Pancetta Substitute: Best Options

Pancetta, or salt-cured pork belly, is a popular Italian meat cut typically eaten raw. This meat originated from Italy and is a common ingredient in many traditional dishes. But if you’re up for some adventurous cooking, plenty of pancetta substitute options are available for you to incorporate.

While it’s similar to bacon, the difference between them is their curing method. This process gives pancetta a distinct pork flavor, devoid of the smokiness of bacon. You can usually purchase pancetta as a flat slab of meat or in log form.

Although pancetta is a staple in many Italian dishes, it may not always be available at your local store. Therefore, this article offers plenty of substitutes for pancetta that may be suitable for your recipe.

What Is Pancetta?

Pancetta is a pork belly cut that includes many lean and fatty parts. The meat is soaked in a tub of brine for up to 10 days. Other spices such as nutmeg, pepper, cloves, juniper, cinnamon, and rosemary are also typically used in the cure.

After 10 days, pancetta emerges from the solution, where it’s then rolled up with fatty layers on the outside. Pancetta tastes like bacon with a little more salt and without that overpowering smokiness that’s present in bacon. This deeper pork taste is perfect for those that want to eat pancetta raw or slice it into their dishes. 

Pancetta is perfect in dishes such as carbonara, antipasti, and French frisée salad. You can add pancetta to mushrooms and rice for a pancetta risotto. Or incorporate it alongside your eggs, just like you would with bacon.

Pancetta Substitute

There are multiple substitutes for pancetta, regardless of the dish you’re making. The following list offers some of those substitutes, including the various pancetta dishes you can use them for.

1. Prosciutto

Prosciutto is the pancetta substitute to go for when your sandwiches need a touch of ham. This pork meat is sliced thinly and dry-cured, making it possible to eat it raw, just like pancetta. 

Regarding taste, prosciutto is a fatty meat that delivers a salty and savory taste similar to pancetta. This similarity makes it easy to substitute one for the other in any dish.

This substitute is ideal for sandwiches, pizza, pasta, and risotto. It also makes for a fantastic antipasti alternative.

2. Smoked Ham

Like pancetta, smoked ham comes from pork but is taken from a leg meat cut. It’s smoke-cured, giving this meat a smoky and rich pork flavor. And you can use it as a pancetta replacement in many dishes. Smoked ham can even be eaten raw since it has been cured.

Slice your smoked ham for use on sandwiches or pizzas. Alternatively, dice the smoked ham when including it in your pasta and risotto recipes.

3. Salted Pork 

You could perhaps settle for salted pork if you need a pancetta substitute for a soup dish. Salted pork is made from pork preserved with salt, making it saltier than other substitutes. This alternative tastes a little like bacon but saltier and with less fat.

You can also use salted pork in pasta dishes, chowder, and bean soup. However, you’ll need to soak or boil the salted pork to reduce its saltiness before adding it to your recipe.

4. Smoked Sausage

Smoked sausage is made from smoke-cured pork meat that is ground and stuffed into a sausage casing. This meat is usually sweet and slightly spicy, with a distinctive pork taste and soft texture. 

This sausage is best used in pancetta dishes that don’t require thinly sliced meat. Nevertheless, it’s one of the best substitutes for pancetta in terms of flavor. So, you won’t need to make other adjustments to your recipe when using it. Smoked sausage is ideal for pasta dishes, rice dishes, pizza toppings, subs, and more.

5. Smoked Turkey

When you need a sweeter flavor in your dish, smoked turkey is your best bet. Smoked turkey works best in dishes that require cubed, savory-sweet meat. And it’s tender, with a smokey aroma reminiscent of smoked ham.

Smoked turkey also adds a subtle meaty taste to your meal. However, this meat lacks the salty and fatty properties of pancetta. You can add extra salt and fat to mimic the texture and flavor of pancetta. 

6. Bacon

Although pancetta and bacon both come from pork belly, you can’t eat bacon raw. However, bacon is an excellent substitute for pancetta if you don’t mind its smokey flavor.

In many ways, bacon tastes almost precisely like pancetta but is slightly richer and saltier. It’s often smoke-cured, which adds a heightened savory flavor to your dish. 

You can use bacon in carbonara pasta, soups, sandwiches, salads, pizza, and much more. 

7. Salami

Salami is a pork sausage made from ground cuts of meat mixed with several spices and cured. As a result of the spices used in making it, this meat is usually salty and savory. However, it mimics the fattiness of pancetta, which induces a caramelized flavor when fried or grilled.

Since this meat is cured for preservation, you can use it raw for sandwiches. Cooked salami is a tasty addition to pasta, pizzas, and other Italian dishes. 

8. Tofu

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try tofu for your pasta and pizza dishes? Tofu is a protein-rich pancetta alternative derived from bean curd. You can use tofu for many pancetta dishes as it soaks up the dish’s flavors.

Tofu is a thick curd with a soft texture and a subtle flavor. Using firm tofu is best when replacing pancetta. To mimic pancetta’s flavor, tofu should be marinated in soy sauce or a similar salty marinade before frying or grilling.

Conclusion

Although pancetta is a staple in many Italian dishes, it may not always be an option due to availability or preference. When looking for a pancetta substitute, you’ll find plenty of great options above to round off the perfect dish.