Side pork and pork belly both refer to the same primal cut of pork. This is the meat from the belly of the pig also known as the side of the hog when viewed laterally.
Some sources say that pork belly is the lowest section of this cut while side pork sits slightly higher than pork belly. However, this description is not true. Pork belly is a single large cut of pork.
As a grill chef, I have prepared stellar pork belly recipes for over a decade which means I have bought meat from many meat farmers and butchers. They all call this cut the pork belly or the side pork. Side pork vs. pork belly is therefore moot. Both terms refer to the same cut.
In this article, I will answer the most commonly asked questions regarding this cut of pork. Let’s dive in.
So, What is Side Pork / Pork Belly?
The right or left half of a pig’s carcass produces four cuts or four primals:
- The shoulder is the front leg of the pig.
- The loin is the cut from the back region of the hog.
- The belly or the side.
- The ham is the back leg of the pig.
Why is It Called Side Pork?
Pork belly is pretty straightforward I suppose.
Humans stand on two feet and in this upright position, our bellies or belly areas are generally wider surfaces at the front of the body. Our sides are much narrower than the belly so the difference between the belly and the side is very clear.
For animals such as a pig, the belly meat is the entire section from one side of the animal to the other, and due to the meat and fat content in this area, it somewhat hangs in a ‘V’ or ‘U’ shape.
The meat on the side is therefore also the meat of the belly hence the name side pork.
Characteristics of Side Pork / Pork Belly
Location on the Animal
Pork belly is a cut of meat from the belly of the pig. It is one of the four primals and is also referred to as side pork.
Pork belly cuts are often slabs of between 4 – 5 pounds. If you want a whole pork belly, you will have to get that directly from a butcher. The size of the full cut is approximately 10 – 13 pounds which is a very large hunk of pork meat.
The pork belly is the fattiest cut of meat on a pig and more than half of this cut is a combination of saturated and unsaturated fat along with minimal amounts of lean meat. The fat is largely intermuscular fat and the lean meat is fairly tender but firm.
Pork belly is a brick-shaped boneless chunk of meat usually sold with the skin intact. There is a thick layer of fat underneath the skin followed by more overlapping layers of muscle and fat. There are some white streaks of fat marbling in the lean meat.
Fresh pork belly should be a bright pink color.
The high quantity of intermuscular fat gives pork belly a tender texture which should become easy to tear apart using a fork once it has been cooked to perfection. Squishy pork belly is usually an indicator that the quality has deteriorated which can happen as a result of poor storage or spoilage.
Pork belly has a mild pork flavor when cooked and can be rather bland or flat if you do not flavor it right. However, since fat equals flavor, well-cooked pork belly absorbs flavoring deeply into the fat and lean muscle giving it a rich flavor.
Currently, pork belly costs $2 – $6 per pound. Online purchases may add to your cost as they might include shipping fees.
If you are looking for an inexpensive cut of pork, side pork is a great option.
Pork belly is a popular ingredient in Asian braising recipes which have become more popular in recent years. Pork belly has therefore become a cut that you can find in groceries in its raw fresh form. If this demand continues to rise, the cost of pork belly may also increase.
Is Pork Belly the Same as Bacon?
However, pork belly or side pork is the cut of meat used to make bacon through a curing process.
Fresh pork belly is raw meat that has not undergone any curing process. Bacon has been cured and smoked.
Is Side Pork Better For You Than Bacon?
Side pork is certainly better for you than bacon.
Simply put, raw fresh meat is better for you than processed meats. Bacon is preserved using artificially developed substances which over time cause havoc in the body exposing us to lifestyle illnesses and possibly causing cancer.
Bacon also contains a high amount of fat, unlike side pork which renders some of the fat contained during the cooking process.
Bacon is also significantly higher in sodium compared to side pork. High amounts of sodium in the body are very unhealthy and when left unchecked will eventually lead to high blood pressure, heart illnesses, and stroke.
As always, information regarding the dangers of consuming processed foods such as bacon must be considered carefully, especially by meat lovers such as us.
