Pancetta and bacon are super common and found in any grocery store. But not everyone knows the real difference between regular bacon, lardons, and pancetta. So I’ve created this guide to help you determine the distinction between lardons vs. pancetta.
In short, lardons are a French type of bacon that’s cured and cut into cubes. Pancetta is an Italian specialty meat also made from pork. Like lardons, it’s cured and can be sold in cubes, but it’s also available thinly sliced or in slabs. In addition, lardons are sometimes smoked, whereas pancetta is never smoky.
Read on to find out about the similarities and differences between lardons and pancetta in detail.
What Are Lardons?
Lardon, sometimes spelled lardoon, is a type of bacon that originated in France. Not to be confused with bacon strips, lardons are cubes or strips cut crosswise from a slab of meat.
Sometimes, lardon is smoked like American bacon. But traditionally, this meat is cut from cured bacon. Cured lardon features a richer, saltier taste and a longer shelf life.
Cured lardon can be made from different cuts, such as pork belly or back (fatback). It’s rubbed with salt and optional spices and left to dry for about a month in a cool room.
The removal of excess water and a high amount of salt help to naturally preserve the meat, leaving microorganisms no chance to thrive.
In France, lardons are commonly added to salads, stews, tarts, flambees, quiches, omelets, casseroles, and numerous other dishes. In other words, it’s a versatile ingredient beloved by the French.
Lardons can also be eaten raw on a cold meat platter if they are cured.
More specifically, lardons are used for two purposes.
First, the fat rendered from lardoons makes a perfect oil substitute for sauteing vegetables or other ingredients at the early stages of cooking.
Second, cooked lardon pieces can be added directly into dishes, adding a rich, often smoky, flavor and crunchy texture.
Another traditional use of lardons is called, unsurprisingly, larding. In this process, chilled lardons are threaded with a needle and wrapped around a slab of meat that needs to be roasted.
Sometimes, lardons are placed inside other meat instead. This technique originated in the Middle Ages when meat obtained from hunting was often overly lean. Larding helps to soften meat and add flavor to it, as lardons are highly fatty.
Cured lardons contain slightly under 300 calories per 3.5 ounces. While most calories come from fat, its total amount is adequate and shouldn’t cause any health problems if consumed occasionally.
Meanwhile, the sodium content in lardons is high (40% of the total mass) yet lower than what’s found in most Italian cured meats, including pancetta.
What Is Pancetta?
Pancetta is a type of Italian cured meat. It’s made from pork belly and thus is often confused with bacon. But unlike bacon, pancetta isn’t smoked.
Pancetta undergoes the same curation process as lardons, with slight adjustments due to regional traditions.
So, a slab of pork belly is generously rubbed with salt and spices such as rosemary, thyme, black pepper, fennel, and garlic. It’s then tied with twine and hung for 24-26 hours at room temperature. Afterward, the meat is placed in a cooler room and dries there for about a month.
Pancetta can be found in many forms. It’s commonly sold thinly sliced, chopped into cubes, or as a whole slab. Sliced pancetta can be eaten raw, making a perfect addition to cold meat platters.
It has a salty and tender taste similar to that of bacon but lacking smokiness. Cubes or slabs of pancetta are usually cooked and added into pasta dishes, soups, salads, or casseroles.
Pancetta has over 500 calories per 3.5 ounces and around 1.7 ounces of fat. Due to high sodium and fat content, people with diabetes and kidney diseases must be careful eating pancetta.
However, moderate amounts of pancetta won’t do any harm.
What Are the Similarities Between Lardons and Pancetta?
The first and foremost similarity between lardons and pancetta is the preservation process. Both types of meat are cured, thus have a longer shelf life than unprepared meat.
Consequently, both lardons and pancetta have a salty taste.
In addition, due to their high-fat content, they are fatty and have a rich flavor.
Overall, lardons and pancetta make great substitutes for each other.
What Are the Differences Between Lardons and Pancetta?
French, Italians, and most chefs would disagree that lardons and pancetta are not much different. These meats are alike in the basics, but they have more distinctions than similarities, originating from their production in different regions.
Lardons are more frequently used for cooking with other meat or sautéing ingredients.
Although cured lardon can be eaten raw, they typically aren’t. Lardons may also have a smoky taste, typical of bacon.
On the other hand, pancetta is commonly consumed raw, with bread, or on its own, and is never smoked.
Both cured meats have a great shelf life. But a pancetta slab in its original packaging can last for over six months outside of the fridge, whereas lardons can last for about two months as the meat pieces are smaller.
So, sliced pancetta must be consumed sooner.
Summary Table: Lardons vs. Pancetta
This detailed comparison table will make the similarities and distinctions between lardons vs. pancetta clearer.
|Cured For||About four weeks||About four weeks|
|Made From||Pork belly, back, or leg||Pork belly|
|Taste||Salty, often but not obligatory smoky||Salty and moderately fatty|
|Shelf-life||Up to two months in original packaging and up to 10 days once opened in the fridge||Up to half a year in original packaging and up to two weeks when opened|
|Eaten Raw?||Yes, but it usually isn’t||Yes|
|Used In||Sautéing and larding or added as a crispy topping to stews, salads, quiches, and other dishes.||Pasta dishes, soups, salads, casseroles, and other traditional dishes. It can be consumed on its own.|
Lardons are unjustly uncommon in the U.S. While pancetta is delicious and can replace lardons in some recipes, this bacon type has no competition when it comes to larding and sautéing.
Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the difference. Experiment with cooking both meat types to determine your favorite in the lardons vs. pancetta competition.