerals (zinc, selenium, phosphorus), and heme iron, contributing to metabolism, nerve function, immune support, and oxygen transport.
- Bacon provides a moderate amount of protein, and its fat content includes monounsaturated and saturated fats. Bacon also offers B vitamins (niacin, B12), phosphorus, choline, and selenium, supporting metabolism, bone health, brain function, and antioxidant defense. Its higher sodium content may be a concern for sodium-sensitive individuals.
- Pork belly is typically available as: slab cut, square cut, streaky, rolled, skin on, skin off, bone in or boneless.
- Pork bacon comes in various types, including streaky bacon (a.k.a. American bacon), back bacon, and cottage bacon.
8. Cultural and Culinary Significance
- Pork belly is a popular ingredient in many cuisines around the world, such as Chinese and Korean cuisine.
- Bacon, especially American bacon, is widely enjoyed as a breakfast food and is commonly associated with Western dishes.
5 Varieties of Pork Belly
1. Streaky Pork Belly
This is the most common type of pork belly and is most often used for making what we think of as traditional bacon. It has layers of fat alternating with meat, which makes it flavorful and tender when cooked.
2. Square-Cut Pork Belly
This type of pork belly is usually squared off on the sides and is often used in Chinese cuisine. It’s a common choice for dishes like red-cooked pork belly (Hongshao Rou) and crispy pork belly.
3. Skin-On Pork Belly
Pork belly with the skin still attached is used to make dishes like crispy pork belly or roasted pork belly with crackling. The skin becomes crispy and delicious when cooked.
4. Bone-In Pork Belly
Some pork belly cuts may include rib bones, adding extra flavor to the meat when cooked. This is often used in dishes that benefit from the bone’s contribution, like stews and soups.
5. Rolled Pork Belly
This is a boneless pork belly that has been rolled and tied. It’s often used for roasting or slow cooking, and the rolling helps keep the meat together during cooking.
4 Different Bacon Varieties
For the purposes of this article, we are only comparing pork cuts and not turkey bacon, beef bacon, duck bacon, etc.
1. Traditional Bacon
Also known as American bacon or streaky pork bacon, this is your classic, delicious bacon made from seasoned, smoked pork belly. It is commonly available in thick-sliced, regular sliced and center cut varieties.
2. Back Bacon
Back bacon is cut from the lean back of the pig and is typically meatier. It has a more ham-like texture and flavor.
3. Cottage Bacon
Cottage bacon is made from the lean pork shoulder or blade. It is typically oval or round in shape and is often cured and smoked, resulting in a flavorful cut that is leaner than traditional bacon.
4. Canadian Bacon
Canadian bacon comes from the loin section of the pig. It is leaner than traditional bacon and is typically brined and sometimes smoked, resulting in a mild and slightly sweet flavor profile.
How to Roast Pork Belly
Roasting is one of the best ways to cook pork belly, resulting in a delectably tender and flavorful dish.
To begin, score the skin and apply a savory rub or marinade to infuse the meat with taste. Place the pork belly on a roasting rack skin-side up, and roast in a preheated oven at around 325 degrees F.
The slow roasting process allows the fat to render and the meat to become succulent, while the skin crisps to a satisfying crunch.
Periodically baste the pork belly with its juices to enhance moisture and taste. Roasting time typically ranges from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the thickness of the cut. Once done, let it rest before slicing into portions.
How to Braise Pork Belly
Braising pork belly yields amazing slow-cooked flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Begin by searing the pork belly in a hot skillet to develop a caramelized crust. Transfer the seared meat to a pot or Dutch oven, and add stock or broth. Vegetables, aromatics, and spices can also be included for enhanced taste.
Cover the pot and allow the pork belly to braise on low heat for several hours, until it becomes tender and absorbs the surrounding flavors.
The slow, moist cooking process breaks down the connective tissues, resulting in a rich flavor and deliciously tender texture. Slice the pork belly and serve with some of the tasty braising stock.
How to Make Smoked Pork Belly
What You’ll Need
Ask your butcher for a pork belly that is 2 to 3 pounds, with the skin on if possible.
You will also need your favorite dry rub, a smoker, wood chips or pellets of your choice, and an instant read thermometer.
