Have you ever come across a cut of meat labeled as side pork, and wondered what it was? Maybe you’ve heard of it, but you weren’t sure if it was the same thing as pork belly. For that matter, how do either of these differ from bacon?
In this guide, we’ll attempt to answer these questions, so you’ll know just how to handle recipes that call for side pork or pork belly.
Side Pork vs Pork Belly
Pork belly, which is sometimes called “side pork,” comes from the underside of the hog, from the primal known as the side. The terms are usually used interchangeably, but sometimes a butcher will label the meat from the lower portion of the side as “pork belly,” and the upper portion as “side pork.”
What Is Side Pork?
Although side pork is sometimes described as a different cut of meat than the belly, the truth is that these terms are basically interchangeable. Like pork loin back ribs and baby back ribs, they refer to the same part of the pig.
During butchering, the hog is divided into four primal cuts. These consist of the loin, which is located along the back; the ham, from the rear leg; the shoulder, which can be divided into the butt and the picnic shoulder roast; and the side.
Note that each pig actually has two sets of primals: left and right. This makes sense when you consider the fact that there are two front legs (or shoulders) and two rear legs (or hams).
The side primal is often referred to as the belly. That’s where the terms get confusing, especially since we tend to think of the “belly” as the lower torso.
When you’re dealing with quadrupeds like pigs, though, the belly wraps around both sides of the rib cage. Therefore, the side and the belly are essentially the same thing.
Side Pork vs Pork Belly
Why are there two different names for the same cut of meat?
First of all, this phenomenon is not unheard of. Many cuts go by more than one name, with the baby back/pork loin ribs being but one example. The petite shoulder cut steak, for instance, may be called the teres major or the bistro steak.
In the case of side pork vs pork belly, the butcher may differentiate based on where the cut was made. Pork taken from the lower portion of the side may be called the belly, while the meat from higher up on the sides of the animal will be labeled as side pork.
In most cases, side pork is pork belly, and vice versa. You probably won’t notice any difference between the two. However, if the butcher uses the distinction we’ve just described, there may be more fat than meat on the belly, and a higher meat-to-fat ratio on the side pork.
Is The Pork Stomach The Same As The Belly?
No. Although we think of “belly” and “stomach” as the same body part, this isn’t true when it comes to pigs.
Pork belly refers to the fatty meat on the underside of the pig. The stomach, meanwhile, is the actual internal organ that’s part of the pig’s digestive system. Though pork stomach is edible, it’s not something you’ll find in most supermarkets. It also requires a very different preparation technique.
Bacon vs Pork Belly
You may already know that most bacon comes from the belly of the hog. That doesn’t mean that bacon and pork belly are exactly the same, although one could be forgiven for thinking so.
The pork belly can be trimmed to make bacon, and that’s the type you’ll usually find in the cured-meat section of the supermarket. However, bacon can come from other parts of the pig as well, including the shoulder, collar, and jowl.
Also, fresh pork belly isn’t cured, so it’s not as salty as bacon. This also means that it’s lower in nitrates, with a stronger, cleaner pork flavor.
When pork belly is overcooked, it resembles bacon enough to be used as a substitute in some recipes. If you’re making a salad or sandwich, however, don’t use pork belly unless the recipe calls for it. The ingredient is so rich and fatty, it might overpower the other flavors.
Pork Belly vs Pancetta
I’ve heard pancetta described as “fancy bacon,” and that’s a fairly accurate description. There are a couple of differences, though, and it’s useful to know what they are if you plan on using pancetta in a recipe.
True Italian pancetta comes from the pork belly and is treated with various seasonings, just like regular bacon. However, it isn’t smoked, which gives it a slightly different flavor.
Pancetta is traditionally seasoned with salt, pepper, coriander, juniper berries, and fennel seeds. The meat is then refrigerated for about 10 days, after which it’s washed to remove the seasoning. Once it’s been “cleaned,” the meat is seasoned again with pepper.
