15 Pork Belly Substitutes That Are As Flavorful (Vegan Options Included)

Pork Belly Substitute

Flavorful and delicious as it is, there are times when you want a pork belly substitute for a recipe. Pork belly is flavorful and versatile meat that’s the heart of countless recipes. It’s a delicacy that you don’t want to miss.

Yet, the fact is that this is expensive meat. It might not always be the right choice, depending on your budget, or, it might not fit your diet preferences. Whatever the case, that’s usually when you want a substitute. 

It’s not an easy job to replace pork belly. The savory flavor and deliciousness that make this meat so sought-after are hard to recreate. So, it takes some adjustments to get a different meat work in its place. This is especially true when you want cheaper meat or a vegan option as a replacement.

So, let’s see what are our best choices to replace pork belly.

Top Pork Belly Substitutes To Look For

1. Pork Bacon

Bacon fixes everything. I believe it as a fact, though others might disagree! Although, most people agree that bacon is the best replacement for pork belly in a recipe. 

For practically all recipes, you can replace pork belly with bacon without any problems. Most of the time, you can follow the recipe as is, without making special changes for the use of bacon. There are, however, a couple of considerations in this scenario – salt and frying. 

Bacon is naturally saltier as compared to pork belly. So, watch how much salt you add to the recipe. The second point to look out for is frying. If you fry bacon, it will release some fat and may not need additional oil. While it isn’t that big a deal, it’s something to keep in mind if you choose this substitute.

2. Pork Shoulder Cut

The shoulder cut, as the name implies, comes from the shoulder of the pig. If you can get your hands on it, you’ll have a good substitute for pork belly.

As with bacon, there is no need for additional changes to the recipe while using the shoulder cut. It will replace pork belly without a hitch.

Of course, keep in mind that this is a different meat and has a different flavor. This cut contains a large amount of fat, though it has the right amount of meat. Marinating the pork shoulder before you use it will greatly help the recipe and the texture of the meat. 

There is a good chance that there will be some change in the taste and texture of the dish. Although seasoned chefs usually manage this substitution without any noticeable change in the taste.

3. Pork Fatback

Fatback comes from the back of the hog. It’s very similar to pork belly meat in taste but with a different texture and composition. This cut of meat is high in fat and that will show when you use it for a recipe. That said, this is a useful and even desirable substitute to replace pork belly.

One good way to prepare pork fatback is to cure it with salt. Be generous with the use of spices as well, as they absorb into the meat and greatly enhance its flavor.

4. Beef Bacon

Beef bacon is bacon that’s extracted from cows. While pig bacon is the most popular (and delicious) choice, beef bacon is a reasonably delicious option too. Pastrami and beef bacon both come from beef belly. 

The reason you rarely see this labeling on meat is because sellers (or marketeers) prefer the terms beef belly and navel end brisket. This meat is one of the most suitable and delicious alternatives to pork belly in a recipe. It’s a versatile meat that will work with most recipes and even stand on its own in deliciousness.

5. Beef Belly

Beef belly, as the name implies, comes from the belly of a cow. It’s very similar to pork belly, though the source is a different animal. This cut is one of the best choices to replace pork belly. It’s as versatile and delicious, though often more expensive than pork belly. You can use it as an alternative in most recipes without needing additional changes to the cooking process.

6. Ground Beef

Using minced beef or ground beef is another option, especially if you want to reduce the fat in the recipe. In the US, ground beef can contain a maximum of 30% of fat by weight. The preferred amount is usually lower. 

This is useful for recipes that don’t depend on the fat content of the meat for cooking. However, this isn’t a good choice where the shape of the meat is important. Ground beef obviously can’t keep up with the relatively thicker cuts of pork belly.

7. Turkey Bacon

Can bird meat replace hogs? It can certainly make delicious food and is worth the effort to get a tasty replacement going. 

You can cajole turkey bacon into replacing pork belly, but use it as an option of last resort. To be clear, this meat is very different from pork belly. It has a lighter color, different flavor, and a very different texture. 

Use it as an alternative only when you’re out of other options.

8. Ham

Ham is a leg cut from pork that undergoes curing. The process can vary, and a ham may have dry or wet curing, with or without smoking. In some instances, ham is considered a healthier choice due to its relatively low fat content. Cut the ham into the desired shape when replacing pork belly.

9. Goose Meat

Here’s a surprising option that can replace pork belly in your recipe. Goose meat is darker but works well with many recipes. You’ll have to choose a piece that’s rich in fat and preferably from younger geese. This is usually the best tasting option, even though goose meat itself isn’t really all that popular. 

This meat tends to be on the harder side, so softening it up is the way to go when replacing pork belly. Marinating it will help soften it, while also adding flavors to the meat. At a minimum, you should marinate the meat for at least an hour, though six hours to a day might be better.

10. Duck Bacon Or Duck Meat

For many people, duck meat is a more palpable idea than goose meat. It is indeed a more popular choice and more easily available. While duck meat is closer to chicken than pork belly, it is sufficiently fatty and tasty, giving it a chance to replace pork belly in several recipes.

The preferable option here is using duck bacon, which is available in the market. This one is cured and tastes more like pork bacon, making it a viable choice as the substitute. 

