Pancetta vs. Bacon: What’s the Difference?
If you love the salty taste of bacon but want to avoid the calories and fat, it’s time to take a look at pancetta vs. bacon. Pancetta is bacon’s leaner relative, and they can be used almost interchangeably. While there is really never any substitute for a crispy piece of Sunday morning bacon next to your eggs and toast, there are lots of places where pancetta vs. bacon actually improves on the original.
You’re already familiar with cured meats like salami or prosciutto, so what is pancetta? What is the difference in flavor between pancetta vs. bacon? Pancetta is commonly used in Italian cuisine, and there is a reason why you’ll find the best Italian restaurants in NYC using pancetta as a topping for pasta dishes instead of bacon. You’ll also want to become comfortable with pancetta vs. bacon if you want to learn to cook Italian food.
To gain confidence in working with this (or any) new-to-you ingredient, a cooking class near you can teach you all you need to know about the best cooking methods and recipes. Until then, let’s explore this delightful ingredient and get familiar with what makes pancetta vs. bacon so unique.
Jump to Section
- What Is Pancetta?
- What Is Bacon?
- Pancetta vs. Bacon: Which to Use?
- How to Substitute Bacon for Pancetta
What Is Pancetta?
Pancetta, pronounced “pan-cheh-tuh,” is bacon’s more sophisticated cousin. Both are pork products made from pork belly, but there are a few key differences.
Pancetta is originally an Italian creation but is not commonly found worldwide. It is fully cured, which means it has been preserved in salt and sometimes other seasonings so it does not have to be cooked before use. That said, pancetta is often used as a flavoring when cooking other foods like stews or soups and also as a salty topping for fancy pasta dishes.
How do you find pancetta vs. bacon in a grocery store? Pancetta is most often found near other cured meats like prosciutto and salami. It can be purchased in round slices or diced up into small cubes, depending on your intended use. Bacon is always found with other raw meats like sausage and ham.
What Is Bacon?
Does bacon really need an introduction? Besides being downright delicious, bacon has been a staple item in most American households for decades. When deciding between pancetta vs. bacon, bacon has both strengths and limitations.
Bacon is pork belly that has been cut into strips, partially cured and then smoked. It is becoming increasingly common for bacon to be cut from the fattier sides of a pig than from the belly since pork belly itself is now a delicacy and commands a higher price. You may also have heard of Canadian bacon, which is cut from the center part of a pork loin before being cured and smoked.
Bacon has come under more scrutiny in recent years as the realization that the nitrates used in the smoking process may be toxic and may potentially include carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). As a result, many manufacturers are now producing nitrate-free bacon as well as salt and sugar-free versions of America’s favorite breakfast treat.
Pancetta vs. Bacon: Which to Use?
What’s the difference between pancetta and bacon? When deciding between pancetta vs. bacon, how do you know which to use? Is pancetta healthier than bacon? Let’s slice into the meat of each to find out.
Flavor and Texture
With bacon, some prefer the squeaky goodness of a fattier piece of bacon while others are religious about the fully-cooked crisp of their strip. Bacon also tends to be fattier and greasier because of the part of the pig it comes from. Pancetta is cut from a leaner piece of the animal, so it tastes less rich.
The main difference in flavor between pancetta vs. bacon is that bacon has a smokier flavor to it. Pancetta lends a ham flavor to dishes, which is why it is often used as a flavor base. It also has more of a bite to it than bacon, so it gets finely diced when used as an ingredient in other dishes. Thin slices of pancetta are sometimes baked until crisp and used as a topping because it achieves a nice, chewy texture without being greasy or so crisp that it crumbles.
When looking at recipes that feature pancetta vs. bacon, you’ll typically see it used as a seasoning base for soups and stews. Pancetta gets sautéed in a skillet, so some of the fat gets released before other seasonings like onion and pepper are added. Pancetta is also more commonly seen in refined recipes. Good old-fashioned bacon tends to be used most often in straightforward dishes.
Examples of where pancetta vs. bacon would be used is as a finishing touch for fancy pasta dishes, as a meaty flavor base for seafood dishes like mussels or cioppino or as a main component of a sauce such as a Bolognese.
Is pancetta healthier than bacon? When you compare the nutrition profile of pancetta vs. bacon, pancetta is your healthier option. Because it is cured but not smoked, there are no nitrates. It is also lower in fat than bacon but still carries its fair share. Bacon is high in saturated fat, sodium and usually sugar unless you buy a sugar-free product. Both foods are high in protein.
If you compare 100 grams of pancetta vs. bacon (100 grams is roughly 4 slices of either), pancetta has about 200 fewer calories than bacon. For equivalent amounts of pancetta vs. bacon, you’ll get about half of the sodium and fat as well.
In terms of availability, what is the difference between pancetta and bacon? Bacon is universally available in any grocery store as well as many convenience stores that would also carry milk and eggs. Pancetta vs. bacon is a little less likely to be found in a standard grocery, but you won’t have to look very hard to find it. Grocery stores that carry artisanal cheese and other cured meat selections will always have pancetta.
How to Substitute Bacon for Pancetta
The difference between pancetta and bacon is subtle. If a recipe calls for diced pancetta as a seasoning, you can almost always substitute bacon. When deciding between pancetta vs. bacon, 1 piece of bacon torn into small pieces is equivalent to 1 ounce of diced pancetta.
Another way to substitute bacon for pancetta is in any recipe that calls for using sliced pancetta as a topping or to wrap meat. Simply substitute 1 slice of bacon for each slice of pancetta. Remember that pancetta vs. bacon tends to be leaner. If you substitute bacon, you may need to cook your bacon first before crumbling on top of a dish. If you are wrapping something in bacon, it will take longer to completely cook through than pancetta.
Learning where to use pancetta vs. bacon will add sophistication to many dishes. Pancetta is healthier than bacon as well, so finding ways to substitute it makes sense. Once you’ve stepped beyond bacon into the world of more refined cured meats, there is an entire charcuterie board of options available to you.
For even more ways to explore your favorite foods, check out other experiences happening on Cozymeal.