Guanciale vs. Pancetta (Similarities and Differences Explained)

Who isn’t familiar with pancetta, the salty Italian pork found in most U.S. stores? But fewer people have heard of another Italian meat type, guanciale.

It’s not as common here, but it’s still beloved by Italians for a good reason. So, if you’re wondering the difference between guanciale vs. pancetta, I’m here to clear this up for you.

Simply stated, the main difference between guanciale and pancetta is these meats are made from two different pork parts. Guanciale is made from pork cheeks and thus is fattier. Guanciale is also typically cured for a longer time, which results in a more robust flavor. Pancetta, on the flip side, is made from a piece of pork belly. Read on to find out which meat is best suitable for pasta dishes or cold meat platters.

guanciale vs pancetta

What Is Guanciale?

Guanciale is a salty Italian meat made from pork jowl or pork cheek and is typically cured. It resembles bacon by taste, as it’s rich and fatty but lacks smoky undertones.

Thinly sliced guanciale practically melts in the mouth.

Italian artisans don’t cook guanciale but rather cure it. First, the meat is rubbed with a generous amount of salt and spices, usually black pepper, rosemary, thyme, and garlic.

Then, it’s hung to dry in a cool, dry room for about four weeks. Some people let guanciale cure for several months to achieve greater depth of taste.

Cured guanciale is naturally preserved thanks to the removal of excess water and a large amount of salt. Microorganisms can’t breed in such conditions, allowing the meat to be safely stored in a cool room for six months.

However, this depends on how the guanciale is sold.

Solid pork cheeks last longer than thinly sliced meat. Therefore, once the original packaging is opened, guanciale must be stored in the fridge and consumed within two weeks.

Guanciale is mainly used in pasta dishes, such as pasta carbonara and bucatini amatriciana. It’s also sometimes sliced thinly and consumed with bread or used as a crunchy topping for salads.

A key point to remember when cooking with guanciale is to not add too much additional fat. The meat is already high in fat and may create a real fat bomb when combined with olive oil or butter. As a result, the dish may lose its flavor and become greasy.

Guanciale is one of the fattiest meats you can find, so eating it in large amounts may be harmful if you’re on a low-fat diet. It contains 589 calories and 59 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces, nearly twice more than the same amount of whipped cream.

The good news is that the fat contained in guanciale is non-saturated and safe when consumed in adequate servings of under 1.5 ounces a day.

However, people with kidney diseases, chronic heart problems, and diabetes shouldn’t eat guanciale as this tender meat contains a high amount of sodium.

What Is Pancetta?

Pancetta is a type of Italian meat made from pork belly. The meat isn’t cooked but is cured to remove excess water and give it a distinctly salty taste.

Apart from salt, Italian artisans often use pepper, fennel, allspice, and nutmeg to season pancetta.

The curing process isn’t much different from that of other Italian meats.

First, pancetta is liberally rubbed with spices and salt.

Then, it’s rolled up with the spices on the inside and fat on the outside.

Next, the meat is tightly wrapped and kept at a warm room temperature for 24-36 hours.

Afterward, the meat is dried for three to four weeks at 50-60° Fahrenheit. Upon curation, the pancetta loses about 70% of its initial weight.

After being cured, pancetta can be stored for months in its original packaging. But once it’s opened, the meat must be consumed within two weeks in the fridge.

Don’t leave the pancetta open at room temperature for over four hours. While pancetta can technically be stored in a freezer to prolong its freshness, it will likely lose flavor.

Pancetta has a fatty, salty taste like that of bacon but without the smokiness. It’s commonly used in pasta dishes but can also be served on a cold meat platter.

If you’re tired of using bacon or prosciutto, pancetta makes a perfect substitute for either of these.

Pancetta is commonly sold in U.S. stores thinly sliced or chopped in cubes. But it can also be found as a slab. In a slab, it’s perfect for chopping and cooking in sauces.

Additionally, thinly sliced pancetta can be eaten on its own or used to make finger foods, for instance, wrapped vegetables or scallops.

