Have you ever planned to make a recipe, only to realize that you can’t use one of the ingredients? But you still want to make the recipe, so start to look at substitutions.
When substituting for pork belly, there are a few different options you can try depending on the recipe you’re using and how you were meant to prepare the pork belly.
Pork belly refers to a cut of meat from the underside, or belly, of the pig. Sometimes pork belly will be referred to as bacon or pancetta, though those aren’t true synonyms.
Bacon and pancetta come from pork belly, but pork belly is uncured meat, while bacon and pancetta have been cured.
Sometimes the term pork belly is also called side pork. Some butchers will differentiate between side pork and pork belly depending on where on the belly the cut is from.
Uncured pork belly has a similar taste to pork loin. The mild taste of pork belly makes it a versatile cut, as cooks can apply a variety of seasonings and treatments.
The versatility of pork belly also means you can find it in a variety of cuisines from around the world.
Pork belly is a slab cut from the underside of the pig. This is not the stomach of the pig, but rather the layers of fat and muscle stretching from the front legs to the back legs.
It’s also the same area that spareribs come from, but cuts of pork belly are boneless.
There are several options you can use in place of pork belly. Which one you choose will depend on the type of dish you’re preparing.
Whatever you choose should be boneless, fatty, and high in protein.
Bacon is the go-to substitute for pork belly, especially sliced pork belly. The flavors are very similar since bacon is often thin-sliced pork belly.
It’s important to note that bacon is often sliced thinner than slices of pork belly, so you may need to adjust your cooking time.
When cooking with bacon, you may find it necessary to modify the salt and fat content of your recipe. Most of the fat melts out when frying bacon, so you may not need to add any more to your dish.
Bacon is also salted and cured, so be mindful when seasoning your recipe. You are probably safe to cut back on the salt a little since the salted bacon is replacing the unsalted pork belly.
While pork bacon is the ideal substitute for pork belly, it’s not an option for everyone. In that case, you can try beef or turkey bacon.
Beef bacon is closer in texture and flavor to pork bacon, but many people prefer turkey bacon because of the lower fat content.
Because beef bacon and turkey bacon have a lower fat content than pork bacon, you may not need to adjust the fat content of the rest of your recipe the way you do for pork bacon. However, keep in mind that both types of bacon are still salted and cured, so you will still want to reduce the salt content.
Sometimes your recipe may call for a larger cut of meat. Pork shoulder and pork butt are both taken from above the pig’s front legs.
They both have close to the same amount of fat as pork belly, with the pork butt having slightly more fat than the pork shoulder. The most significant difference is that the meat of the shoulder and butt will be tougher than the meat of the pork belly.
When substituting pork shoulder or butt for pork belly, there are a few things to consider. The shape of the cuts is often different, with the pork shoulder being more lopsided than a slab of pork belly.
For this reason, it’s essential to be conscious of evenly cooking the pork shoulder if you’re leaving it whole. Otherwise, you shouldn’t need to adjust the fat or seasoning in your recipe.
Due to the texture and fat distribution, pork belly usually isn’t a great substitute for pork shoulder. However, depending on the recipe, it should be okay to switch out pork shoulder in place of pork belly.
If you’re looking for a cut of pork to make salt pork, the most similar is going to be pork fatback. Pork fatback comes from the back of the pork, the area around the spine.
The problem with pork fatback is it contains a much higher ratio of fat to meat. In fact, some cuts of fatback may not have meat at all.
Fatback is usually best used as a substitute in salted pork or when mixed in with other meats to make sausage or meatballs. Be very mindful of the excess fat on this cut of meat, and tweak the fats and oils in your recipe accordingly.
If pork simply isn’t an option for you, beef navel is an alternative type of meat. Beef navel comes from about the same part of the cow as pork belly does on a pig. Like pork belly, beef navel also is cut in a slab and has a high-fat content.
Beef navel can be smoked, and you can also use it to make beef bacon. As beef navel comes unseasoned, you shouldn’t need to make drastic changes to your recipe. Just note that the flavor might be slightly different.
Chicken thighs are another option if you aren’t able to eat pork. The thighs are a fattier part of the chicken, making it a good substitute for the fatty pork belly.
Chicken thighs are especially great for recipes that call for braising, like the Chinese dish Hong Shao.
Like the beef navel, you shouldn’t have to modify your recipe too much to accommodate the chicken thighs, but the texture and taste will be different. The cooking time is the main thing to watch out for when using chicken thighs.
Pork belly is often meant to cook slower to allow the meat to become tender. Chicken thighs are already tender, so they will need less cooking time.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, tempeh is an excellent option to replace pork belly. Tempeh is cooked and fermented soybeans and often comes in a cake-like loaf.
You can use tempeh in many of the same ways you can use pork: it can be barbecued, fried, used as cutlets, and you can often incorporate it well into Chinese dishes. It also works very well as a bacon substitute.
Tempeh often comes frozen and should be cooked thoroughly before eating. As a result, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your dish.
The cooking time for tempeh is likely to be vastly different from what the recipe recommends for the pork belly. Tempeh also doesn’t contain the fat that pork belly does, so you may need to add in more fat or oil to accommodate.
Another option for vegetarians or vegans is mushrooms. This won’t work in every recipe, but it will work for recipes that either call for bacon or chunks of pork belly, such as soups and chilis.
Like tempeh, you will likely need to modify the recipe to add in more fats or oils. Both shiitake mushrooms and bacon have a rich umami flavoring, making umami a great option as a substitute instead of bacon. Shiitake mushrooms can be sliced into bacon-like strips, or you can chop them for stews and soups.
Salt pork and pork belly are not exactly the same. Instead, salt pork is a cut of pork, usually pork belly, that has been cured in salt. Pork belly, meanwhile, usually refers to the uncured, unsmoked cut of meat.
Bacon is sliced pork belly that has been cured and smoked. Bacon is more similar to pancetta, an Italian bacon that has been salted and cured but not smoked. Both are typically made from pork belly, though they may also come from the back or sides of the pig.
Most of the time, side pork refers to the same cut as pork belly. They’re usually two different terms that mean the same thing.
Occasionally, however, a butcher may differentiate between the two and use side pork to describe cuts from higher up on the sides. In that case, side pork will typically have less fat than pork belly.