Once you decide that you want to cook pork, it’s important to decide on the cut.
Side pork has become increasingly more popular in the culinary world. Knowing what it is, how it compares to other cuts, and how to cook it can help you up your barbecue game.
What is Side Pork?
Side pork has been given a number of names over the years. Depending on the butcher, it may also be referred to as lean bacon or even pork belly. It tends to be a very flat piece of meat with a significant amount of fat marbled throughout, which offers a rich, meaty flavor.
This cut of meat comes from just above the belly of the pig. It will consist of both back fat and shirt ribs. When it has been fully de-boned and trimmed, it is typically salted before being made available for sale.
It can be sliced and sold fresh, or it can be sliced and sold as bacon. As such, it’s important to know what it is you want to do with the meat before buying it from a butcher.
Side Pork vs Pork Belly
Side pork and pork belly are often used interchangeably, which would make you think that they are identical cuts of meat. The reality is that a butcher should be labeling them differently because the source of each cut is slightly different.
When you’re talking about the underside of the pig, the lower cut is the belly while the upper portion is the side pork. Most butchers use the pork breastbone as the determining factor as to what signifies each cut.
Due to the higher position of side pork, the fat content is slightly lower. This means that it doesn’t need to be cooked quite as slow as pork belly. For the most part, all pork belly will include side pork, but not all side pork is fully considered belly. The pricing for side pork vs pork belly, however, is almost identical.
Side Pork vs Bacon
Side pork and bacon are quite different, though there are some similarities that you should be aware of. Side pork is a leaner form of bacon, but they come from different parts of the pig. This means that the flavors and fat content are going to vary. The good news is that you can substitute side pork for bacon in virtually any recipe.
Side pork can be sold raw while bacon will always be sold cured (and possibly smoked, too). Side pork will come from the belly while bacon will come from the belly, fatback, or jowl.
The fat content will be higher on bacon than it will be on side pork. This also means that the cost will be considerably lower with bacon than with side pork. The main reason is that butchers will charge more when you’re getting a higher ratio of meat to fat.
The texture and consistency will be unique to each cut, too. Pork belly can melt in your mouth when it is cooked properly. It can also hold up to bold sauces. Bacon will be crisper, providing you with a crunch that is highly desirable in certain dishes.
How to Cook Side Pork
Cooking side pork is easy, and there are many options available. It comes down to whether you buy the cut raw or processed (cured and smoked).
If you buy the side pork raw, the simplest way to cook it is in the oven or a smoker. You will want to take a low and slow approach so that you make sure that the fat breaks down. It’s what will provide you with a tender piece of pork instead of something that is chewy. Be sure that the internal temperature has reached 145 degrees before the pork is served.
Most side pork is cut into strips. You can lay these strips onto a cookie sheet and season to your preference. Salt and pepper should be the minimal seasoning that you use to draw out the natural flavors. Smoked paprika and garlic powder are also popular options to use.
If you buy cured side pork, you can cook it just as you would traditional pork bacon or beef bacon. Either render the fat to take advantage of the rich flavor, fry the strips for a particular dish, or cut the strips into cubes and add them to a specific dish (such as meatloaf, casseroles, and quiches).
Other dishes you can use side pork in are:
– Bacon slaw
– Clams casino
– Bacon-wrapped scallops
– Pasta carbonara
Side pork is highly versatile, so you can slice it, dice it, and cube it to incorporate it into any dish where you would want some fatty pork flavor. It can easily be used as a substitute for bacon, pancetta, and ham.