Homemade Pancetta

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One of my best memories of pancetta is it in a very American context. I had been through a 4 week study abroad in Italy and was then traveling around Europe. My mom had joined me for a week and we were in Riomaggiore in Le Cinque Terre. Staying in a small apartment, we decided to make breakfast for ourselves to save money. The best breakfast I can remember was simply fried eggs with pancetta cooked in a manner similar to bacon. And it’s not that the product was particularly good (it was), but it was simply such a comforting change from the Italian food I’d been eating for months.

I actually tried to recreate that breakfast back at home but the pancetta I got was too salty and was practically inedible. The main problem with pancetta here is just how expensive it is. It’s really hard to justify paying the equivalent of $16 a pound for pork belly (or more!). Trader Joe’s sells it for a fairly reasonable price but, anymore, they only sell the pre-diced version which isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do well for things that requiring stuffing (such as braciale).

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Ever since I bought the cookbook Charcuterie, I had wanted to make pancetta. It’s probably the inner engineer in me, but there’s something particularly exciting about the chemical changes necessary to cure meat. That, and it tastes good (after all, it’s pretty much bacon).

I was particularly proud of making the pancetta. It’s not that it took a lot of work (it just took awhile to cure and then dry). Similar to the bratwurst, it was the act of making something that was far different than I’d ever made before (I act like I was personally changing the chemical bonds to cure the meat).

The recipe is pretty easy as long as you have the proper materials. Measuring by weight is important as otherwise you run the risk of changing the ratio of kosher salt to pink salt. Pink salt is not the pink Himalayan salt but is instead salt with 6.25% sodium nitrate. It’s colored pink so that you don’t mistake it for regular salt (sodium nitrate is toxic in large quantities but the sodium nitrate will chance composition as the meat cures so there’s no risk).

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The drying step is optional but makes for a more authentic product. I used a small refrigerator that I had left over from college for the curing and drying portions as it had plenty of room and my normal refrigerator is pretty full (I also use it to cool down chicken stock and to brine a Thanksgiving turkey).

As for the flavor? It was good. Really good. It was almost so flavorful that it was too flavorful to eat. I can’t wait to try it in Pasta with Corn, Pancetta, and Sage or Spaghetti alla Carbonara (of course if I could find some pork jowl I’d try and make guanciale).

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Homemade Pancetta
Adapted from Charcuterie

One 4-pound (1.8 kg) pork belly, skin removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 grams (1.5 tsp) pink salt
35 grams kosher salt
18 grams (1.5 tbsp) dark brown sugar
28 grams (3 tbsp) ground black pepper
7 grams (1.5 tbsp) juniper berries, crushed
3 bay leaves, crumbled
3 grams (.75 tsp) grated nutmeg
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme

  1. Trim the pork belly to be rectangular and remove the skin if present.
  2. Combine all the ingredients except the pork belly and half of the black pepper in a bowl. Rub the mixture onto all sides of the pork belly.
  3. Place the pork belly in a large 2-gallon zip top bag and refrigerate for one week, turning over every other day. When the pork belly is done curing, it will be firm in the middle. If it’s not firm, refrigerate for one to two more days.
  4. Remove the pork belly from the zip top bag and rinse under running water thoroughly. Dry completely with paper towels. Spread the remaining black pepper over the meat side of the pork belly. Roll the pork belly tightly (there should be no air pockets) and secure with butcher’s twine. Make sure to loop both around the circumference of the roll and around the length of the roll.
  5. Place the pork belly in a spare refrigerator set to its lowest setting on a middle shelf. Place a tray of water combined with 2 tbsp kosher salt in the bottom. This will allow the pancetta to dry. Leave in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
  6. After drying, the pancetta will keep in a refrigerator for 3 weeks and a freezer for 4 months.

Yields 3 lbs. pancetta

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13 Responses to “Homemade Pancetta”


  1. 1 David McNelis November 12, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    This looks so incredibly fantastic. It also seems far easier to do at home than I would have anticipated. Now to get another of the small fridges and give it a try! Thanks so much for the writeup!

  2. 3 hannehanne November 13, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Wow, I would never have thought to try making this at home! Nice job and beautiful finished product!

  3. 4 Matt November 13, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Gratzie. It wasn’t too difficult to do, particularly since I had the second fridge. The hard part was really finding the pork belly but we have a number of Asian grocery stores in the area. I didn’t have fun taking the skin off the pork however.

    I was more surprised by how attractive it looked when cut. I didn’t really expect it to get quite that red but I’m not complaining.

  4. 5 djkrysa November 16, 2007 at 7:41 am

    Great recipe. It’s something I’d never have thought of trying myself as I’d always assumed it would be way too difficult. I might give it a go now.

    One point though, Panchetta is somthing similar to the Italian word for foot stool :-) I think you mean pancetta.

    Grazie!

  5. 6 Matt November 16, 2007 at 8:09 am

    Well now don’t I feel dumb. I should’ve known how it’s really spelled but I got confused over the difference in pronunciation between the English ch and the Italian ch. Thanks.

  6. 7 Angela November 16, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Wow! I am in awe of you for attempting this and pulling it off!

    I might give this a go if we buy into a share of a pig next year. (And if I can figure out how to live without a shelf of the fridge for a couple of weeks!)

  7. 8 Matt November 16, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    So when I saw the comment I thought it was from my wife at first.

    It really works the best if you have a spare mini-fridge as you can use it for the drying portion and then you don’t have to worry about losing fridge space. It’s also pretty easy to find pork belly if you have any Asian markets in the area.

  8. 9 Angela November 16, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    We have a little beer fridge with one shelf–would that be big enough? Thinking further… my biggest problem may be trying to persuade my toddler that opening the fridge and playing with the pork is a Bad Thing :P

  9. 10 Matt November 16, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    A beer fridge would work pretty well, at least for the drying portion. For drying, you need the temperature around 60 degrees or so. The curing portion can be done in a regular fridge (which I think is usually about 34 degrees).

  10. 11 Italian Woman December 9, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I love this idea because here in Seattle, I can’t find pancetta that’s affordable and as fresh and tasty as it is in Italy. We have tons of Asian markets so pork belly should not be a problem. Thanks for the inspiration. I never would have thought of this.

    P.S. My dad is an engineer and he’s very precise. I can picture him pulling this off!

  11. 12 Amis goomis June 29, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Started my pork belly in cure 3 days ago. Im weighting it with a cookie sheet full of pebbles to get the moisture out,turning it every day. Should I dispose of the rendered liquid or keep it? Should I keep adding more cure or just keep the portion made for the piece? Any law against curing or drying more that two weeks? I read an article that proposed both for a month.

  12. 13 Matt June 29, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I don’t think it’s necessary to weight down the pork belly to get the moisture out: the chemical process of the salt is what’s the real goal here.

    You should leave the moisture in with the pork belly until you’re done with the curing, then discard the liquid.

    Don’t add any more cure or you risk the pork being too salty (as has happened with some bacon I just made).

    You can cure or dry it for longer than two weeks if you’d like. I believe, however, that you’re approaching the law of diminishing returns after that period of time.

    Good luck with your pancetta.


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