Side Pork vs Pork Belly: What Are the Differences?

August 26, 2022

The quick answer is that while a pork belly is a cut of meat taken from the underside of a hog just after the loin, the side pork is the upper portion of the pork belly. 

When I go to the meat shop or make an order online, I often come across labels such as "side pork" or "pork belly." You must have seen that too. Again, when you're out to buy some pork and ask for a pork belly, the butcher sometimes could hand you a pork side with the rib bones inside.  

This makes you wonder, is the pork side and pork belly the same? Well, in this side pork vs. pork belly comparison article, I'll do justice to all the differences and similarities between these pork cuts. 

Side Pork vs Pork Belly

Pork Belly vs. Side Pork: What Are the Differences?

The truth is, pork belly and side pork are ALMOST the same. Take a look at this diagram of how a pig body is categorized across several cuts.

Pork Sections

Labels

  1. Shoulder
  2. Ham
  3. Loin
  4. Belly
  5. Shoulder butt
  6. Face
  7. Back

You can see above in the diagram and the labels that, in most cases, the pork belly is portioned out while the pork side isn't included. This is because the pork side is part of the belly. 

Analogically, I'd say pork belly can be described as the entire USA and the pork side as the northern states. So, the pork side is part of a pork belly. But there are a few differences. 

Two of the products I use most often in pork gastronomic recipe preparations are pork belly and side pork. They're the parts of the pig from where bacon and pancetta are taken. 

However, even though the pork belly and side pork are very similar, they both have essential characteristics that make a difference in my recipe. I'll explain why:

Pork belly and the pork side usually come from the back of the belly and sides of the pig.

The main difference is that the pork belly comprises mostly layers of fat underneath and little meat. Meanwhile, the pork side contains more fibers from lean meat.

Also, the belly cut is boneless, while the pork side can contain some bones from the rib cage. 

Meanwhile, bacon is another pork cut that always comes in the pork belly and side comparison. Like salt pork, it is usually cured meat that you take from the pork belly.

However, you can also derive this from the pig's sides and back.  It's prepared with salt and some spices and aromatic ingredients in some dishes.

After curing, you have to smoke it to give the meat a more intense and distinctive flavor. 

What Is Pork Belly?

This is the name given to the pieces of meat that make up the pig’s underside and lower rib cage. These cuts of meat are also streaked with fat and used as spare ribs.

One thing I like about the pork belly is its versatility. You can boil, roast, salt, smoke it, or even prepare it in a soup. Dishes get a hearty and aromatic taste from the pork belly cut.

If you boil the cut rind in salted water, it becomes crispy when frying afterward. Pork belly is also made with sweet potatoes and smoked paprika.

Recently, I also discovered that the pork belly cuts a fine figure on the grill - for example, as a lumberjack steak.

Pork belly contains essential vitamins and minerals for the body like vitamin B3, which is vital for the metabolic processes in the body.

Moreover, the protein content of pork belly is 9 grams per 100 grams, and its fat content is 53 grams. It contains 518 kilocalories per 100 grams serving.

The pork belly cost is usually around $5 per pound and is available all year round. You can find it at the butcher's shop or the meat store as a fresh, vacuum-packed, or frozen option.

What Is Side Pork?

Although used interchangeably, side pork is the pork belly's upper part. Also called lean bacon, it consists of some back fat and short ribs. However, it is less fatty and meatier than the pork belly. 

What is side pork used for?

The pork side is used for making hot stews and is served with asparagus, potatoes, and cabbage. Pork belly or side pork and baked beans are also commonly served. You can also make plain side pork with a good cut and make it into a sandwich. 

While pork belly is mostly fatty and contains very little meat, side pork contains more fiber from lean pork. You don't have to moderate the consumption of pork side like the belly.

So, trust me when I say pork side is somewhat healthier than pork belly. However, the fat in pork belly is largely monounsaturated (healthy fats also found in olive oil, nuts, etc.). Although it isn’t considered unhealthy fat, it still has a lot of calories and lesser protein than other pork cuts. You have to worry about this especially if you're a weight-watcher.

Pork Belly Meat with Barbecue Sauce

Types of Pig Used for Pork Belly and Side

First, let's talk about pork belly supply. In recent years, the development and fattening of the animals have been closely related to the consumer's wishes. 

