Last Updated on December 19, 2019
You’re probably aware that bacon has experienced quite a popularity boom in the United States. You’ll find it piled next to eggs, sprinkled atop soups, or serving as added flavor and texture in salads. You can even enjoy bacon dipped in chocolate if the sweet and savory pique your taste buds.
But you’d be forgiven for confusing pork bacon with its parent cut, pork belly. Both succulent cuts of pork are sourced from the pig’s fatty abdominal region, but they are not quite one and the same.
We’ll break down the differences between pork belly vs. bacon, and give you a thorough understanding of each cut.
- The difference between bacon vs. pork belly
- All the different sources of bacon
- When to use bacon vs. pork belly
- Recipes for each
Let’s dig in on the two fatty and delicious cuts of meat, starting with bacon.
What is Pork Belly?
Pork belly is the uber-fatty and rich portion of meat cut from the belly of the pig. It’s uncured, and often sold in big slabs, making its preparations much different from sliced streaky bacon.
Pork belly is as unctuous a cut of meat as you can get, and it’s popular in cuisines the world over. You’ll find it braised in Chinese cuisine, or deep-fried in Filipino cuisine. It can also be roasted and grilled.
However you prepare it, pork belly is fall-apart tender and will melt in your mouth when cooked properly. Just be careful not to overcook it and cause the muscle and fat to seize up and turn rubbery.
Since pork belly is uncured, you don’t have to worry about preservatives like nitrates or nitrites.
What is Bacon?
You may think you know bacon, but how do we get it? What makes for quality bacon, and what are the different ways it’s prepared? We’re here to answer those burning questions
The bacon we most often encounter in the U.S. is streaky pork bacon, which is cut from the pork belly, or fleshy underside of the pig. It is technically pork belly, but pork belly isn’t necessarily bacon. We’ll break down that difference later on.
This streaky bacon, also known as side bacon, features layers of fat alternating with layers of muscle that run parallel to the skin of the pig, also called the rind. Bacon can also be sourced from the back, collar, shoulder, and jowls. There is, of course, “bacon” alternatives cut from cows, turkeys, and chicken too.
In the U.S., pork bacon is commonly salt-cured or brined. Oftentimes, the bacon featured most prominently at the grocery store contains unhealthy compounds like nitrates and nitrites for color and extended shelf-life. Bacon without these compounds are often carried by some grocery stores, but they can be more difficult to find.
ButcherBox bacon, on the other hand, is sourced from heritage-breed pigs.
And if you love crispy ButcherBox bacon, there’s a good chance you’ll love pork belly, too.
What’s the Difference Between Pork Belly and Bacon?
So, streaky pork bacon is pork belly, but pork belly isn’t bacon. Instead, pork belly is the whole slab cut from the fleshy underside of a pig. Streaky pork bacon is cut from this slab.
Pork belly is unsmoked and uncured, while much bacon found in the U.S. can undergo a lot of processing—not ButcherBox bacon, though.
While pork belly is, you know, always pork belly, bacon can actually be sourced from different parts of the pig like the back, collar, shoulder, and jowls. In fact, bacon can be cut from entirely different animals, like cows, turkey, and chicken.
The biggest difference between bacon and pork belly, though, is how you prepare the two. Read on for cooking suggestions for both.
When to Use Pork Belly vs. Bacon
Not sure when to use bacon over pork belly? Let’s break it down.
Bacon is delectable on its own, but it’s also an incredible ingredient for enhancing recipes. It’s most commonly pan-fried, but you can also bake it, grill it, and microwave it. It lends itself well to savory dishes with its salty succulence, but it’s just as delicious in sweet treats, too.
Pork belly, meanwhile, is delicious braised, roasted, fried, and grilled. You’ll find lots of different worldly preparations, like Chinese braised pork belly, or crispy deep-fried Filipino lechon kawali. However you cook your pork belly, take special care not to overdo it—keep it rich and fall-apart tender, not rubbery.
Use Bacon if You’re:
- Adding a crispy, salty accouterment to pastas, salads, side dishes, and more
- Making a breakfast sandwich
- Wrapping something—like avocado slices, chunks of pineapple, or shrimp
- Making a salty-sweet treat, like dark chocolate bacon bark
Use Pork Belly if You’re:
- Making a stew
- Making noodle dishes like ramen
Pork Belly and Bacon Recipes:
Want to make a special meal? Give these pork belly recipes a try:
- Honey Glazed Crispy Pork Belly
- Crackling Pork Belly
- Oven Roasted Crispy Pork Belly
- Sticky Chinese Pork Belly
- Lechon Kawali
Looking to add some salty succulence to a dish? Try these bacon recipes:
- Bacon Guacamole
- Gluten-Free Mushroom and Bacon Braciole
- Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus Stuffed Chicken Breast
- Apple Tart with Bacon Fig Syrup
- Chocolate-Covered Bacon
Whether you’re cooking with bacon or pork belly, you really can’t go wrong. The succulent cuts of pork—especially when sourced from quality, heritage breed pigs—deliver tons of flavor and richness to any dish, so get cooking!