Pancetta vs Bacon: What’s the Difference?

Is there a difference between pancetta vs bacon? We'll help you know when you can substitute one for the other.

Bacon and its Italian cousin, pancetta, really do make everything better. These cured pork belly products add deep, rich flavor to almost any recipe, from breakfast to pasta, vegetable dishes, casseroles and everything in between. But is one type of bacon better than the other, and can you get away with making substitutions? We break down everything you need to know about pancetta vs bacon.

What Is Pancetta?

pancetta vs bacon Thin sliced pancetta bacon in an opened plastic pack. One of the ingredients in the preparation of "Coniglio al forno con pancetta e erbe aromatiche", roasted bacon-wrapped rabbit with aromatic herbsSergio Amiti/Getty Images

Pancetta is an Italian, salt-cured meat made from pork belly. It’s often seasoned with herbs and spices like garlic, black peppercorns and bay leaves. The cure uses pink salt (or sodium nitrite) to turn the meat a distinctive, bright-red color. The belly is then rolled into a log and hung to dry for several weeks. Because it’s not smoked, pancetta has a pure, savory flavor that’s reminiscent of bacon but deeper and richer.

You can enjoy pancetta raw, although it’s usually cooked. Look for thinly-sliced pancetta and use it in place of prosciutto on a charcuterie platter. Those thin slices are also perfect for making pancetta-wrapped shrimp, an elegant alternative to traditional bacon-wrapped seafood appetizers.

To cook with pancetta, it’s best to cut it into small cubes. Depending on where you buy it, it may come pre-chopped. Crisp it up in a little cooking oil before adding veggies like peas or Brussels sprouts to create a tasty side dish. You can also bake it to make breakfast casseroles or add it to classic pasta dishes like carbonara or spaghetti All’Amatriciana. Don’t be afraid to use it to infuse fantastic flavors into soups, stews or bean dishes, either.

What Is Bacon?

pancetta vs bacon Cropped Hand Cooking Bacon On Stove In KitchenRostislav Kuznetsov / EyeEm/Getty Images

Bacon is also made from pork belly, and it’s cured with salt, spices and sometimes sugar. After five days to a week, the bacon is removed from the cure and rinsed to remove any excess salt. It’s then smoked for a few hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F. This gives it a smoky flavor that’s missing from pancetta.

Unlike pancetta, it’s not safe to eat raw bacon, so it must be cooked first. If you’re lucky enough to find slab bacon, you can cut it to your desired thickness. Thick-sliced bacon is great for making glazed bacon, or for cutting into lardons (matchstick pieces cut to approximately 1/4 inch by 1 inch). Lardons are ideal for pasta dishes, slow cooker recipes or being crisped up and used as a pizza topping.

Thinly-sliced bacon is better suited for serving on its own or making bacon-wrapped recipes like meatloaf or jalapeno poppers. These thin slices are also the easiest way to make a bacon lattice.

When to Use Pancetta vs Bacon

If you can’t find pancetta, it’s almost always OK to substitute bacon for pancetta. Alternatively, you can substitute pancetta in recipes that call for bacon lardons. The two have very similar textures and flavors since they’re both made from pork belly, although bacon has a heavier, smokier flavor. If your recipe calls for raw pancetta or thinly sliced pancetta, it’s best to use prosciutto as a substitute.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.