Bacon, pancetta, and guanciale are all Italian favorites when it comes to meat! Many famous Italian dishes include pork fat in the forms of bacon, pancetta, or guanciale, which are not to be confused with one another. Although they all come from the same animal, they are three distinct meats with unique characteristics and uses.
Here, we provide a brief guide to the differences between bacon, pancetta, and guanciale so you can make the perfect selection for your next meal or charcuterie board:
Bacon is not as common in Italy as it is in America. A true American breakfast isn’t complete without a hearty side of bacon. But in Italy, bacon is more of a specialty food used in cooking. Lean cuts of bacon (found in Italy) are taken from the back of the pig, whereas fattier cuts (found in America) come from the side or belly. Bacon is a cured meat that is often smoked to add additional flavor. It is always cooked before eating. It can also be used to wrap meats, to give sautéed vegetables a richness, or to add a salty flavor to casseroles.
Pancetta pork meat is exclusively from the belly of the pig, making it similar to some but not all bacon. It is, however, cut and cured differently than bacon. It is salted and cured with a variety of herbs before being aged for up to 4 months. It can be sliced thinly, rolled up, and served as arrotolata, a favorite Italian antipasti. This is a good addition to a charcuterie board. Alternately, it can be used in cooking in much the same way as guanciale is used to add flavor to meats and pastas.
Guanciale is not well known in America, since the FDA banned all imports of the meat from Europe. However, local farmers will sell guanciale as a specialty. Guanciale pork meat comes from the jowl of the pig, making it incredibly fatty and great to cook with. It is flavored on the surface with a mixture of salt, pepper, rosemary, sage, and garlic. It is then dried and aged for 3+ months, giving it the rich, iconic flavor of cured meat. Guanciale is almost exclusively used in cooking. Unlike bacon, it is never eaten on its own. Guanciale is a staple in Italian carbonara and amatriciana but can be added to almost any pasta dish.
Despite all being forms of pig fat, bacon, pancetta, and guanciale each have unique uses and flavors. Bacon can be cooked and eaten on its own, pancetta adds a salty bite to a charcuterie board, and guanciale is the star of traditional Italian pasta dishes.