In Italy, the meat is typically sold sliced, and can be used as a delicate and flavorful wrapper for vegetables, meat, and seafood. It also makes a great pizza topping.
Cubed pancetta is more common in the United States. In this form, it’s best as an ingredient for amatriciana sauce, homemade risotto, and soup. You can also use the rendered fat to contribute rich flavor to soups, sauces, and stews.
How Much Does Pork Belly Cost?
Most of the time, you can expect to pay $2 to $6 per pound for fresh pork belly. When you order from specialty online retailers, the cost might be slightly higher.
If you’re hesitant to pay that much, remember that the demand for this ingredient is high, especially in restaurants. To score a good deal, look around to see who’s offering the best price. Also, consider buying a lot of pork belly at once, as it usually carries a lower per-pound price when it’s sold in bulk.
How To Prepare Pork Belly
When it’s cooked correctly, pork belly should be melt-in-your-mouth tender. The flavor really shines when it’s either roasted, fried, braised, or—best of all—grilled.
You can use pork belly to make delicious pork buns, ramen dishes, or banh mi sandwiches. It’s also excellent when enjoyed on its own, or served atop a bed of shredded lettuce and carrots with minced scallions.
The main thing to remember is not to overcook the pork belly. If it’s cooked too long, it loses its soft texture and turns into uncured bacon.
How To Make Crispy Grilled Pork Belly
For this crisp pork belly, we’ve chosen a glaze with Asian-inspired flavors. This will provide the perfect salty-sweet counterpoint to the rich, fatty meat.
- 5 pounds fresh pork belly
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup spice rub (a combination of brown sugar, smoked paprika, kosher salt, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper works well)
For the Sauce:
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 1/4 tamari
- 2 tablespoons sweet Thai chili sauce
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1. Pat the pork belly dry with paper towels.
2. If the pork is in one large slab, divide it in half. This will make it easier to trim, not to mention easier to handle once it’s on the grill.
3. Turn the pork belly halves so that the fat side is facing you. Trim the fat cap until the layer is more or less even, leaving about 1/4 inch of fat on the meat.
4. Use your trimming knife to score a series of X’s in the fat cap.
5. Flip the meat over so the fat side faces down and trim away the silverskin, if you see any.
6. Carve vertical slices into the muscle side of the pork belly, taking care to go only 2/3 of the way through the meat. This allows the pork to crisp up nicely and gives the fat a chance to escape as it renders out. Be careful—you don’t want to cut all the way to the other side.
7. Preheat your grill or smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Coat the pork in olive oil and season with the dry rub of your choice, making sure to press it into all of the vertical slices.
9. When the smoker is hot enough, add the pork belly and close the lid. Smoke for 2 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the temperature probe should slide in and out easily.
10. Remove the pork from the smoker and set aside. Increase the smoker temperature to 450-500 degrees. Wait for it to heat up to the set temperature before you move on to the next step. Otherwise, the pork might not crisp up as well.
11. Place the pork over direct heat, grilling for about 2-3 minutes per side. We would suggest that you close the lid whenever possible to lessen the risk of flare-ups.
12. When the pork belly is nice and crisp, remove it from the heat. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before you finish carving it into slices, using the vertical slashes you made earlier as a guide.
Tip: If you’d like to serve the meat as a snack or appetizer, cut the strips into smaller cubes before tossing them in the sauce.
13. While the meat is resting, make the sauce. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well to incorporate.
14. Toss the meat with the prepared sauce and enjoy.
Other Uses For Pork Belly
Although pork belly is delectable when enjoyed on its own, you have plenty of other options. Here are a few easy ways to incorporate pork belly leftovers into other meals. For best results, dice the meat into small pieces beforehand.
- Add to baked beans
- Stir into roasted or mashed sweet potatoes
- Toss with roasted Brussels sprouts
- Mix into homemade cornbread batter just before baking
The Bottom Line
If a recipe calls for either side pork or pork belly, feel free to use whichever one you can find. It’s rare for a butcher to differentiate between the two, and even if they do, the differences will be negligible.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!