Homemade Pancetta

This homemade pancetta–unsmoked bacon (pork belly)–is cured with salt, sugar, pepper, juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, and thyme. It’s an ingredient in many Italian pasta dishes such as carbonara and as a substitute for guanciale in all’Amatriciana, which can be hard to find.

Homemade Pancetta

Pancetta is sorta like Italian bacon. It’s pork belly cured with salt and seasonings which is then rolled into a log and hung to dry for a couple weeks rather than being smoked. It’s typically thinly sliced or diced and then sautéed to add complexity to other dishes. The traditional process of curing and drying pancetta takes about 3 weeks but the timing varies depending on whom you ask. You could also choose not to roll it and use it as is, treating it as you would fresh bacon. We’ve got ample tricks and techniques to share by folks who’ve made their own pancetta, both on the making of it and the using of it, in the comments beneath this recipe. Go on and take a look before embarking on making your own pancetta. And don’t forget to let us know how it goes. Originally published May 8, 2005.Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

What To Do With Pancetta

Marcella Hazan, in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, notes that pancetta’s “savory-sweet unsmoked flavor has no wholly satisfactory substitute.” Chunks of pancetta can be added to stews, beans, and soups. The classic Roman dish spaghetti alla carbonara is made with sauteed pancetta and eggs. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts are superb when sautéed with pancetta. Hazan suggests sautéing it with spring peas (a traditional preparation) or braising Boston lettuce with it.

Homemade Pancetta

  • Quick Glance
  • (4)
  • 30 M
  • 21 D
  • Makes 4 pounds
4.8/5 - 4 reviews
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  • For the dry cure


Trim the pork belly so that its edges are neat and square.

Combine the garlic, pink salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme, and half the black pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly so that the pink salt is evenly distributed. Rub the mixture all over the pork belly to give it a uniform coating over the entire surface.

Place the belly in a 2-gallon resealable plastic bag or in a covered nonreactive container just large enough to hold it. Refrigerate for 7 days. Without removing the pork belly from the bag, rub the pork belly to redistribute the seasonings and flip it over every other day—a process called overhauling.

After 7 days, check the pork belly for firmness. If it feels firm at its thickest point, it’s cured. If it still feels squishy, refrigerate it with the cure for 1 to 2 more days.

Remove the pork belly from the bag or container, rinse it thoroughly under cold water, and pat it dry. Sprinkle the meat side with the remaining black pepper. Starting from a long side, roll up the pork belly tightly, as you would a thick towel, and tie it very tightly with butcher’s string at 1- to 2-inch intervals. It’s important that there are no air pockets inside the roll. In other words, it can’t be too tightly rolled. Alternately, the pancetta can be left flat, wrapped in cheesecloth, and hung to dry for 5 to 7 days.

Using the string to suspend it, hang the rolled pancetta in a cool, humid place to dry for 2 weeks. The ideal conditions are 50°F to 60°F (8°C to 15°C) with 60 percent humidity, but a cool, humid basement works fine, as will most any place that’s out of the sun. (I often hang mine in our kitchen next to the hanging pans on either side of the stove.) Humidity is important: If your pancetta begins to get hard, it’s drying out and should be wrapped and refrigerated. The pancetta should be firm but pliable, not hard. Sorta like an almost ripe avocado. Because pancetta isn’t meant to be eaten raw, the drying isn’t as critical a stage as it is for items such as prosciutto or dry-cured sausages. But drying pancetta enhances its texture, intensifies its flavor, and helps it to last longer.

After drying, the pancetta can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 3 weeks or more, or frozen for up to 4 months. Freezing makes it easier to slice thin.

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    *What You Need To Know About Pink Curing Salt

    • Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the meat’s red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing. It is NOT the same as pink Himalayan salt.

    Recipe Testers Reviews

    This was the best pancetta I have ever tasted, superior to anything you can buy at the store. Floral notes from the thyme and juniper as well as a little bit of funk from the hanging cure, permeated the meat.

    The week I cured the belly was the ideal climate here in Seattle. I rolled the pork and hung it in my fruit cellar, where the average daily temperature was 63°F and the average humidity was 59, according to the little gizmo I keep in the cellar. I let the belly hang for 9 days, after which it looked and smelled so good I couldn’t wait to try it. The belly was medium firm and just a little dry on the ends. The outside fat had a smooth dry quality to it. It looked ready to eat!