Pancetta isn’t a dietary food, as it contains 426 calories and 39 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces of product. Simply put, this meat contains more fat than chocolate. However, pancetta isn’t harmful to your health if consumed moderately.

The fat contained in pancetta is natural and non-saturated. Plus, a typical pancetta serving measures about an ounce.

However, the salt content raises a more significant concern, so pancetta is not recommended for people with kidney diseases. Like all meats, pancetta is also high in protein.

What Are the Similarities Between Guanciale and Pancetta?

The most apparent similarity between guanciale and pancetta is the meat origin – Italy.

Both types of meat come from pork and are cured to prevent bacteria growth and achieve a salty taste.

These meats can be stored for months in the original packaging at room temperature. Neither pancetta nor guanciale can last forever, though, so they must be consumed within two weeks once opened.

Taste-wise, pancetta, and guanciale are similar but not equal. Both types of meat have distinct salty and fatty tastes, making a great alternative to prosciutto and bacon in most recipes.

These meats are versatile and commonly used in traditional Italian dishes or consumed thinly sliced on their own.

What Are the Differences Between Guanciale and Pancetta?

Despite the first impression, guanciale and pancetta have more distinctions than similarities.

Both types of meat are cured, but the spices typically used during this process differ.

Guanciale is traditionally cured using pepper, rosemary, thyme, and garlic. Pancetta is rubbed with pepper, fennel, allspice, and nutmeg. The spice combination can also change depending on the region.

Overall, guanciale is primarily a central Italy specialty, while pancetta is widely used across the whole country.

Pancetta and guanciale have a salty, fatty taste but different textures.

Thinly sliced guanciale seems to melt in the mouth due to a higher fat content. It also has a more robust flavor as guanciale is sometimes cured for four months instead of pancetta, which is cured for about a month.

Due to flavor and texture differences, pancetta and guanciale are traditionally used in different dishes. Sure, they can be used as a substitute for each other. However, many recipes don’t specify which type of meat should be used apart from ‘cured pork.’

But Italians believe the rich flavor that guanciale gives to pasta dishes can’t be replicated.

Guanciale can, theoretically, be eaten raw as it’s cured. But usually, it’s cooked with other ingredients to give it a strong flavor.

Sometimes, guanciale is cooked until crispy and served as a topping for pasta and salads.

Pancetta is also used in pasta, soups, salads, and numerous other dishes. But it’s commonly served raw on a cold meat platter raw, consumed with bread or on its own.

Another distinction is that pancetta is available all year round in nearly any store in the U.S. Guanciale, on the other hand, doesn’t have such wide availability.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned all imports of guanciale from Europe to the U.S. Thus, you can only find guanciale made by local farmers rather than real Italian guanciale.

This doesn’t indicate lower quality, but not as many farmers in the U.S. offer this tender, fatty meat.

As guanciale contains less meat and more fat than pancetta, it’s cheaper in Italy. But due to low availability here in the U.S., guanciale may cost more.

Summary Table: Guanciale vs. Pancetta

I’ve created a characteristic comparison table to make the differences and similarities of guanciale vs. pancetta clear.

 GuancialePancetta
Cured forFour weeks to six monthsAbout four weeks
Made fromPork jowlPork belly
Spices traditionally usedPepper, rosemary, thyme, garlicPepper, fennel, allspice, and nutmeg
TasteSalty and very fatty, strong flavorSalty and moderately fatty
TextureMelting in mouthTender but not melting
Shelf lifeUp to half a year in original packaging and up to two weeks when openedUp to half a year in original packaging and up to two weeks when opened
Can be eaten rawYes, but it usually isn’tYes, it is commonly eaten raw
It is frequently used inPasta dishes, salads, soupsPasta dishes, cold meat platters
Availability in the U.S.Import prohibited by the FDA, but guanciale can be bought from local farmers or in select stores.Widely available in stores

In Summary

There’s no clear winner in the guanciale vs. pancetta battle. Both types of meat are beloved for their salty, rich taste and long shelf life.

However, now that you know the difference between the two cured Italian types of meat, you can try them out in different recipes to determine your favorite.