Pancetta vs Bacon; are die hard Italia cooks correct in stating that pancetta is in fact different to bacon or are both essentially the same with a slight regional twist?
Make no mistake about it both pancetta and bacon can add a deep flavor and extra fat content to any savory dish. But how exactly are the different?
Pancetta vs Bacon
To put it simply, pancetta is more or less the Italian version of bacon, though both are extremely desirable add-ons to everything from sandwiches to pasta.
So, how do they differ?
Well, the gap between the two is definitely there but the size of that gap is often argued by some. Some might argue they are different only in preparation but to others, they are as similar as turkey and tomatoes.
We know that both pancetta and bacon come from the same source, pork belly, but the way they are prepared is quite different, which ultimately affects the flavor.
Curing and Smoking
For pancetta, curing is very simple, often only done not only with salt but also additional spices and combinations of aromatic herbs and vegetables. Bacon is cured as well but the real difference is that bacon is typically smoked once it has been cured.
You will commonly see bacon packaged with “maple” or “applewood” labeling and these are the woods used to smoke the bacon. The smoking of the bacon definitely enhances the flavor and the type of wood used is often immediately noticeable upon cooking.
While this process can certainly add wonderful flavors to the meat, you would not do this with pancetta. Pancetta is characterized by its purity and rich flavors without the aid of additional smoking, which can set these two apart dramatically as far as flavor.
You will also find that bacon is more accessible than pancetta by a significantly huge margin. Grocery stores may carry this as somewhat of a specialty item but it is almost never stocked as fully as bacon.
You may find it in some delis as a specially-ordered product but not usually as a stock item. Additionally, the quality of pancetta can vary quite dramatically so even if you do happen to find it, there is no telling how accurate the flavor will be.
As a popular Italian ingredient, you may find some quality pancetta at Italian restaurants or groceries. You can also order your pancetta online if you find a reliable source.
Substituting One for the Other
Feel free to substitute one of these meats for the other, whichever way. Both of them typically enhance any dish they are added to but you have to keep in mind the smokiness of the bacon.
If your recipe or sandwich relies on the smoked flavor qualities of the bacon, substituting pancetta likely won’t cut it. You can certainly do it but you won’t have that smoky flavor that you would get from the bacon, which can definitely hurt the recipe in some cases.
However, bacon is also unavailable unsmoked. If the bacon you intended on using hasn’t been smoked with any woods, substituting pancetta is perfectly acceptable and you may even find it to be better. This is especially the case for Italian dishes.
While both of these meats can add to almost any recipe, they are often chosen based on their flavor profiles.