Any Italian cuisine lover will know what guanciale is.
In fact, it is the holy grail of Italian food. This is a cured meat that made its debut after being introduced in dishes like pasta amatriciana and pasta carbonara.
Even though guanciale is so popular, it is not an easy meat to find, regardless of which part of the world you live in.
However, don’t let that limit you from making your favorite pasta dish. After all, how will you pass down a generations-old recipe to your kids if you cannot make them try it?
Interesting Facts about Guanciale
- Guanciale is a specialty of Italy and is particularly loved in Umbria and Lazio
- It is made by mixing pork cheek with red pepper, fennel, thyme, and garlic. The meat is then cured till its weight drops by 30 percent. This can take three weeks
- The name guanciale comes from the word “guancia,” which stands for cheek in Italian
- Initially, imports of guanciale were not allowed within the US. However, the FDA has lifted this ban so that citizens can enjoy salami from Europe (1)
Best Guanciale Substitutes
Before looking for guanciale substitutes, you need to understand what guanciale is.
This is a cured meat belonging to the Italian family that initially comes from pork cheek.
It is mixed with spices like red pepper, black pepper, and garlic and dried herbs like fennel and thyme.
Guanciale takes three weeks to cure, and once you start cooking it, you will find its fat melting.
This fat is what makes guanciale dishes so incredible.
Yet, guanciale is a nightmare to find in local supermarkets. If you want to create an Italian pasta dish, we can provide you with some of the best guanciale substitutes that will work well with any dish you choose to make:
You might have already guessed that pancetta is the best guanciale substitute that you can find for your Italian pasta dish.
It is the most common cut of cured meat to find, regardless of where you live in the world.
What makes pancetta the perfect guanciale substitute is that both kinds of meat have a higher percentage of fat that starts melting when put on the stove.
Even though both meat cuts come from pork, guanciale originates from the cheeks of a pig, while pancetta originates from the pig’s belly.
But, pancetta is not originally smoked.
In our opinion, this is great as it does not confuse the flavors of any dish. Of course, you can still find smoked pancetta in the market if you are looking for that overwhelming flavor.
Pancetta is perfect to use for spaghetti carbonara as well as amatriciana.
Both these dishes are the heart of Italy. We do not promise that the pancetta substitute will be traditional, but it will definitely help you produce a copycat version of the dish you originally wanted to make with guanciale.
Speck is another form of Italian cured meat that is great for people who do not care about authenticity (2). Even though it has lesser fat content than guanciale, there is some smokiness to it that makes it absolutely delicious.
Just like guanciale, speck is cured with spices and herbs.
The spices and herbs used to cure guanciale are not the same. Usually, juniper and bay leaves are used to cure this meat, giving it a rich, robust flavor that will alleviate your dish.
Since it has a natural saltiness, it makes a wonderful guanciale substitute.
Another great guanciale substitute, prosciutto, comes in two categories – cooked and cured.
You can use either in exchange for the guanciale, but each ham type will give your dish a different flavor and texture.
We recommend using cured prosciutto as this will give you the closest taste to guanciale. When cured, prosciutto has a higher percentage of spices and salt, giving it the kick you want in your dishes.
Since prosciutto can be found in thin slices, it is perfect to use in salads and sandwiches. But, if you want to cook it in a different way, you can always ask your local vendor for a thicker cut.
Even though they taste the same, the only difference between prosciutto and guanciale is the cut – prosciutto is healthier because it comes from the pork’s leg, making it leaner than guanciale.
Since it is leaner, it does not have the same fat content present in guanciale. Hence, you should expect your dish to lack some texture and depth when cooking with prosciutto.
Lardo is not the most obvious substitute to guanciale, but once you learn more about it, you will realize that it definitely makes one of the best replacements.
This is mainly because of its fat content. When you cook lardo, it releases its oils and fats, adding a burst of flavor to your dish.
It is especially great to use for pasta dishes because it allows your dish to be creamy and silky in texture, making it hard for you to stop eating.
You can also use lardo to make roasted or baked potatoes, especially if you are looking for some gooey goodness. It is also great for pastries and homemade bread. Lardo is so versatile that it can be used in a bunch of recipes.
All you have to do is let your creativity run wild.
5. Pork Jowl
Pork jowl comes from the same part of the pig where you get guanciale from (3).
It is salt-cured, so its taste resembles that of guanciale. This is a wonderful option if you need to render fat to make a sauce for a rich Italian dish since it has a higher fat content than pancetta.
Keep in mind that pork jowl is high in sodium, so you must lower the salt content in your recipe; otherwise, you might end up with a very salty dish.
For a reasonable price, you can easily find pork jowl in the supermarket, particularly in the bacon section.
Even though bacon makes an excellent guanciale substitute, you must be careful when playing around.
This is because every state in the world has a different taste and texture when it comes to bacon, so you must judge whether it is appropriate for use as a guanciale substitute.
Bacon is a versatile piece of meat that comes from the back of pork.
You can choose cooked, smoked, or cured bacon, depending on the kind of dish you want to make. We recommend using unsmoked bacon if you are planning on using it as a guanciale substitute in your Italian recipe.
Unsmoked and cured bacon have the same fat content as guanciale which means that you probably will not be able to tell the difference between them and guanciale.
Another good thing about bacon is that it can develop a crunchier and crispier taste, making it perfect for some dishes.
7. Pork Belly
Pork belly makes a good guanciale substitute as it is from the same cut as bacon. Keep in mind that pork belly is not smoked, which means that it matches the taste of guanciale precisely.
Moreover, pork belly is sufficiently fatty to be used in your dishes, but it must be kept in mind that it is not a form of cured meat. This should not be a dealbreaker – all you have to do is play around with the spices and salt while you are cooking your meat.
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Choosing the Best Guanciale Alternative
Due to its fat content, guanciale has a rich pork taste that can boost the flavor and texture of any dish.
According to Italians, guanciale is the best kind of quality meat you can lay your hands on. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find in the United States, and even if you do manage to discover guanciale somewhere, it will be costly.
Hence, knowing the best guanciale substitutes is essential so that you can finish up your Italian recipe.
The only challenge you might face is finding a substitute that has not been smoked. Even though smoked guanciale substitutes taste great on their own, they do not taste good in classic recipes and may cause your entire dish to lose its balance.
Bacon, pancetta, and pork jowl are great options.
Even though they will not completely copy guanciale’s texture and flavors, they come close.
If you cannot find guanciale anywhere in your local area, don’t worry – there are many options you can explore to match the taste of your favorite meat cut.
When choosing a guanciale alternative, you need to pay attention to how creamy and authentic you want your dish to taste.
The guanciale substitutes in this article will be enough to dazzle you and the guests you are cooking for, so don’t be demotivated if you cannot find guanciale anywhere!