One of the most popular foods in the US is bacon. It can be used in a number of ways and is often noted for enhancing any food it’s added to. However, pork belly is a similar cut and is equally versatile. The question becomes, are they the same?
While technically, they are similar. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine exactly where a cut of bacon was derived from on the pig. Labels will sometimes be very specific, however it’s not always that obvious.
While bacon can be sourced from the pork belly, there are some technical differences that you’ll want to understand.
Pork Belly and Bacon Compared
What is Pork Belly?
Just as the name suggests, pork belly is sourced from the belly of a pig. This cut is uncured and used for a variety of recipes. It can be purchased in a regular grocery store, or you can purchase a full slab from your local butcher.
It’s typically cooked in a deep fryer, braised, or roasted. It’s tender and has a soft fattiness to it that allows it to melt in your mouth.
What Cut is Bacon?
Bacon is made primarily from pork belly. In the United States, it’s exclusively from the belly cut. However, bacon has several origins and different variants. It can also be cut from the back, loin, jowls, butt, shoulder, and sides.
You might see these specific cuts labeled with the following names:
- Back Bacon – From the loin. Noted for being less fatty.
- Jowl Bacon – Derived from meat around the cheeks.
- Cottage Bacon – From the shoulder.
- Slab Bacon – Made from less expensive side cuts.
- Streaky Bacon – Most common. From the belly cut.
Bacon is made by salting and seasoning these different cuts of pork through a process called “curing.” Curing anything simply means that you’re using salt to draw moisture out. The curing process typically takes 5-7 days for pork belly. After which the cure mixture is removed from the cut, dried for 6-24 hours, then smoked over a wood like hickory.
Although bacon is cured or processed, it is still cooked prior to eating to prevent any bacteria from entering your digestive system and causing illness.
You can also find “bacon” sourced from other animals such as chicken, turkey, or lamb. These non-pork varieties are a huge hit with those who prefer a kosher diet or simply prefer to avoid pork.
Bacon is usually eaten like a slice of meat with breakfast or sometimes as a filling in a sandwich, for example, a bacon, tomato, and lettuce (BLT) sandwich. Unfortunately, thanks to the process of curing bacon, it’s full of nitrites and a lot of salt which can lead to higher blood pressure, heart disease, clogged arteries, and more.
The Differences Between Pork Belly and Bacon?
The most basic difference between pork belly and bacon is that the pork belly cut isn’t smoked or cured and it only comes from the belly of the pig. It’s softer meat that is interchangeable with most recipes that call for pork. Where-as bacon can be derived from the belly and is cured, and sometimes smoked.
Curing and processing bacon is a large undertaking. For this reason, bacon is typically higher priced than that of pork belly. The longer process not only takes more time, but it also requires additives such as sodium, nitrites, and whatever type of wood it’s being smoked with.
There are no additives in pork belly. It’s not cured so there is no need to over salt it or add in any nitrites. For this reason, many consider pork belly to be healthier in comparison. Pork belly also tends to be higher in fat.
Bacon can also come from other locations on the pig’s body and is typically cooked until it’s crisp or nearly crisp. While recipes calling for pork can have bacon in them, it’s not the same as using the pork belly which is softer and more tender. Pork belly can be grilled, fried, braised, roasted, and used interchangeably with any recipe that calls for pork.
However if pork belly isn’t properly cooked, the fat and muscles will seize up and will give you more of a rubbery meat than the anticipated soft/tender meat. Pork belly also typically has the skin still on it which can give it a bit of a rind.
Bacon is rarely deep-fried however, it’s often fried. It can also be baked or braised and it’s sometimes roasted. With higher nitrites and sodium levels bacon is often considered to be far less healthy than that of pork belly.
It’s important to remember that most bacon is pork belly, but not all pork belly is bacon. There are a variety of cuts that bacon can originate from. It’s a cured piece of meat, where-as pork belly is not.
Have you ever tried pork belly? If so, let me know some of your favorite pork belly dishes in the comments!