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Pancetta versus Prosciutto

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2017

Pancetta and prosciutto are often confused, since both are traditional Italian cured pork products that taste deeply savory and salty.

That said, they come from different parts of the pig, the processes to make them are different, and we use them in different ways. Here’s how to keep them straight.

Pancetta

What it is: Pancetta is seasoned salt-cured pork belly (just like bacon but not smoked) that’s rolled and often put in a casing before being hung to dry to develop firm texture and deep flavor. It must be cooked before eating.

Forms: It can be sliced to order behind the deli counter or bought presliced in packages. (It also comes prediced, which we don’t recommend—we’ve found that the cubes often taste sour.)

How we use it: We like to cut it into small chunks and sauté it to add savory depth as well as intensely flavorful, meaty bites to dishes from soups and stews to pastas.

Prosciutto

What it is: Prosciutto is the salt-cured hind leg of the pig (i.e., ham) that’s air-dried for months or even years, giving it a markedly dense, silky texture and a delicate, nutty flavor. Prosciutto is safe to eat without cooking.

Forms: It can be sliced to order at the deli counter or bought presliced in packages.

How we use it: We like raw slices as part of an antipasto platter or wrapped around fruit or vegetables. We also use it in cooked applications, such as saltimbocca, and we crisp it for a salad topping.

Check out our favorite brands of prosciutto: 

Taste Test: Supermarket Prosciutto
Taste Test: Imported Prosciutto