If you have duck bacon, cook and use it in a recipe as you would use pork belly. For duck meat, it is preferable to marinade it first. But be prepared for a difference in taste and texture, though it’s not a deal breaker.

11. Fish (Cod Or Salmon)

It’s possible to use cod or salmon to replace pork belly. However, the meat from fish is decidedly different so be prepared for a change in flavor and texture. Both of these also have a lower fat content as compared to pork belly. 

The biggest application for using fish as an alternative is if you’re trying to work around some dietary restrictions or allergies. In any other case, if you’re thinking of using salmon as an alternative or substitute, you might as well make something nice(r) with salmon itself!

Vegetarian And Vegan Substitutes For Pork Belly

1. Tofu

Tofu is a very popular vegan alternative and often a top choice to replace meat in several recipes. Made from soy, it usually tastes bland but has a texture that can work wonders in the hands of an experienced cook. 

Many prefer silken tofu to work as the replacement, while others like to stay with regular tofu. It has a bland taste, but that taste and texture give you a lot of freedom to season and cook it to your liking. This leaves a whole lot of opportunity for you to get tofu tasting and feeling like pork belly.

2. Soy (Soya Chunks)

Soy, or rather, soya chunks are a popular vegan option to replace several meats. Many find these very similar to pork belly. The texture of dried soy or soya chunks is very similar to meat. Plus, it’s cheap, easy to cook, and packed with nutrition. Keep in mind, these have a bland taste, so you’ll have to season it nicely and be generous with the use of spices and herbs.

3. Beans

For some recipes like chili and soups, beans can replace pork belly. It’s not an ideal replacement, but it is acceptable. Beans are very different in flavor and texture as compared to pork belly. But, they’re rich in nutrition and add a nice touch to these specific recipes.

4. Tempeh

This is a fermented soybean product popular in Java. Much like soy chunks and tofu, Tempeh provides a good texture to replace pork belly in several recipes.

FAQs And More About Substituting Pork Belly

Pork Belly vs Bacon

Bacon is a type of pork belly, it is the processing and handling of these meats that make them different. And since they’re so similar, bacon often serves as a good substitute for pork belly.

It’s the curing process that sets them apart. Pork belly is uncured meat. Bacon undergoes curing with salt and nitrates. This allows bacon to have a longer shelf life along with a reduced risk of spoilage or bacterial growth. 

Because of this curing, bacon acquires a salty taste and flavors of smoke. We can say the difference between both these meats is quite substantial at this point.

Another factor to consider is cost. Since bacon undergoes the curing process, it is usually more expensive than pork belly. Additionally, butchers usually cut bacon into thin slices to make frying easier. Pork belly gets a thicker cut to be more versatile for recipes.

To sum up, the differences are:

  • Curing – bacon is cured with salt and nitrates.
  • Flavor – bacon is saltier.
  • Shape – butchers cut bacon into thin shapes to make frying easier while pork belly gets thicker cuts.
  • Shelf-life – bacon has a higher shelf life (thanks to curing).
  • Cost – bacon is usually more expensive than pork belly.

Is Pork Belly Fatty

Yes, pork belly is fatty. In fact, it is one of the fattier cuts of pork. You’ll notice that pork belly has three layers. The fat is sandwiched between the outer skin and a layer of red-pink meat. A conventional 4 oz (113 grams) piece of pork belly contains 60 grams of fat, of which 22 grams is saturated fat. About half of the total fat content is usually monounsaturated fat.

Looking at those bare numbers, it becomes obvious that pork belly is fatty! 

Pork Belly vs Pork Shoulder

Pork belly and pork shoulder are different types of meat, mostly because they come from different parts of a pig. Their origin is very clear in their name, but it’s worth delving into further.

We get pork belly from the soft underside (belly) of a pig. The pork shoulder comes from the upper part (shoulder) and sometimes the central portion of a pig’s front leg(s).

It’s worth noting that pork shoulder is also called pork butt. Despite its name, the pork butt comes from the front legs, rather shoulders, of a pig.

Another worthy difference is that pork belly is fatty, with the fat sandwiched between two layers of muscle. While the shoulder too contains a good amount of fat, its content is lower. It gets a fair bit of connective tissue, which makes pork shoulder lean, milder, and occasionally, a bit chewy. 

Additionally, the pork belly costs more and is quicker to prepare.

Is Salt Pork The Same As Pork Belly

While incredibly similar, salt pork and pork belly are different things. To be fair, they start out the same. Salt pork starts its life as pork belly. It is then cured and smoked, which adds to its shelf life and gives it a salty and smoky flavor. This is quite similar to bacon, though the latter is usually smokier and leaner.

Some people also consider the body part from where these meats are sourced. It’s not always true, but there is a relation. Salt pork is usually sourced from the lowest part of the belly and sometimes from the fatback. While pork belly can come from any part of the belly.

Getting A Delicious Substitute For Pork Belly

Delicious and flavorful as it is, finding the right pork belly substitute can be a bit of work. The best replacements to pick are therefore closely related to pork belly itself. The top choices are bacon and pork shoulder, both of which are very similar to pork belly. If you don’t enjoy pork, give duck bacon or beef belly a shot. Vegans can try tofu or soy for a similar texture and nutritious food.