Pork Belly vs Bacon: The Showdown

pork belly vs bacon

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If you’re like me, you think pork belly and bacon are delicious. 

But what is the difference between pork belly and bacon? Is pork belly better for you than bacon? What about taste? We’ve done our delicious research to answer all these questions for you, so keep reading to learn more about pork belly vs bacon.

What’s the difference between bacon and pork belly?

Pork belly and bacon are often different takes on the same cut of meat as bacon is primarily cut from the belly area. 

The main difference you’ll likely notice between bacon and pork belly is how fatty it tastes, which means there’s a pretty big difference in calories as well! 

What is pork belly?

Pork belly is a cut of meat that comes from, unsurprisingly, the belly of the pig. It usually has a fair amount of fat on it and looks almost like thick-cut bacon when cooked. It doesn’t have quite as much flavor as bacon does but still tastes delicious.

pork belly on a wooden table

Belly pork is famous for being one of the most unctuous parts of a pig, with a thick rind of fat that gives it a rich texture and flavor. 

It’s often used in Asian cooking because it goes really well with lots of different spices, and can also be found roasted in western cuisine to make the most of the rendered fat. 

Personally, I’m a big fan of making pork belly burnt ends. You can also keep it whole and make more of a brisket-style smoked pork belly where you slice it at the end.

What is bacon?

Bacon is a cured cut of meat taken from the belly or side of a pig. The name bacon comes from the Old French word for “back”, referring to it coming from the back, rather than the belly.

a slab of bacon with rosemary on a wooden table

Rather than a specific cut of meat, it’s better to think of bacon as a curing process, which can be applied to several parts of the pig.

The bacon curing process involves the meat being submerged in brine or heavily seasoned with curing salt. It can also be smoked to add to the flavor and make sure the rind doesn’t go tough when cooked. 

Can I substitute pork belly for bacon?

While pork belly and bacon are superficially similar, the answer to this one is generally no.

Outside of the ubiquitous bacon sandwich, bacon is rarely the star of the show in recipes. Its primary use is to add a smokey umami flavor, slight crunch, and additional fat. 

Smoked baked beans
Smoked baked beans with bacon

Pork belly, roast, or braised, however, tend to be very much the star of the show. Cooked slow and low, this fatty cut becomes melt-in-the-mouth under a layer of crisp crackling.

Porchetta style pork belly  on a rotisserie
Porchetta style pork belly stuffed with herbs and spices and cooked over charcoal on a rotisserie

To give you an idea of what recipes you’d usually use pork belly in, we’ve pulled together a few of our favorites:

  • Sticky slow-roast belly of pork – Pork belly is a relatively cheap cut of meat, making this an affordable roast to feed a crowd and James Martin’s slow and low cooking technique ensures it is beautifully soft and falls apart on the plate. 

Bacon often gets called in to add a depth of flavor to otherwise slightly bland dishes or for a little salty crunch, like in the recipes below:

  • Beef & Guinness stew with bacon dumplings –  With the year coming to an end, this hearty stew of beef and Guinness casserole really packs in the flavor, and comes served with delicious bacon dumplings, cabbage, and mash.

Of course, bacon can also be the star of the show, like in our smoked candied bacon recipe.

As you can see, the role played by bacon and pork belly in these recipes is sufficiently different that substituting them doesn’t really work.

What are the different kinds of bacon?

As it’s essentially a process, rather than a specific cut, bacon can come from a variety of different parts of the pig, including: 

  • Back Bacon – A less fatty cut that comes from the loin of the pig.
  • Jowl Bacon – A far less common type of bacon that comes from the cheek meat.
  • Cottage Bacon – Another less common type of bacon that is made from the shoulder meat.
  • Slab Bacon – Which is made from the less expensive side cuts and often used to make cooking bacon or lardons.
  • Streaky Bacon – The most common kind of bacon, cut from the belly of the pig before curing. 

