What’s the Difference Between Pancetta and Guanciale?

Yes, both are delicious cured pork products, but there are some important differences.

Published Dec. 8, 2022.

Pancetta and guanciale are both salty, succulent, and make a lot of other foods taste better. These Italian cured pork products have a lot in common, but they also have some key differences.

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Pancetta and Guanciale Are from Different Parts of the Pig

The word “guancia” means cheek, which is where guanciale gets its name. Guanciale is from the jowl of the cheek of the pig whereas pancetta is from the belly. Being from the cheek, guanciale has a higher ratio of fat than pancetta, which plays into why it is the base of certain Italian dishes such as Spaghetti Carbonara and Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Spaghetti Carbonara

This “bacon and eggs” pasta is a restaurant staple. We show you how to make it at home.
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Guanciale Is Cured Longer Than Pancetta

Guanciale is typically cured for a few months, which is longer than pancetta. Pancetta is cured with salt and then hung to dry for a couple weeks. Most people think guanciale has a more robust flavor (from the longer curing), but both meats can vary from producer to producer. 

Smashed Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Pancetta and Sage

Potatoes are better when dressed with crispy, porky pancetta.
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Guanciale and Pancetta Are Made with Different Spices

Pancetta is typically made with just salt, pepper, and juniper and sometimes other flavoring agents such as garlic or brown sugar. Guanciale has a good dose of salt and pepper too but also typically includes garlic, rosemary, and sage. 

Chicken Thighs with Pancetta, White Beans, and Rosemary

Cooking the beans with rendered chicken fat and pancetta gives them bold, meaty flavor.
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How to Cook with Guanciale and Pancetta

Both guanciale and pancetta are typically used to add porkiness, saltiness, and fat to a dish. Both are sold sliced or in large chunks, so it’s important to check which preparation the recipe calls for before going to the grocery store. Each of these meats freezes well, so you can buy them in larger amounts and freeze them in smaller chunks. 

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

This guanciale-studded tomato pasta is the perfect pick-me-up on a weeknight.
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Can You Substitute Guanciale and Pancetta?

We suggest seeking out whichever meat a recipe calls for to get the intended outcome. Some people will also argue that it’s not really “carbonara” if you’re using pancetta in place of guanciale. But pancetta is often easier to find in American supermarkets. And in a pinch you can use guanciale and pancetta interchangeably; they behave similarly in recipes. Just be sure to substitute them in the specific cut and size the recipe calls for. 

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