Battle of the Bulge: Pork Belly vs Bacon

September 4, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Pork belly and bacon can differ in taste, thickness, uses, price, and more!

As a chef, I had to learn all about pork belly early on in my career, but I know that a lot of people didn’t which is why there is so much confusion about pork belly vs. bacon. Fortunately, I am here to clear it up!

In this post I will outline the differences between pork belly and bacon and deep dive into what these meats are all about. Let’s get started!

pork belly vs bacon

What is Pork Belly?

So, let’s get started with pork belly – what is it?

As the name suggests, it is a cut of meat from the belly of the pig. It is fatty and boneless. As a large slab, it can appear as a chunk of meat with a thick layer of flat running along the top. There are thinner layers of fat that present as marbling throughout.

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What is Bacon?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, isn’t it pretty obvious what bacon is? I mean, you’ve probably been enjoying this delicious, crispy, salty treat since you were a child!

However, despite its popularity, a lot of people dont actually know what bacon is, so let’s break it down. Bacon is most commonly taken from the belly of the pig too. That being said, it can be taken from the side and back as well.

raw bacon

Bacon taken from the back is aptly referred to as back bacon.

Of course, there is more to bacon than just where it comes from on a pig. What makes it truly special is the curing and smoking process. This cured meat is made by rubbing meat with salt, nitrates, and nitrites. These act as preservatives.

There is uncured bacon as well, but it still has been processed. However, in this instance, the nitrates are from natural sources like celery salt and sea salt.

I should point out that turkey bacon and beef bacon aren’t the same as pork bacon. Those cured meats come from turkeys and cows respectively.

Is Pork Belly Bacon?

Now, here is an interesting question:

Is pork belly bacon or is bacon pork belly?

Well, while both of these are pork cuts from pigs and they are technically pork belly cuts. They are also both side cuts. In this way, they are a similar cut.

That being said, they are treated as different cuts. In particular, you should be mindful of the fact that while not all pork belly is bacon and not all bacon is pork belly.

Bacon pork belly comes specifically from the belly cut – it is also known as streaky bacon. Streaky pork bacon is the most common option in the US.

Whole smoked pork belly is known as slab bacon. As mentioned, bacon taken from other cuts are different. For instance:

  • Cuts of cheek meat is known as jowl bacon
  • Cottage bacon is taken from the pork shoulder

Bacon traditionally is also stripped of most of the fatty meat that is present on pork belly.

Also, unlike bacon, pork belly is uncured and considered a fresh and raw meat. It is a fatty cut.

Is Pork Belly Better Than Bacon?

Well, as you can imagine, in the case of pork belly vs bacon, what is better can be relative. After all, each person has their own preferences.

Nevertheless, in general, is considered the better pork cut. This has to do with the fact that it has a higher fat content. Thus, it produces juicier and more tender meat.

In terms of health, pork belly may be considered the better option as well. Yes, it does contain more fat, but bacon has a high saturated fat content too. To add to this, it is high in sodium and some of the nitrates are considered carcinogenic, particularly in higher quantities.

The Main Differences Between Pork Belly and Bacon

Let’s take a look at what really separates pork belly and bacon:

The Flavor

The main difference between bacon and pork belly is the taste.

Pork belly can be a mix of flavors. On the one hand, the meat itself is quite mild. The fatty, rich layer, though, has a hearty and slightly salty taste to it. When this portion melts, these flavors are entwined with the rest of the meat.

pork cut to pieces

Bacon, on the other hand, can be described as salty succulence. In some instances, the bacon may undergo a smoking process. If so, it will have a smoky flavor to it.


Technically, bacon and pork belly can be sliced into any thickness. In general, however, pork belly tends to be cut into larger slabs or chunks. As for bacon, it is cut into thin slices that make it easier to fry to a crisp.

Shelf Life

As already mentioned, bacon is put through a curing process with preservatives. This allows it to last for much longer. Not only does it have a longer shelf life, but when compared to pork belly, it is less likely to become spoiled or cause food poisoning.

Uses and Preparation

The most common way to prepare bacon is frying on the stove. It is often cooked until it is crispy. It is possible to get the same effect if you bake it in an oven or grill it.

Once it is prepared, you bacon can be added to sandwiches, salads, soups, and more. It is a delicious accompaniments to eggs for breakfast, particularly streaky bacon.

Pork belly is certainly more versatile as it can be cooked and prepared in several ways. It is a popular star in Asian, Hispanic, and North European cuisines. You can prepare pork belly recipes by braising, smoking, oven roasting, frying, and slow cooking.

Cooked pork belly can be the main ingredient or can be a delicious addition to dishes such as pancetta or noodle dishes.

Cooking Time

As pork belly tends to be slab cut, it is thicker and as such, takes a longer time to be cooked properly. And, if you are roasting or slow cooking larger cuts, then it can take hours at a time. At the same time, it is a tender cut and this means that it is quite easy to overcook the meat if you aren’t careful.

With bacon, though, the strips can be properly cooked in no time at all. In fact, if you are frying it, it can take just a few minutes at a time.


The level of processing here determines the price difference between pork belly and bacon. In general, the curing process for bacon can take several days at a time, which results in a higher price. Pork belly slabs are the less expensive side cuts in this scenario.


Now, if you live in the US, then you may think that bacon is clearly the more popular belly cut. And, for the most part, you would be right.

However, it really does all depend on perspective, the cuisine you are most familiar with, and where you live in the world. In many parts of the globe, pork belly is quite common. In fact, bacon may be the rarer meat here.

There is also the fact that as there has been a surge in popularity in Asian food in the US, pork belly is also beginning to take center stage, particularly in gourmet cooking circles.

Can I Replace Bacon with Pork Belly?

Here is a big question – can you substitute pork belly for bacon and vice versa?

Yes, technically you can. After all, there are similarities and they are both delicious cuts. The one thing that you should be mindful of, though, is flavor. On average, bacon is a lot saltier and this is something you will have to account for when adding pork belly to a recipe.

As established, pork belly will also take longer to cook. And, if you want the same texture or crunch as bacon, the pork belly may need to be deep fried.

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Wrapping It Up

When it comes to pork belly vs bacon, there are mostly differences. Bacon is a strongly flavored cured meat that has limited uses in dishes while fresh pork belly can be mild but is also used as a main ingredient in a number of savory dishes.

Bacon last for a long period of time, while pork belly has to be cooked and eaten fairly soon. In terms of cooking time, bacon can be prepared in a matter of minutes while pork belly may even taken hours, depending on the cooking method.

At the end of the day, though, they are both delicious and you should certainly should cook with both these cuts more often!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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