Pork belly is one of the most flavorful and unique cuts that you can get in terms of pork but it can be incredibly challenging to find.
People like pork belly because it is so tender. It packs a lot of flavor, but it can be expensive and it’s not a common thing for grocery stores to carry like pork butt, ribs, or roast.
Finding an alternative to pork belly may not be perfect, but there are good options you can use when you need them.
What is the best pork belly substitute? One of the best substitutes for pork belly that is easy to find is pork bacon. Since pork belly is so tender and often used for bacon, this makes a great alternative. Other alternatives include pork fatback and shoulder.
In this guide, we will walk you through all of the best pork belly substitutes out there. There are some really great options to choose from so we hope that you can find something suitable to try out here from our guide.
Keep reading to learn about the best pork belly substitutes and how to use them.
A Guide to Substitutes for Pork Belly
If you know your meat, you know that pork belly and bacon are not the same. While bacon can be made with pork belly, there are some very unique differences when it comes down to the details.
The thing is, pork belly is sold as a chunk of meat, much like a roast might be. You CAN use it to make bacon and it works quite nicely but it can also be used for a number of other meals or dishes. Pork belly is not just like every other piece of pork out there, it’s milky and flavorful in a whole different way.
A lot of people braise or roast pork belly. It can be used to make pulled pork as well but it won’t taste the same as your traditional pulled pork that often comes from pork shoulder. Here are some of the most popular ways that pork belly is cooked and served.
- Homemade bacon
- Roasted pork belly
- Braised pork belly
- Glazed pork belly
- Rolled and stuffed pork belly
- Pork Chinese dishes
- Chicaronnes (fried pork belly)
One thing that is consistent for most ways of making pork belly is that it is often cooked as a slab of meat and then sliced or prepared otherwise. It’s unique because it is almost milky soft in both flavor and texture.
This is what really sets it apart.
Now, let’s talk about substitutions and how they work best.
Choosing a Pork Substitute
There are a few specific characteristics about pork belly that sets it apart. You will want to keep in mind some of those unique characteristics when you’re choosing an alternative. It also may depend on what you are planning to make.
As we share the substitute options, we will also share recommendations for what they might work best for.
We can’t go through every single pork belly recipe, but we can give you some really great ideas as we talk about the different alternatives.
Now, what is it that really sets pork belly apart? It’s the fatty texture that isn’t fatty and the sweet flavor.
When you go to look for suitable alternatives, you want to be able to get texture and flavor at least similar in order to achieve a suitable substitution.
Most of the substitutes that we recommend actually come from pork, but there are also non-pork substitutes that can be pretty similar as well depending on how they’re prepared.
Remember to watch for that fatty texture that makes it milky smooth and that hint of sweetness to the flavor.
1. Pork Bacon
Pork bacon can make a really great substitute in some cases. In fact, it is probably one of the more popular substitutes in some cases, but it won’t work for everything.
In terms of hitting both flavor and texture, this is by far the best substitute option for pork belly that there is.
If you’re making any type of dish that calls for pork belly, you can use pork bacon to replace it. The challenge will be finding it in the right thickness or cut for whatever it is you are making.
If you’re creating a dish that is roasted like a slab of meat, then pork bacon probably won’t be ideal.
Pork bacon can be cooked in a lot of different ways and it has that same light sweetness to it that pork belly is known for. This flavor really comes from the fat and pork bacon has plenty of that to accentuate the flavor.
At the same time, pork bacon has fatty layers that make the texture also similar to that of pork belly. You get that squishy, soft texture and feel.
If you’re creating something that uses pork belly as part of the dish, you will use pretty much the same amount of pork belly in order to substitute it.
This is primarily true of different things like Chinese dishes, casseroles, and other hearty dishes that don’t rely on pork for the primary part of the meal (like a slab of meat).
The downside to pork bacon is that if you fry it to cook it prior to using it, a good portion of the fat will melt away in the cooking process and quite likely shrink it down in size.
Pork bacon will have a higher salt content already, so when you season it, you should season it the same way you would pork belly, using less salt to accommodate the saltier flavor of the meat that’s already there.
Other than that, it’s an equal substitution and quite likely the most similar thing you will find that matches in texture and flavor.
2. Pork Fatback
When it comes to having a larger item to work with rather than strips of bacon, pork fatback is the next best thing to use.
Pork fatback comes in slab pieces, almost like really thick steaks. It is very similar to pork belly in style, cut, texture, and flavor.
The biggest difference between pork fatback and pork belly is where they come from on the animal. They are pretty self-explanatory.
Pork belly obviously comes from the belly of the animal. Much like the name suggests, pork fatback comes from the back of the hog.
Pork fatback and pork belly are not exactly the same. Pork belly is soft because it comes from the belly. What makes fatback so similar is that it is meat mixed with fat. The end result is something that is similar in texture and flavor as a whole.
