29 July 2022

The 8 best guanciale substitutes for your recipes

By Killian

If you are fond of Italian cuisine, you probably know what guanciale is. And it is very likely that you have tried it too.

This type of Italian cured meat rose to fame thanks to incredibly delicious recipes such as pasta carbonara and amatrician pasta.

Despite its popularity, it still not an easy cut of meat to find Worldwide. But that shouldn’t stop you from recreating these fantastic pasta dishes (or any other type of dish).

Therefore, here is a complete list of excellent guanciale substitutes when you can’t find the real thing, but still crave those delicious recipes.

The best substitutes for guanciale

If your goal is to find the perfect guanciale substitute for your recipe, you first need to understand what guanciale is.

Guanciale represents a type of Italian cured meat derived from the cheek of the pig. The meat is left to cure in a mixture of dried herbs and spices until it loses much of its weight.

Dried herbs such as thyme or fennel are used in the mixture, as well as black or red pepper and garlic.

After about three weeks or so, the guanciale is finally ready for consumption. And although it is not a very lean type of meat, the peculiarity of guanciale is that its fat melts during cooking.

This specific trait brings extraordinary flavor and incredible depth to any dish you create in the kitchen.

It is not impossible to find it in nearby supermarkets or neighborhood stores around the world, but it is not a trivial task either.

So if you want to cook up some delicious Italian pasta dishes, like pasta carbonara and pasta amatriciana, you might need some ideas for the perfect substitute for guanciale.

Lucky for you, we’ve found some amazing alternatives that are remarkably easy to find, and will give your dish the same flavor and depth as guanciale.

1. Bacon

It might be the most obvious choice, but pancetta is probably the best substitute for guanciale. And, in addition, it is the easiest cut of cured meat to find in the world.

Both pancetta and guanciale contain a high percentage of fat that often tends to melt during cooking.

But the key difference between the two is their origin. Both the pancetta and the guanciale come from pork.

The guanciale comes from the pork cheeks, while the bacon has its origin in the pork belly.

To put it simply, pancetta is the Italian version of bacon. The only difference is that the bacon isn’t smoked, so it won’t overpower the flavor of the original dish too much.

Technically, you can find smoked bacon in any supermarket. But originally, the bacon is not smoked, so it is a secondary addition.

The pancetta can be a suitable substitute for the carbonara spaghetti or the amatriciana dish, and can give you a fantastic result.

Both carbonara and amatriciana are popular pasta dishes from central Italy. Using pancetta instead of guanciale may not be strictly traditional, but it will give you a remarkably similar flavor.

2. Prosciutto

Prosciutto is another type of Italian cured meat, and it can also work as a great alternative to guanciale.

There are two types of prosciutto: cured ham and cooked ham. It is possible to use both as a substitute for guanciale, but each will add unique textures and flavors to your dish.

In this case, cured prosciutto might be the better alternative to guanciale between the two. Being cured, like guanciale, it has a higher percentage of salt and spices, so its flavor is more similar.

It is usually presented in thin slices, perfect for adding to sandwiches or salads. But it is equally possible to order a thicker cut that can be used for cooking.

The only difference between cured prosciutto and guanciale is the cut. Prosciutto comes from the leg of the pig. This makes for a leaner, healthier cut of meat.

Being leaner, the percentage of fat will not match that contained in the guanciale. Therefore, the recipe will lack that characteristic rich, velvety texture.

3. Bacon

If you prefer bacon as a substitute for guanciale, you should be careful. Bacon can be different depending on where you are in the world, and not everything can be the perfect alternative.

Bacon usually comes from the loin of the pig and can usually be found as a cured, smoked, or cooked cut of meat.

If you’re looking for the best option to put it into practice in your Italian-inspired recipes, you should probably go for unsmoked bacon.

Cured, unsmoked bacon is just as fatty as guanciale and will give a relatively similar feel and flavor to your dishes.

If you cook the bacon, it’s also crunchier than guanciale, so that’s a plus if you like this type of texture.


If you’re not too picky about authenticity, or don’t mind replicating the same flavor, speck may be a worthy choice.

Speck is another type of Italian cured meat. It is slightly leaner than guanciale, but contains a hint of smoke.

Like guanciale, it is also cured with herbs and spices, but different ones are used than guanciale.

The speck is cured with bay leaves and juniper. These two ingredients give it a fantastic depth and powerful flavor.

Although slightly smoky, speck can be a great substitute for guanciale due to its saltiness and fat content.

5. lardo

The last type of Italian meat that has been removed from this list. Lardo may not be the most obvious choice, but once you try it you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

It can be a fantastic substitute for guanciale due to its fat content. In fact, lardo is essentially pork fat that melts very well when cooked.

This characteristic gives your recipes and dishes that wonderful and ideal creaminess and silky texture that combines precisely with pasta dishes, but it doesn’t stop there.

Lardo can be used to add that sticky, greasy finish to your roast and baked potatoes, or it can even be added to bread or homemade pastries.

Lardo can be used in countless recipes, and it all depends on your creativity in the kitchen.

6. Salty pork

Salt pork is a salty cut of meat, as the name suggests. It comes from pork belly and is similar to bacon in many ways.

It’s not smoked and a little fattier than guanciale, but still works as a tremendous substitute for guanciale.

The only thing you should keep in mind if you want to eat salted pork as an alternative to guanciale is that you rinse it well before using it.

Since it is quite salty, its flavor could overpower the overall flavor of your dishes. Therefore, it is always best to clean it well and pat it dry before use.

7. Pork belly

Pork belly comes from the same cut as bacon and salt pork, and it can also work as a substitute for guanciale for more than one reason.

First of all, the pork belly is not smoked. As you already know, this is something very important to keep in mind when looking for a substitute for guanciale.

It’s also fatty enough to be a fantastic substitute for guanciale, but it’s not a cured cut of meat.

That shouldn’t be a problem, as you can adjust the level of salt and spices during the cooking process.

8. Pork jowls

Pork jowl comes from the pig’s cheek, just like guanciale, so it has a similar cut and is quite authentic.

The only difference is that pork jowls come as a fresh or cured cut. And it often comes in thin slices.

The fat content between these two cuts is also relatively similar. This will give your dishes the same rich, creamy texture as guanciale.

However, the salt content of pork jowls can be a bit higher than guanciale, so it is not the healthiest option.

How to choose a guanciale substitute

There are many alternatives if you want to find the perfect guanciale substitute for your recipes.

It all depends on the level of authenticity you want to give your dish, the creaminess and the delicious taste.

If you can’t get guanciale near you, you can opt for an Italian cured meat such as pancetta, prosciutto (preferably cured ham, not cooked), speck, and lardo.

But there are also other options, such as bacon (always choose non-smoked bacon!), pork jowls, pork belly, and salt pork (remember to rinse it well before using it).

These alternatives to guanciale will give your dishes a different but equally delicious spine, which may even be better than the authentic dish.