    How did I use my pancetta? First, I trimmed off the dried ends and added them to some soup I was making. I sliced in between the strings, dividing the log into about 5 manageable sections.

    The next night I cut some thick slices for lardons and used them in place of croutons in my Caesar salad. And again the next night in a Cobb salad for dinner. Carbonara is next up in the dinner plan! The remaining sections are now frozen, waiting for use. This was so easy to do, I imagine when I’m down to the last chunk of pancetta I’ll be heading out to the market for more pork belly and get my cure on!

    The only deviation I made from the recipe was that I used a pork belly half the size, so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. The skin was already removed. I cured the pancetta in the fridge for 7 days, and hung the rolled belly to dry in the fruit cellar for 9 days.

    One of the things that makes cooking so fun and exciting for me is trying something new. And like in other areas of life, I often find it helpful to push myself out of my comfort zone. For a long time, I never baked, but one day I decided to give it a shot and have never looked back. Turns out kneading bread is a go-to therapy when I'm stressed out. So it was with this homemade pancetta recipe. At first I thought, "No way." But that morphed into "Why not?" So I gave it a shot.

    The recipe was fairly straightforward. Since we're talking about curing meat, I kept it in the fridge for an extra week. My fat cap was a little thick in a few places, so perhaps some guidance on that would be helpful as well. I refrigerated the pork belly for 14 days. Then I rolled the pancetta and hung it in the basement for 2 weeks. So start to finish, it took 4 weeks to get to the final product and I don't know why, but I was surprised (happily, to be sure) to see that my pancetta looked pretty much like the picture. But of course the real key is the taste.

    Our first use was chopped up and sautéed and then mixed in with some scrambled eggs and cheese. Pretty standard fare. But I figured it would be a good platform for the flavor, which was really good. You could taste pretty much all the spice flavors from the cure. It was a little on the salty side but that was to be expected.


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      1. Marcus, refrigerators are just too dry for curing pancetta. I don’t suggest making the pancetta unless you can find a way to control humidity (a dehumidifier?), as the humidity level is crucial to proper curing.

    1. Hi, I’m making lamb pancetta… well, lamb belly, same procedure, just smaller size (1.5 pounds), only 3 days of curing but drying surprisingly takes pretty long time. It’s been 2 weeks and it lost less than 15%. Not sure if I should go by weight loss or suggested drying time.

    2. David. Thanks for great recipe.

      Question. I live in warm humid climate. Will hanging spoil the meat? Perhaps I should cover with cheesecloth? Or should I just cure in the fridge?


      1. Marcos, if it’s very humid where you live, I wouldn’t suggest it. You really want about 50°F to 60°F (8°C to 15°C) at 60% humidity. If you can control both temp and humidity, then go for it. the fridge is too cold. (Fridges should be below 40°F to control food spoilage.)

    3. Thank you for your instructions along with everyone’s comments on how to get it right. Had a taste of my first homemade pancetta today and it was awesome!

      My basement pantry in the front range/Colorado seems to have worked perfectly for curing/drying. I read elsewhere that with #2 curing salt instead of #1 you can go to a full dry cure where the pancetta does not have to be cooked before consumption, will try that next.

    4. David, I would revise this recipe to replace “pink salt” with “Cure No 1” or “Prague Powder”. I am a cooking instructor and food blogger. I cannot count the number of times I have had to tell people that Himalayan “pink salt” is not the “pink salt” used to cure meat. This is especially important as some manufacturers now use yellow, instead of pink, dye because people still freak out over “Red Dye No. 4” — or over any “unnecessary” addition to a food product. The last several kilos of Cure No.1 I ordered were yellow instead of pink. By the way, “pink salt” in reference to the mined salt from the Himalaya is a made-up western term. Here in the Himalayas we call it “black salt” in English (regardless of the shade), or “strong salt / fart salt” (!) in local languages.

      1. Ratna, thanks for that. Excellent point. When the recipe was first posted, Himalayan and Hawaiian pink salts weren’t very popular. And, that is quite funny about fart salt!

    5. To be precise – having taken many classes in Italy and especially Rome – they use guanciale not pancetta in most of the pasta dishes especially all’amtriciana .. which is very similar recipe and as easy to make – but use pork jowl instead of belly and don’t roll it .. and scale based on weight – although 2 jowls is about 5 lbs! Freezes well, too.