The nice thing about pork fatback is that you can cook it exactly the same as you would cook pork belly. You can leave it in a slab and roast it, braise it, turn it into bacon, or whatever else it is that you might want to make for it.
Pork fatback can be used like pork belly in almost all of the same ways. While it is slightly different, it has the same effect and won’t hold you back from your recipe in any way. In the end, you really probably won’t even notice the difference.
What you really might notice is that pork fatback has more fat and not as much meat, but when combined together, it’s similar to that of pork belly.
If you are ok with the fat layer, this is where you will get to enjoy the similarities and really feel like it’s a reasonable substitute.
Remember that you can prepare this in the same ways you would prepare pork belly. Spice it well for good flavor from the fatty layer.
3. Pork Shoulder
If you’re making something like pulled pork or you want to be able to mix it with a sauce or turn it into a dish, pork shoulder can make a suitable alternative.
This is typically not the top choice as a substitute, but don’t count it out just yet. Pork shoulder is delicious. It’s a common favorite pork option that is easier to find than pork belly.
At the same time, it’s not always readily available so you may have to look around for it. However, if you can find it, feel free to give it a try.
The reason that pork shoulder can fall into the list of suitable substitutes is that it is slightly fattier.
The extra fat gives the texture more similar to pork belly and will also produce some of that different flavor. Again, it’s still quite a bit different but it can do in a pinch.
You can make anything you like with pork shoulder as a substitute for pork belly. It comes in a slab typically so you can cut it into chops, roast it, grill it, or whatever else appeals to you and you won’t be disappointed.
When you use pork shoulder as a substitute to pork belly, we recommend using a like amount of meat and using the same types and amounts of seasonings.
The flavor of the dish will most likely be almost exactly the same. The most noticeable difference is going to be the texture in this instance.
It’s not pork, but duck meat is actually incredibly similar to pork belly. The textures are almost identical and the flavor of duck has a hint of sweet to savory that pork belly is known for.
Duck is far different from chicken and it is produced as a gourmet or luxury meat. It is known for being fattier and sweeter than its chicken counterpart, making it similar to pork belly.
Using duck meat is slightly challenging because it really works best if you use bacon of duck meat rather than a whole duck or something similar.
You can purchase bacon of duck meat on the market, but it is another item that also may be hard to find in some areas or stores.
If you are able to acquire duck meat bacon, you can cook it up in any of the same ways that you might cook pork belly. Duck will require more seasoning to really pull out the flavor and mask any gaminess.
It tends to be more bland or even slightly gamy in comparison to pork belly, so using extra seasoning will help you.
Again, duck will not be exactly like pork belly, but the texture of the meat will be very similar and the sweetness of duck will also help with the flavors overall.
Much like duck, goose is another great substitute for pork belly. With goose, you will want to be sure you use the fattiest part of the meat available so you can get that fatty texture.
Almost everything we told you about using duck as a substitute can also be applied when it comes to goose meat.
Use the fatty part of goose meat and use the bacon from of the meat for the best and most similar results.
The downside to using goose is that it tends to be tougher than soft and squishy like pork belly, so you will have to prep the meat and soak it to really soften it up.
Otherwise, you can season it up well and cook it in all of the same ways that you would cook your pork belly and it will work pretty well.
Vegan or Vegetarian Option
Much like you would with any other kind of meat in these two categories, you can use soy as a replacement for pork. Soy is pliable and versatile and you can create just about anything you want with it.
When you use soy, it’s all about how you prepare it and how you flavor it to get it to be similar to pork belly. Use dried soy and boil it.
In order to get it soft enough, it will need to boil longer to really absorb a sufficient amount of water. Season it while it is in the water so that it can absorb the flavors you desire.
Soy is flavorless, so this is your opportunity to shine and make your flavor exactly what you want it to be. While it may not feel or taste exactly like pork belly, it can be made to be very similar and will work as a suitable alternative in this instance.
We hope that you find this guide to the best pork belly substitutes to be a helpful and informative tool for finding your substitutes.
You have plenty of options to choose from and any of these will work well. Some people also recommend tofu or beef bacon as a suitable alternative.
Take a moment to look at our question and answer section for some additional information.
Is There a Beef Equivalent of Pork Belly?
Beef navel or beef belly is very similar to pork belly but in beef form. You might also see it labeled as navel end brisket. This cut can also be challenging to find, much like pork belly.
Does Pork Belly Have Another Name?
Pork belly is sometimes labeled as side pork, which is the same thing. However, most of the time, pork belly is the name you will see.
What’s the Best Way to Cook Pork Belly?
Who better to tell you the best way to cook pork belly than Gordon Ramsay himself? We’ve found this mouthwatering tutorial for slow-roasted pork belly by Gordon Ramsay on YouTube.