In my opinion, bacon should be eaten in moderation and as part of a larger, balanced diet. You will experience health challenges if you overindulge and consume too much of any processed meats.
Even raw fresh meat should not be consumed in excess. It will eventually bring about health complications for you so keep this in mind.
Is Pork Belly the Same as Pancetta?
Side pork, or pork belly is simply fresh meat while pancetta is pork belly that has been preserved using natural preservatives making it fall under ‘uncured meat’.
Authentic pancetta is an Italian cuisine recipe for curing pork belly using natural spices and ingredients including salt, black pepper, bay leaves, thyme, juniper berries, and sugar.
Pancetta is not smoked.
What is the Best Way to Cook Pork Belly?
To cook pork belly, use low and slow cooking methods that will tenderize and flavor the meat gradually while leaving the fat content intact. Baking, braising, and smoking are the methods I would recommend for preparing pork belly.
In Asian cuisine, pork belly is often braised and flavored using soy sauce-based brines to instill a savory umami flavor.
Braising involves a high moisture content which slowly breaks down the fibers of the lean meat, infuses flavor into the meat, and cooks the pork slowly to perfect doneness.
The pork belly is a very fatty tender cut of meat; therefore, it would be ill-advised to attempt to cook it over high heat or use any fast cooking methods.
The fat content in the meat is rather high and will all get lost in a continuous drizzle if you put the meat over a grill for instance. Grilling would leave pork belly dry and tough to chew.
If this is your first run at cooking pork belly, you are in luck. The simple slow-roasting recipe below should give you a hearty crispy pork belly.
My Number 1 Pork Belly Recipe: Slow-Roasted Crispy Pork Belly
- 2 pounds fresh pork belly
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Thaw the meat overnight if it has been in the freezer. You cannot work with frozen meat.
If it is a fresh batch, let the meat sit in the fridge for about twenty minutes before cooking to allow it to stiffen a bit. This way it will be easier to cut into.
Mix the salt, sugar, and pepper in a small bowl to form a simple dry rub.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the meat from the fridge and pat it dry on all sides with some paper towels. Score the meat by cutting parallel lines along the meat. Slice into the skin and some of the fat but not all the way into the meat.
Sprinkle the dry rub all over the meat and cover all sides. Drizzle the olive oil on the meat and spread it all around the meat using your fingers.
Place a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and line the bottom and the sides perfectly. Place the meat on the baking sheet and roast it in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. I would advise relying more on your thermometer than on the clock.
As a personal preference, I have found that letting the slow roast go as high as 170 degrees Fahrenheit yields even more tender meat. You should experiment with this.
After slow roasting to doneness, turn up the heat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit to create a crispy outer skin.
Roast the meat at this temperature for another 25 minutes.
Turn off the oven and remove the meat. The aroma filling your kitchen should be simply delicious.
You will be tempted to cut into that golden brown crackling skin but resist. Instead, cover the meat and rest it for about ten minutes. Carving into it while it is this hot will allow the juices to run and grain from the body of the meat leaving it dry and flavorless.
Let the meat reabsorb the succulence first. Carve after ten minutes.
Serve with sweet potatoes, baked beans, and brussel sprouts.
1. What is a Fancy Name for Pork Belly?
There are a few:
Pork slab, sowbelly, gammon, rasher, and side pork.
2. What is the Difference Between Salt Pork and Side Pork?
Salt pork is ‘uncured meat’ which means it is meat preserved using salt and in some cases, there is the addition of other natural ingredients such as rosemary and peppers for more flavor. It is not smoked.
Salt pork was an effective method of preserving meat before refrigeration but today it is done mostly for the flavor benefit.
Very fatty side pork is the ideal meat used to make salt pork and in some cases, the fatback which is the fatty meat from the back region of a pig can be used as well.
Side pork vs. pork belly has little significance if any since they are the same cut of meat. The more important question is how best you can incorporate pork belly into your recipes and make delicious pork belly meals for your family.
Remember, this cut is tender, fatty, and mild in flavor making it ideal for braising, slow roasting or baking, and smoking.