      1. SJ, thanks for that. And you’re completely right: guanciale is used. The only issue is it’s hard to find fresh pork jowl in the States to make guanciale. But I made note of it in the text.

    6. So I’m in the process of making the pancetta. It’s been hanging for 10 days, and I saw some white mold on it and noticed a small amount of white fluid coming out. Is that bad and is that from possibly not tying it right enough.

      1. Donald, I researched this on Michael Ruhlman’s site, and he wrote to a read (who noticed the same thing on day 10), “Just wash [the mold] off with vinegar or brine. it’s probably dead now anyway, also you’ll be cooking it so that’s not a problem.” If you have more questions, I suggest heading over to Michael’s site to ask him directly. I want you to be safe!

    7. I am going to attempt this recipe shortly. One question: After i wash the cure off, could I also wash it in white wine to add some flavor? I know it would not pick up much but it is just a thought. Cheers!

    8. I live in New Mexico where the heat and lack of humidity make pancetta virtually impossible to reproduce. The warning about no air pockets when rolling the pork belly is critical. I had to throw out two, three pound pieces of cured pork belly on my first two attempts. The third attempt, with the pancetta wrapped in three layers of cheesecloth and dried in the bottom drawer of my extra refrigerator did the trick. I put an eight by eight baking pan in the bottom of the drawer, added water, placed a rack on top and the pancetta on the rack. It took exactly three weeks to dry. Great recipe, just requires attention to detail when drying.

    9. I’ll help keep the thread going! I have pork belly curing in the fridge right now. It’s on day 5. I ordered the berries from Amazon and just added them today. I’ll probably push the curing process to 8 or 9 days so the berries have time to add their flavor. I live in northern NY. I’m not sure where I should hang the pork after the initial curing. We have so many windows in our house so we have lots of sun. Should I just cover a window and hang it in a corner or how about a little wine fridge? I’ve heard of people using a wine fridge, but I’m not sure about temp and how to control the humidity. Any suggestions? Thanks :)

        1. Thanks, David. I’ve read about that handy tool, but had no idea it was so cheap. I’ll post pics next week.

    10. I’m surprised that this recipe didn’t grow in comments since the last time I commented. It’s a wonderful recipe! I wasn’t able to check the actual weight lost hanging in the ref, but the outside was suitably dry, very firm and shrunken from the butcher’s twine when I took it out.

      One change I will make is to increase my salt. In retrospect, I remember using rock sea salt which has bigger granules than kosher salt. A pain to find juniper berries in the Philippines, but totally worth it.

      1. Risa, perhaps you will be the lucky charm to make the comment thread grow! I, too, love this recipe. The same volume of rock salt versus kosher salt will weigh less. I need to covert those amounts to weight.

    11. No. you cannot air dry above 18 ºC, a lot of spores will develop, ruining the meat and threatening your life. Do it inside your refrigerator (in the vegetable drawer); it will take longer to dry but at the end, when it lost 20% weight, the results will be similar.

      1. I’m far from the food safety police, Ria, seeing as I myself tempt fate now and then with a few questionable food safety practices, but my instinct is that’s just too darn hot and humid to safely cure meat. Anyone else care to chime in? Just in case others have a tricky time doing mental math, that’s 78 to 93 degrees F.

          1. No. The pink salt he’s referring to is a pink curing salt with nitrate and nitrite. You can find this salt online. It is often referred to as Pink Salt #2, or curing salt #2.

      2. We live in southwestern Australia where temps vary between 20 and 45°C during summer. We used our beloved beer fridge to hang our meats in as it just wasn’t worth the potential loss of our homegrown goods.

      3. First time, I tried it with the cheaper pork jowl. Too dry and hot, and jowl turned into hard casing with liquid trapped inside. Also, there was mold growth. The second time, I used belly, after an extended curing period of 2 weeks. I left it in fridge to age–I just left it atop a drip pan on some mesh, and put some saltwater in drip pan to help humidity. Worked perfectly. Tried a few times. Also I used celery salt cuz i can’t find nitrate/nitrite.

      4. I also live in the tropics and keep a bar fridge at its warmest temperature—about 10C. I use it for making cheese, and if I am making cured pork I put a pan of water in the bottom to keep the humidity a bit higher.

    12. if you are air drying for longer than 1 week, I would use Cure #2, which is meant for longer hang times. It contains nitrite and nitrate, which will release slower than only nitrite, for longer aging.

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