Bacon doesn’t even have to come from a pig. If you go to certain gourmet butchers you can find duck bacon, beef bacon, turkey bacon and more.

Pork belly vs bacon: which is better for you?

Ok, let’s get the unfortunate news out of the way, neither bacon nor pork belly is good for you. However, as part of a balanced diet, neither will give you a heart attack on the spot.

When it comes to which is better for you, pork belly or bacon, it depends on the cut.

Pork belly is a great source of protein, B-vitamins, and selenium, but it’s also high in cholesterol, so if you have heart problems or are trying to lose weight, then definitely go for bacon.

Bacon might be less fatty than pork belly, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice. It’s still high in cholesterol and saturated fat (the bad kind), so while it might not cause your heart problems, eating too much bacon could make them worse.

However, there are actually some health benefits to eating bacon, which include an abundance of useful nutrients, including protein, B-vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, and other trace minerals.

One option is to make your own bacon, that way you control exactly what ingredients are used.

Bacon is also a surprisingly good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat that is important for heart health, brain function, and cell growth. 

So, to break it down:

Pork bellyBacon
FattyLess fatty than pork belly
High in cholesterol Less cholesterol, but is still relatively high
A good source of protein, B-vitamins, and seleniumAlso a good source of protein, B-vitamins, and selenium
A surprisingly good source of Omega 3 fatty acids

The good news is that you’re unlikely to be required to choose between pork belly and bacon as they are distinctly different products and rarely interchangeable in a recipe. 

You can also freely eat both as part of a balanced diet without any health repercussions. Although if you are regularly having pork belly for breakfast, you might want to rethink your eating habits.

Which is cheaper – bacon or pork belly?

As a general rule, bacon is always going to be cheaper than pork belly. This is because, as we’ve mentioned, you can make bacon from other, more cost-effective parts of the pig.

Bacon is also a more popular type of pork, used in a wider variety of recipes, and generally comes in smaller packages, all of these factors combining to drive the cost down.

sliced and vacuum sealed pork bacon
Bacon usually comes already sliced and in smaller packages

Although you should note that pork belly is a relatively inexpensive cut of pork, making it great for a family roast. 

With both types of pork, however, you’ll want to buy the best possible quality and from the best suppliers. To help out, we’ve put together a list of our favorite suppliers that will deliver right to your door:

Crowd Cow 

Don’t let the name fool you Crowd Cow does far more than just beef. They also sell some amazing pork belly taken from pigs reared on the Gunthorp family farm in La Grange, Indiana. Fully organic, sustainable, and pasture-fed, the pork that comes from La Grange is of excellent quality.

Crowd Cow also offers a wide range of bacon, from uncured heritage thick-cut bacon taken from Pederson’s Natural Farms to hickory-smoked sugar-free bacon that is also gluten-free and lactose-free!

Snake River Farms

Snake River Farms offers a range of fantastic specialty pork, including Kurobuta, a heritage breed hog with a history in Japanese cuisine. They also make their own bacon with a smoky, rich flavor from our proprietary cure and = hardwood smoke.

Their Kurobuta pork belly is rich with flavor and possesses a remarkable melt-in-your-mouth texture!

Wrapping it up

Pork belly and bacon have a lot in common. They are both delicious, they’re great for frying or grilling, and you can use both to make sandwiches. But that doesn’t make them interchangeable.

The curing processes, that bacon goes through, makes it quite different from pork belly, even when the meat comes from the same cut. 

Great bacon is crisp, smoky, salty, and rich in umami flavor. Pork belly has a thick layer of fat that can help it transform into melt in the mouth meat when cooked properly and it goes very well with strongly flavored sauces, like Char Siu, that helps to cut through the fattiness. 

Both of these types of pork make for a great meal and, as long as you choose the right one for the right culinary role, you’re in for a treat. 

Which one do you prefer? Let us know your favorite bacon or pork belly recipes in the comments below!

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