Step 1 | Preparation
- Blot the pork belly dry with paper towels. Score the skin with a sharp knife in a crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut too deep into the meat.
- Generously apply the dry rub to all sides of the pork belly, pressing it into the meat. Let the meat sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
Step 2 | Preheat the Smoker
- Prepare your smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and heat to a temperature of 225 degrees F.
Step 3 | Smoke the Pork Belly
- Place the pork belly on the smoker grates, skin side up if the skin is still attached. Close the smoker lid.
- Maintain a consistent temperature of 225 degrees F throughout the smoking process. This slow and low cooking method helps render the fat and develop rich flavors.
- Smoke the pork belly for approximately 3 to 4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches around 195 degrees F and the meat has a golden-brown crust.
Step 4 | Allow the Pork Belly to Rest, Slice and Serve
- Once the pork belly reaches the desired internal temperature, remove it from the smoker and tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for about 20-30 minutes. This resting period helps redistribute the juices so the pork belly will be tender and juicy.
- Slice the pork belly into serving portions.
Pro Tip: Your cooking time may vary based on the thickness of the pork belly and the specific smoker you’re using, so regularly check the internal temperature with an instant-read meat thermometer.
How to Store Pork Belly
It’s important to keep raw pork belly refrigerated and store it properly. Here’s how:
- Wrap each piece tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to keep the air out.
- Store the wrapped pork belly in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag.
- Keep it in the fridge where it will stay fresh for about 3 to 4 days.
Can You Freeze Pork Belly Before Cooking?
Yes! Because of its density and high fat content, raw pork belly freezes extremely well and can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Wrap it tightly in freezer paper or foil, place it in a freezer bag, and store in the coldest part of the freezer. When you’re ready to enjoy it, simply thaw the frozen pork belly overnight in the refrigerator.
How to Cook Bacon
Since this site is all about tasty BACON, we happen to have information about all the best ways to cook and enjoy bacon! Here are some of our favorite methods for cooking bacon to perfection:
- How to cook bacon in the oven
- How to cook bacon on the stovetop
- How to cook bacon on the grill
- How to cook bacon on a pellet grill
- How to cook bacon in the microwave
- How to cook bacon in a crock pot (that’s right!)
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
When pork belly is cooked just right, you get an amazing balance of rich flavors. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see humble pork belly on the menu of upscale restaurants.
Pork belly does have layers of fat, which is why it’s so juicy and tasty. But a quality pork belly also has plenty of lean meat layered between the fat.
Both cuts are relatively high in fat and calories, but because pork belly is unprocessed some consider it a healthier choice. Bacon often contains higher levels of sodium due to the curing process.
Both cuts provide nutrients like B vitamins, minerals, and protein, but moderation is key due to their saturated fat levels. Choosing leaner cuts of bacon or trimming excess fat from pork belly can help mitigate potential health concerns.
Not usually. Because bacon is made from a trimmed pork belly before being cured and smoked, bacon is usually more expensive per pound than raw pork belly.
Pork Belly in International Cuisine
Pork belly is used in a wide range of dishes across various cultures, each with its own unique flavors and textures:
In Korean cuisine, pork belly (samgyeopsal) is a popular choice for grilling. It’s usually sliced thinly and cooked at the table.
Vietnamese Thịt Kho
In Vietnamese cuisine, pork belly is used in dishes like thịt kho, which involves braising the pork belly with fish sauce, coconut water, and spices.
Kakuni is a Japanese dish that involves simmering pork belly in soy sauce, sugar, and other seasonings until it becomes tender and flavorful.
Pancetta is crafted from pork belly that is salted, seasoned with a blend of spices, rolled and aged, resulting in its distinctive flavor and texture.
Chicharrón is a type of pork belly that has been fried until crispy, creating a popular snack in many Latin American countries.
Best Pork Belly Recipes
From sweet dishes like candied pork belly to savory dishes like pork belly tacos, pork belly is a versatile ingredient with incredible flavor.
These are some of our favorite pork belly recipes:
- Pork Belly Tacos
- Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends
- Pork Belly Ramen
- Chinese Braised Pork Belly
- Candied Pork Belly
- Pork Belly Tacos
- Korean Pork Belly
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