pork belly vs bacon: The differences Explained

Pork Belly VS Bacon

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Bacon and pork belly are both cuts of pork obtained from the pig’s belly. This is basically where the similarities end and the differences begin. Below are the differences between pork belly vs bacon to help you understand what each meat cut is, what each is used for, as well as cooking and preparation recommendations for each cut.

Pork belly vs bacon: What’s the difference?

A primal cut is the first piece of a meat cut removed from an animal’s carcass during the butchering process. Primal cuts can be cooked as is but can also be further cut and trimmed into other cuts. For example, pork belly is the primal cut and bacon can be derived from it.

Furthermore, bacon is often cured with salts and nitrates for preservation, so some additional processing is applied to bacon. Bacon is available smoked, cured, or uncured.

Cured bacon is treated with salts and nitrates to increase its natural shelf life and provide a fresher product at the retailer, while uncured bacon is treated with natural salts and even smoking methods.

Other notable differences between pork belly and bacon

Processing

Pork belly, unlike bacon, is sold as a primal cut, which means it has not been subsequently sliced, trimmed, or derived from another cut. It is the first cut from the carcass of the pig. Pork belly is neither cured nor packaged similarly to bacon.

To make pork belly bacon, the flesh has to be dried and cured with salt and other preservatives. This process is extremely slow and typically spans weeks. Depending on the brand and manufacturer, the meat is later smoked or dipped into smoked “flavor baths” for more flavor.

Pork belly, on the other hand, is not cured or “treated” with chemicals.

Price

Bacon is more costly per pound than pork belly. This is just due to the pricing of bacon processing, which adds to its cost. Whereas pork belly, which is simply cut and sold, bacon must be cured and pre-packaged before being transported to retailers, local butchers, and grocery stores.

Meat cut

As we mentioned before, pork belly cuts sold in the US are a primal cut derived from the pork’s belly. Technically, pork belly is the source of other cuts, including bacon. Cured pork belly can be turned into natural bacon or slab bacon.

Bacon alternatives to pork belly can be derived from other pork cuts such as cheek meat, back pork loin, and shoulder.

Flavor

Uncured pork belly has a natural “salty flavor,” and depending on how it is cooked, a savory flavor too. Bacon gets a lot of its salty flavor from the curing process, but the same savory taste.

Both pork belly and bacon can be turned into sweet dishes by smoking with fruity woods and adding additional condiments.

Culinary Applications

There are many ways of cooking pork belly. To prepare pork belly for the smoker is simple, and often a simple rub will do. To cook bacon, you can use a frying pan and get the job done.

In terms of culinary applications, pork belly is more commonly utilized as a main course, whereas bacon is more commonly used as a complimentary side dish, or topping.

Pork belly recipes are vast and are used in a variety of dishes from around the world.

How is pork belly and bacon are prepared and cooked

Since bacon is a cured meat, this pork cut can be thrown on a pan or grill for a few minutes to get it crisp and ready to eat. Pork belly, however, needs to be cooked longer just like any other pork meat or uncured meat.

Pork belly is often “smoked” in a pellet smoker or offset smoker, which requires hours of slow cooking. However, the results are a tender texture and, when properly cooked, a rubbery texture. Cooked pork belly can also be cut into thin slices and make amazing side dishes.

Pork belly may be braised, smoked, grilled, or even oven roasted, giving you a plethora of dishes and serving possibilities.

Nutrition

bacon package showing nutrition facts
BBQ Grill Academy / Hector Ruiz

Because pork bacon is cured and preserved, some it is understood that it has less nutritional value than uncured pork belly. Brands  utilize a variety of curing processes. You can find both uncured and cured bacon.

Uncured indicates that natural salts and other ingredients were only used for the curing process, whereas cured often means that additional nitrates and other chemically derived preservatives were used.

Pork belly has less protein than other pork cuts, but it makes up for it in flavor.

What is Pork Belly?

