Of all meats, pork is the most consumed all over the world.
Let’s first look at the production side because this is possibly one of the most efficient to produce compared to beef and poultry.
Second, it has a stronger flavor than chicken but mixes well with a wide array of herbs and spices compared to beef, lamb, or goat.
It is incredibly versatile, cuisines all over the world have a specialty or two:
- China’s Cantonese Char Siu
- Italian Porchetta
- South Africa’s Boerewors Sausage
- Colombia’s Lechon
- India’s Vindaloo
- Germany’s Schweinshaxe
- Mexican Tamales
- Korea’s Samgyeopsal
And so many more…
Third, it’s seen as a healthier alternative to most red meats.
And these days, that’s quite important.
A serving, about 100 grams, is packed with amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Below is the basic nutritional value breakdown of one serving:
- 297 Calories
- 25.7 g of Protein
- 20.8 g of Fat
- No Carbs
- No Sugar
- 53% Water
- No Fiber
But one thing which propped up this farm animal fare’s rep to heights is bacon.
Everyone loves bacon – even those who can’t eat it.
Traditionally, this is partnered with scrambled eggs for breakfast or in a BLT sandwich.
Recently, practically everything has bacon in it: donuts, candy, jams, ice cream, mayonnaise, alcohol…
Even toothpaste and lip balms come in bacon flavor, believe it or not.
And if you don’t know yet, bacon comes from the best part of the hog: its belly.
But First, Let’s Get to Know The Other Parts of the Pig
Before you go to your butcher to get a slab, you need to familiarize yourself with the different cuts because it’s not ‘all the same’.
There are seven major cuts, all have varying flavors and textures, especially when cooked.
- Jowl or Cheek
- Shoulder or Boston Butt
- Picnic or Picnic Shoulder
- Belly or Side or Bacon
People will always have their favorite part of the pig based on their favorite dish.
But there is no doubt that pork belly is a choice cut that most people love.
Why Is Pork Belly THE Best?
This is preferred because it is fatty and boneless.
The whole segment looks like a brick measuring about 28 inches long and 12 inches wide and would weigh about 13 pounds or nearly 6 kilos.
Below the skin are several layers of fat and meat.
The overlying fat and lean parts are what makes this so flavorful – the perfect choice for bacon and smoked, salted, and aged fare like pancetta.
It is also the go-to piece for roasting and recipes like Bao, Hirata Buns, and Chicharrones.
But because this is preferred by so many, your butcher may run out of it fast, especially if you visit a bit late in the day.
Restaurants and other gourmet home cooks often order this in advance or early in the morning.
You could either wake up early so you can buy this choice cut or try some alternatives:
The Fitting Substitutes
If you’re looking to replace this portion, go for other pork products first so that you don’t alter the flavor of your dish too much.
Because this is packed with fat, choose the section of the hog which has nearly that amount of fat as well.
Bacon and Other Cured Meats
This is the best alternative because it is made from pork belly.
The only difference is that this has a stronger flavor because it has been cured in brine and oftentimes smoked.
If the recipe calls for the whole slab, look for a whole bacon slab.
Although getting this is a bit tricky since a lot of commercially-made ones are packed in rashers, you might come across thickly-sliced ones.
Pancetta, the Italian’s salt-cured, smoked and dry-aged bacon, often come in big portions so this may work better.
How to Substitute:
Because this can be used for almost all recipes that require our featured ingredient, 1:1 is a good proportion.
But if you think that the smokiness is too much for your mild-flavored dish, lessen it to half a cup.
Also, don’t add too much salt to the pot anymore since this has been cured in brine already.
As the name implies, this is the thick layer of fat at the back of the pig.
This is where lard – that hardened oil used for frying – comes from.
Rarely is this ordered by home cooks at the butcher’s but if you know how to use this, you’re in for a real treat!
How to Substitute:
This is perfect as a substitute if you’re making sausages or charcuteries like salami and mortadella.
For every pound of the belly, use half a pound of fatback and half a pound of lean parts.
Chill the fat first before you feed it into the grinder so it won’t stop the plates.
You could also slice thin strips of fatback and insert them into butterflied striploin to make rolled hams like Porchetta.
While these are roasting or baking in the oven, the fat will slowly melt into the muscles and make it more tender and flavorful.
Boston Butt or Pork Shoulder
This triangular cut found just above the hock or the legs of the pig is a good replacement because it also has a good amount of fat.
It isn’t layered like our featured slice but it is quite meaty and flavorful.
You just need to be very careful in cooking this because it can get tough.
How to Substitute:
If you’re planning to make a stew or some braised dish, you can use the Boston Butt as an alternative.
The ratio for replacement is also 1:1.
Just make sure that you slice this into small pieces and marinate it in your chosen sauce overnight before cooking so that it won’t get hard and chewy.
It’s also fine if you cook it whole in the oven or on the grill as long as you do so in low heat and for a long time.
Replace It With Other Farm Animal Meat
Compared to pork, beef has a savory flavor with buttery notes.
Nonetheless, this does work well as a substitute.
Just like the hogs, the beef bellies have several layers of fat and lean meat, which gives you the tenderest, most flavorful dishes even when it’s cooked very simply.
If you plan to bake or grill a whole slab, this is a great alternative.
Just season with salt and pepper, pop into the oven or over the charcoal, and you’re good to go in an hour or so.
If you’re going to cook this as a stew, try adding vegetables and pork seasonings if you want to mask the beefy taste.
But you don’t have to because this is just as delicious.
Those who haven’t had duck yet expect to taste chicken in their dish.
But it’s closer to red meat.
Besides that, ducks have a thick layer of fat under their skin which makes this is a passable sub for our featured ingredient.
Because of its fat content, the duck goes well with sweet and sour sauces like honey and orange combination or balsamic reductions.
If that’s what you had in mind for your pork cut, then you can swap it with this farm animal fare.
Just like a duck, this tastes more like beef than chicken so it can be used as a replacement for pork belly.
Try looking for the bacon type of goose since the section used for this is fatter.
Unfortunately, it is a bit pricey so use this as a replacement only when you have it or if you’re going to use it sparingly, like in vegetable stir fry.
Also, try soaking it in a marinade for at least an hour before cooking it so that it doesn’t toughen up too much.
Or You Could Go Vegan
If your reason for not using pork belly in your dish is because you’re trying to eat healthier, try vegan options.
These are now very easy to find and comes in all shapes and sizes.
You might even come across variants that resemble the pork belly – layered with fat and lean meat!
Commonly found in Asian dishes, tofu is quite versatile.
You could find hard tofu, soft tofu, and even creamy ones which are used to thicken soups.
Made from soybeans and grains, this plant-based fare is said to be one of the healthiest foods ever made.
Unlike tofu, has a meatier texture and flavor.
But is not that strong like beef so it’s a perfect pork belly substitute.
Substitution Details for All Vegan Options:
The great thing about these alternatives is that they’re like a blank canvass.
They don’t have a lot of flavors so it will take on the taste of the herbs and spices that you put in the dish.
Take note that vege-meat absorbs water quickly so it’s best not to use this in soups or stews.
Tofu and tempeh will work better for those dishes.
Just add pork seasoning and you’re good to go!