Home Articles What Is Pancetta? (+ What It Tastes Like)

What Is Pancetta? (+ What It Tastes Like)

Have you ever come across Pancetta in the butcher’s section at your local grocery store? If so, you may have wondered, “Exactly what is Pancetta?” 

If you love to cook and entertain, this ingredient is not one you should overlook. 

Cured Pancetta with Salt and Pepper on a Wooden Cutting Board

Pancetta has become increasingly popular in the kitchen as a flavorful bacon alternative.

It’s a real star when added to recipes like pasta, quiches, and casseroles. 

If you’re wondering what makes Pancetta so special, keep reading!

Today, we’ll explore what Pancetta is, how to use it, and where to buy it. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! 

Keep reading for even more essential Pancetta knowledge.

What Is Pancetta? 

Pancetta originated in Italy. It’s a common alternative to bacon that also comes from pork belly.

Instead of smoking it, butchers cure pancetta with salt and/or sugar and seasonings. 

It comes both sliced and cubed and is perfectly safe to eat without cooking. (It also tastes great when cooked, though!) 

For those who want to cook Pancetta, the cubed variety is best.

Sliced Pancetta, on the other hand, makes a great appetizer and works well as sandwich meat. 

The curing process for Pancetta varies from butcher to butcher.

Some people use brine, while others prefer a dry curing process.

Sliced Pancetta on a Parchment Paper

What Does Pancetta Taste Like?

If you love bacon, you’ll also love Pancetta because that’s what it tastes like.

It tastes like stronger, fresher, more flavorful (and sometimes saltier) bacon. 

The primary difference between Pancetta and bacon is that Pancetta isn’t smoked.

Therefore, it doesn’t have bacon’s signature smokiness. 

Pancetta vs. Bacon vs. Prosciutto (What’s the Difference?)

I’ve touched on some of the differences between bacon and Pancetta already.

However, prosciutto is another ingredient that people also confuse with the two. 

The following table will break down the primary differences between each ingredient. 

Meat cut fromPork bellyPork bellyPig’s back leg
Preservation methodCured with salt, etc.SmokedDry cured
Preservation timeApproximately 3 weeksApproximately 10 daysNearly a year
ColorLight pinkDark pink to redLight pink
TextureSilky, often cut into thin slices or cubedRougher texture, cut into thick or thin stripsFatty, soft, smooth, and “buttery,” sliced very thinly
ConsumedRaw or cookedCooked onlyTypically raw
FlavorLike bacon, but is sometimes saltier and not smokySmoky, earthySlightly sweet and salty

Hopefully, this table will help you differentiate between these three types of meat.

Remember: You’ll often see prosciutto and pancetta on antipasto or appetizer platters.

Because bacon must be cooked, it rarely appears as an appetizer by itself. 

Pancetta Sandwich with Tomato and Lettuce on a Wooden Cutting Board

How to Use Pancetta 

As mentioned, you can consume Pancetta cooked or uncooked. That means there are plenty of different ways to use it. 

Here are some of the most common uses for uncooked pancetta: 

  • Sandwich meat
  • Antipasto, Charcuterie, or other appetizer platters
  • Meat and cheese samplers
  • Added to salads
  • Sprinkled over cooked meats (a la bacon bits style)

As for cooked Pancetta, the options are pretty limitless.

You can cook and eat it by itself or pair it with numerous sides. It works well for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

It also adds plenty of flavor when added to soups and stews.

You can also use the cubed kind to season your green beans, turnip greens, spinach, and other veggies. 

Some people add it to their pizzas and hot subs and sandwiches, as well.

It also makes an excellent addition to pasta (raw or cooked) and Brussels sprouts. 

If you have a recipe that calls for bacon, you can probably substitute Pancetta instead.

It may not have the same smokiness, but it’ll still taste incredible. 

Where to Buy Pancetta

You can typically find Pancetta anywhere you can find bacon.

However, it isn’t as widely available as its more popular cousin, so it may not be in the same place.

For example, you may not be able to find Pancetta in the regular cold meats section of your local grocery store.

You should be able to track it down in the deli, though.

They usually have it on display or will cut it fresh to your specifications.

If you have a local butcher shop or specialty market, you’ll probably find it there, too. 

Pancetta Slices Topped on Carbonara Pasta

Pancetta Substitutes 

You can probably already guess one of the best Pancetta substitutes. If you said bacon, you answered correctly. 

Just as you can substitute pancetta for bacon, the reverse is also true. Both come from the same part of the pig and have a similar taste. 

However, it’s important to note that this substitute only works for cooked Pancetta. You cannot serve bacon raw! 

For that reason, bacon isn’t actually the best Pancetta substitute.

That honor goes to Prosciutto. They don’t come from the same cut of meat, but they feel and taste very similar. 

They’re both smooth, salty, light pink, and delicious.

And perhaps more importantly, they both are just fine when served uncooked. 

You could also use super thinly sliced ham, but the taste will be slightly different.

The texture will be pretty spot-on, though, especially when using it uncooked.

What Is Pancetta?

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author avatar
NaTaya Hastings
NaTaya Hastings is a food and recipe writer for Insanely Good Recipes. She’s an educator, boy mom, dog mom, and whatever-stray-enters-the-yard mom. As a result, she's constantly cooking for both humans and animals.

Luckily, she enjoys it!

Though born, raised, and still living in Alabama, her specialty is NOT down-home Southern cooking. Instead, she loves to experiment with Asian, Mexican, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines. She has two mottos when it comes to cooking. “The more spice, the better!” and “There’s no such thing as too much garlic!”

She’s also pretty good with desserts. Especially the easy, no-bake ones.

Her favorite things are cuddling with her four giant dogs, traveling, reading, writing, and hanging out in nature. She’s also pretty excellent at Dominoes.

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