If you can recall, pigs used to be really high in fat. However, over the last couple of years, there has been a change in people’s diets and education about calories and cholesterol. Therefore, consumers no longer wanted to buy fat-filled meat. 

In response to consumer demand, the animals were bred to be longer and leaner, with 16 instead of 12 ribs. For example, pigs used to have 12 to 13 ribs, but the Braun pigs now have 16 to 17 ribs, which is great.

As a result, the meat-to-fat ratio increased significantly. Weight-watchers don't have to worry about their pork cravings.

The pigs slaughtered today are only seven to eight months old and have tender, light red meat.

However, consumer tastes are changing again. More and more people believe that the lack of fat in meat reduces the taste. 

The roast tastes dry and is not that juicy because fat is an important flavor carrier. It provides a hearty taste when roasting and ensures a juicy roast.

Again, the consumers always win. Today, you can find pigs bred to have more, or less fat.

The Camborough and the Hampshires, for example, are pig breeds with less fat and more lean meat. There's also something for fans of pork with a lot of back fat in the Mangalitsa and Kele pigs. In essence, pork is for everyone!

Methods Used to Cook Pork Belly and Pork Side

You're probably familiar with the traditional way of frying bacon. However, other easy methods can give you equally delicious and crispy results with pork belly. 

Pan-Frying 

Place a large skillet on the stovetop over medium heat. You don't need to add oil to the pan. Pork belly has enough fat that you don't need to add vegetable oil.

Instead, cut the pork belly into slices. There is no need to score the skin when frying pork. Cutting it this way exposes enough fat. 

Place the belly slices on the hot skillet and frequently turn until both sides of each slice are golden brown and crispy.

When the pork belly or side is brown, discard the excess fat and add honey, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and garlic. 

Lower the heat and cook again until the sauce thickens and coats the pork like a kind of glaze. Then, remove the skillet from the heat and serve the pork slice with their glaze.

Baking

This is a very quick technique to make crispy pork belly without much fat. To make a baked crispy pork belly recipe, the first step is to wipe the baking pan with paper towels and line the pan with wax paper or parchment paper.

Next, heat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Once you remove it from the oven, you can remove the excess fat. 

Grilling

If you like rich flavor, this option is for you. Place the pork on the grill over low heat. Remember to move it constantly to prevent it from burning.

If you are preparing roast meat on the grill, you can take the opportunity to cook it in the same place. This option ensures a flavorful and delicious result.

Some variations of pork belly dishes such as pork belly wraps or Korean pork belly are done on the grill.

Roast Pork belly Meat

FAQs 

1. Is Belly Pork and Pork Belly The Same?

Yes, these names are used interchangeably and are the same cut. The belly pork or pork belly is a boneless cut with high fat layer from the pig's belly side. 

2. Is Pork Side Meat The Same As Bacon?

Yes and no. A fresh pork side isn't bacon. However, thin slices of side pork that are smoked are considered bacon. Also, cured and lightly smoked pork belly is considered bacon. 

3. How Long Can Fresh Pork Belly Be Stored?

Fresh pork belly (vacuum-packed) can be stored in the refrigerator at 35 to 45 degrees internal temperature for at least 6 days. Once opened, you can keep it for 4 to 5 days. In addition, you can store fresh pork belly in the freezer for up to 6 months. However, cooked pork can last up to four days when refrigerated below 40 degrees temperature. 

4. Is Pork Belly The Same As Bacon?

The pork belly is also known as bacon but is usually smoked. For the bacon, not only the fatty tissue of the belly is used, but also the leg and the pork loin. 

If the pork belly is still streaked with tender meat strips, it is also suitable for cooking breakfast bacon, which is often used as a topping for bread. It can also be used to lard lean meats. 

Final Thoughts

As the name suggests, pork belly comes from the belly part of the pig. However, the pork side is taken from the upper part of the pork belly. It can still be partially traversed by the ribs. All pork belly includes side pork. Side pork can be found some ribs. 

The main difference between pork belly and side pork is that the lower belly is well-streaked with fat while the upper part, which is the pork side, contains lean meat. 

They can be cooked and baked, pan-fried, and slow-roasted. You can prepare pork belly to make soups and stew dishes, among other recipes. Thankfully, the recipes are mostly straightforward, as you can have them cooked like other parts of the pig flesh.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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