While you may be familiar with eating pork, you may not fully understand the differences between side pork and pork belly. Believe it or not – there aren’t very many differences.
In fact, some people use these terms interchangeably. To fully understand the differences, you must first start out by learning about the different parts of the pig and what they are called.
The Different Primals
Butchers use the term “primal” to describe the different sections of the pig. There are four primals in total. You have the loin, which is also the back of the pig, the back leg, typically used for carving out ham, the shoulder, and the side.
The side is what is also known as pork belly. Now you may be wondering how the pig’s side and belly could be the same.
To fully understand this, you must picture the pig, laid out and ready to be cut up. Then you will realize that the pig’s belly is also its side.
A pig is shaped more like a fish, and when you slice a fish, you are slicing its sides, which can also be considered its “belly.”
What Exactly Is Pork Belly?
You may still be left with a few questions after that explanation. What exactly is pork belly? Pork belly is essentially a slab of meat that is entirely flat. When slicing under the skin, you will find that the fat underneath isn’t very thick.
However, this is what is used to make bacon and/or pork belly. It is the fat and rich portion of meat that is sold uncured and in large slabs.
When cooked, pork belly is extremely tender and will easily fall apart in your mouth. Believe it or not, bacon can technically be considered pork belly, but pork belly cannot be considered bacon. Pork belly is the entire slab of the pig, while bacon is taken from that slab.
Unlike bacon, pork belly is not cured, which means it isn’t full of nitrates. Bacon can also be found in other parts of the pig, such as the back, collar, and shoulder.
How to Cook Pork Belly
All this talk of pork belly might be making you hungry, so we’ve provided you with some basic information about how to cook pork belly. It can be braised, roasted, fried, or even grilled.
Pork belly is great on its own, but also goes well in ramen, pork buns, sandwiches, and more.
The first thing to know is that when cooking pork belly, you want to make sure you are not overcooking it. Pork belly should always be tender, and overcooking it will simply turn it into bacon.
Pork belly is better cooked when it is slow-roasted, deep fried, braised, or even grilled.
When to Use Bacon Instead
As we just mentioned, many people may end up overcooking their pork belly, which then ends up as bacon. However, sometimes it is better to use bacon instead of pork belly in certain dishes.
For example, bacon is a much better alternative when you want to add a touch of saltiness to your pasta, sandwich, salads, or combining it with other meats. Pork belly is simply too fatty for this and will overpower the dish you are creating.
Pork Belly Versus Pancetta
Pork belly, bacon, pancetta. It can be hard to keep up with all the different ways you can eat pork. Luckily, they are all just as delicious. Pancetta, however, is a great ingredient to incorporate in many pasta dishes.
What is pancetta? Pancetta is a cured meat that is seasoned with a variety of flavorings. It is typically known for its part in many popular Italian dishes, and because most of the time the curing takes place in Italy.
The seasonings used to cure it are what sets this particular piece of meat aside from the rest.
Crispy Pork Belly
There are different ways to cook pork belly, but there’s nothing better than a crispy piece of pork belly. To do this, you will need a few ingredients first.
You will need about a half pound of pork belly, half a teaspoon of paprika, salt and pepper, and some olive oil. You more than likely already have most of these ingredients, which already makes this recipe so much more simple.
Before you get started, be sure to preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Using your seasonings, cover your pork belly in them and then wrap it in parchment paper and two layers of aluminum foil.
Then, you can go ahead and place it in a baking dish. Now comes the hard part. You are going to want to leave your pork belly to cook in the oven for six hours. Yes, you read that right. You can’t rush greatness!
When that’s done, leave the pork belly to cool before you place it in the fridge to cool overnight. The next day, be sure to take out the slabs of pork belly and trim away any fat that may have started to fall off.
Don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty left to enjoy. Be sure to save those extra pieces of fat trimmings.
Next up, you want to cut up the meat into separate slices and then reseason with some salt to taste. Use the fat trimmings you saved earlier and heat them up in the pan you will cook your pork belly in.
Once the fat is sizzling, you can drop in your pieces of meat. You’ll be able to tell when the pork belly is done after it starts to brown evenly on both sides.
Finally, take the pork belly off the pan and transfer it to a plate where you will then add the finishing touches – a drizzle of olive oil and some pepper.
You can eat the pork belly on its own, or as mentioned earlier, it can be great in pork buns or noodle dishes like ramen.
Other Ways to Use Pork Belly
If you’re not in the mood to eat pork belly on its own, we have also provided you with some ideas for how to incorporate pork belly into your dishes.
What’s a barbeque without baked beans? Take your traditional recipe up a notch by using pork belly and brown sugar to make your baked beans taste out of this world.
Sweet potatoes are also another great dish to make with pork belly. The sweetness of the potato will provide a delicious contrast to your savory and salty pork belly.
If you prefer your potatoes mashed, you can also use your pork belly here. Simply cut up your cooked pieces of pork belly and mix them into your mashed potatoes. It will add a surprisingly delicious touch to an otherwise classic side dish.
If you’re looking for a healthy-ish alternative to being able to use your pork belly, simply take some Brussels sprouts and slice them in half.
Sprinkle olive oil, salt and pepper on them before throwing them in the oven to roast. Midway through roasting, add in bits of pork belly to give your sprouts an extra kick.
If you want to indulge altogether, you can always put bits of pork belly into your homemade cornbread. Simply add the pieces into the batter before baking.
Once done baking, slather on a layer of butter for a truly decadent treat.
Cost of Pork Belly
Delicious as it might be, pork belly can also be very expensive. This is partly because of the high supply and demand that is a result of the popularity of pork belly.
Because it is so versatile and can be cooked in so many ways, pork belly is slowly becoming a vital dish in restaurants and homes alike.
Pork belly is also much more difficult to harvest since a pig only has one belly. As a result, the supply can be rather limited, thus increasing the cost of the pork belly.
The best option here would be to buy pork belly in bulk, since it’s usually sold less expensive that way.
As you can see, there are many different aspects of a pig that make it so delicious. Different parts are used for different dishes, but at the end of the day, pork belly takes the cake. It is fatty, savory, and delicious no matter how you cook it.
Contrary to popular belief, side pork and pork belly are essentially the same thing. They come from the same part of the pig, but people tend to use the terms interchangeably.
When you ask for this particular slab of meat at the butcher, you can usually say pork belly or side pork and you’ll end up getting the same piece of meat.
Now all you have to do is figure out how you want to cook it!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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