Pork bello on a plate
BBQ Grill Academy / Hector Ruiz

Pork belly is a primal cut derived from the pig’s belly, which produces particularly fatty meat due to minimal movement and muscle. Pork belly is a versatile pork cut that is often cooked in BBQ smokers due to its high fat content and flavor. When cooked properly, it makes an excellent main course.

Where is pork belly cut from?

Pork belly is cut from the pork’s belly and is a primal cut. It is often cut into large slabs that can later be turned into other cuts or cut into small pieces to make bacon but also other dishes like smoked pork ends.

Popular pork belly uses, applications, and dishes

Pork belly is used in a variety of Asian foods, including noodle dishes, soups, and even Korean BBQ. Pork belly is also used to create tacos and is often served as a main course in high-end restaurants.

Pork belly is often smoked in the BBQ world in the United States, and when cooked low and slow, it becomes juicy and flavorful. The slow cooking process allows the meat to become tender and the fat to render slowly, keeping the meat from drying out. The skin cap may be made crispy, creating a flavor-packed dish.

Flavor

There are several methods to prepare a whole pork belly. The taste profile is sweet and salty when smoked with woods like hickory and apple. You can cook pork belly with various BBQ rubs and a burst of spice for an added kick, or keep it simple with only salt and pepper for savory dishes.

The point here is how versatile this cut is, and that there are several methods to cook pork belly.

Popular Recipes

Pork belly is one of the several pork cuts available, and it begs you to explore and extend your culinary ideas. Pork belly can be deep-fried, smoked, or braised. Here are some of the most popular recipes and meals I’ve tried throughout the years.

  • Smoked pork belly—normally slowly smoked in a smoker for hours.
  • Braised pork belly
  • Burned Ends

What is Bacon?

Bacon pack
BBQ Grill Academy / Hector Ruiz

Bacon is derived from pork belly, which is not a primal cut. American bacon consists of thin strips of pork belly cut very thin to make American bacon. Bacon can also be made from other pork cuts, which is why in some stores, especially outside the US, pork belly bacon is labeled as “American bacon”.

Before being delivered to specialized markets, bacon is processed and cured with preservatives. The curing process extends the shelf life of the bacon and prevents bacteria growth.

Bacon can also be produced from other parts of the pig’s carcass but is labeled differently.

Streaky pork bacon is made from the belly; it is fattier and, perhaps, more flavorful. This bacon is easily spotted by the many streaks of fat going through the cut.

The polar opposite of streaky bacon is back loin bacon. Back bacon is a lean cut of pig’s loin bacon. Because it contains less fat and is leaner, back bacon is more often used in sandwiches and salads. It complements certain things better, but it still has that salty taste.

Jowl bacon is a distinctive bacon cut that comes from the pigs’ cheeks rather than the belly. However, since it has many of the traits and tastes of bacon, it is often cured, smoked, and sold as a kind of bacon.

Cottage Bacon is a lean bacon that comes from the pork shoulder. It is lean, but because it is less expensive to produce, it is usually less expensive.

Slap bacon is a whole pork belly slab smoked and cured that you can slice into bacon.

Where is Bacon cut from?

As explained above, bacon can be derived from different pork cuts, but American bacon is sliced and produced from pork belly.

Popular Bacon uses, applications, and dishes

Bacon may be used in a number of dishes, including pizza and salad toppings. It’s popular in burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast dishes.

Flavor

It has a salty taste, but it can also be cooked with a sweet flavor.

Popular Recipes

Bacon and eggs

Smoked Bacon wrapped chicken

Cheese Burgers with Bacon

Conclusion

To summarize, there are certain differences between pork belly and bacon, although they are both rather easy to cook and delicious . Pork belly is an uncooked and uncured primal cut. On the other hand, bacon is trimmed or chopped off the pork belly or other areas of the pork. Bacon is cured, processed, and includes preservatives that the more natural pig belly cut does not.

I hope you liked and learned something from this essay. Keep on Grillin’

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