When you buy a half a pig, your dreams are filled with bacon. Lots and lots of bacon.
My kids are head over heels in love with bacon and would eat two pounds a day if I’d let them. So buying half a pig seemed like a great way to have a family supply of bacon for many months.
Buying pork in bulk also means you have a lot of choices to make on what cuts you want.
There’s a category where I was able to choose either bacon or fresh side pork. I was doing some research on this particular processing company, and the only bacon they had included nitrates.
I’m not a fan of nitrates, so I’ve really tried to avoid them. Buying high-quality pastured pork and then infusing it with nitrates seemed like a win-lose situation for me.
As I picked my cuts of pork I thought, “Hey, fresh side pork, that’s the same part of the pig as bacon. So probably it will taste like bacon, right?”
Oh dear, dear, dear. Poor Katie. I was so, so wrong.
RELATED: Why it’s important to ask your farmer questions!
What Fresh Side Pork Tastes Like
When we picked up our half pig, we had about a dozen packages of fresh side pork. They looked exactly like bacon. Score! thought Katie. Plenty of bacon.
I immediately left some out of the freezer so that we could have some “fresh bacon” the next morning.
As I’m cooking up the fresh side pork, I realize the house doesn’t smell as good as it should if I was cooking bacon. It doesn’t look quite right now that it’s cooking, although it still pretty much reminds me of bacon.
One piece finishes. Not as crispy as I’m used to, but I pull it out and prepare myself for a delectable taste.
This is not a score for Katie. What does fresh side pork taste like? It tastes like the fatty part of a pork chop all fried up. If you dig the fatty thing, it might be for you. But really, it just tastes a little bit fatty and porky and not salty or bacony at all. Total disappointment.
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How to Cook Fresh Side Pork
Now that I had 11 packages of fresh side pork left and discovered that it didn’t taste like bacon, I had to figure out how to use it. An Internet search for “how to use fresh side pork” came up with hardly any ideas. Most people just fry it up like bacon and put it on toast.
First of all, we are mostly a gluten-free household and rarely have toast. Second of all, it doesn’t taste like bacon. So why would I want to eat it on toast? That would just diminish the lovely effect of a buttery piece of toast.
I had to figure out some other ways.
I started including bits of fresh side pork in soup, along with sausage or bacon. One good example is this sausage, kale and bean soup and we have a lentil soup that calls for either sausage or bacon that is quite delicious. I thought it would at least hide in there and just be some extra protein.
Unfortunately, it’s still like a fatty piece of pork. So some members of my family would actually pick it out of their soup and put it on the side of their plate. This was not going so well. Then one day, a happy accident.
How to Make Fresh Side Pork Taste Like Bacon
I had some cooked side pork in the fridge with the intention of snipping it into small pieces and hiding it in yet another dish for my hapless family to go on hide-and-seek hunts for.
My husband thought it was bacon. So he pulled it out and started cooking it to go with some eggs. One of us decided to put some of our bacon fat from a jar into the pan. Lo and behold, the house (of course) started smelling like bacon.
We crisped up the side pork as best as we could and prepared ourselves for another disappointing taste. However … tada! We had stumbled upon the magic solution for making fresh side pork taste like actual bacon and not be so ashamed of itself.
I still wouldn’t serve slices of fresh side pork as a side to breakfast, but we were able to very easily cook the side pork in bacon fat, get it as crispy as possible, and then mix it in with some egg scrambles, sweet potato hash, and omelets. It actually made our day and made our breakfast, because it tasted enough like bacon.
So I hope that if you are someone who has searched for “what to do with fresh side pork” that you were hoping would taste like bacon that you’ve stumbled across our solution.
Ironically, I didn’t discover this until we were down to about three packages left. So I didn’t even really get to lean into the beauty of fresh side pork that actually tastes like bacon with no nitrates and no other additives.
What’s the Difference Between Side Pork and Pork Belly?
A kind reader pointed out to me that what I’m calling side pork is actually the same thing as pork belly. A quick google search will give you a bunch of recipes for pork belly, so why did I try to make my side pork taste like bacon?
Pork belly recipes usually use a single piece of meat or cubed meat. When I purchased my side pork from our farmer, it came thinly sliced, just like bacon. Not exactly conducive to those recipes, plus I thought I was getting a bunch of healthy bacon.
So if your side pork came in one big piece, look for pork belly recipes, and if you accidentally ordered side pork thinking it was like bacon…then here is your little trick to fulfill all your bacon dreams!
Why Save Your Bacon Grease?
I know people joke about the 90-year-old man who eats bacon every day and somehow amazingly made it to his ninth decade, but let’s get this straight.
Lard has been a very maligned fat ever since the Crisco brand decided it had to make lard seemed like it was very unhealthy in order to take over the market share.
Lard, the fat from pigs and pork, is actually over 50% monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fat is the healthy fat that we laud when we try to eat more avocados. So really, lard is a great fat to have around.
The fat that comes off bacon is just lard with a ton of extra flavor. We get somewhere between a half to a whole cup per pound of bacon we cook, and to me, that’s free cooking fat that’s saving me a buck or two for every pound of bacon.
Plus my kids eat far more green beans, asparagus, and shaved Brussels sprouts when I cook them in bacon grease. Not to mention that the house smells great, and I’m only cooking vegetables.
I always save my bacon grease, and I think it’s a great practice for anyone to start, especially if you’re using pastured bacon without nitrates. Butcher Box is my favorite source for quality bacon, after all, you gotta have some bacon to make your fresh side pork taste like bacon.
Other Great Recipes with Pork and Bacon
- Whole30 BBQ Boneless Pork Ribs in the Instant Pot
- Slow Cooker Stuff Cabbage “Un-Rolls”
- Gluten-Free Bacon and Green Onion Muffins
- Puerto Rican Chicken
- Cheeseburger Soup (with Bacon!)
- Simple Paleo Breakfast Hash (cooked in bacon fat)
- Homemade Sausage Seasoning
- Instant Pot Apple Pie Pork Chops
25 thoughts on “How to Cook Side Pork so it Tastes Like Bacon”
Being from Iowa we had side pork all the time, and prefer it to bacon. Now living in the South, they have never heard of it. When I know family or friends are coming down I always have them go to the grocery store and get me some to bring down.
When we fix it we fry it just like bacon, but sprinkle Lawry’s Seasoning Salt on it. It gives it the best flavor. Always brings back those mornings are Grandma’s standing over the stove cooking all that side pork.
That sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing how you prepare it!
I was searching for a location who sold fresh side meat in the slab with the rind still on. So far, nothing. We used to buy it in the local supermarket but that ended years ago. When I ask for it now they think I mean Salt Pork. My favorite way to cook fesh side meat with the rind on is simply fry it in a pan with plenty of salt and pepper until very crisp. Sometimes it won’t fry up crisp if it’s a bad cut but it usually will. We love it way better than bacon and we love bacon. I love it with fried eggs.
Like… when I was younger we would fight over the pieces of side pork that got fried up before the bacon.
I just throw seasoning salt on and cook it crispy. It’s delicious.
Was sorta hoping to see something here to surprise my dad who can no longer eat cured meats which I think includes bacon grease… oh well! Old reliable it is. (At least he can still have all the pork in the world)
we eat side pork all the time and prefer it to bacon. how we bake it is salt and pepper
both sides and sprinkle it with alittle caraway seed. then bake until crispy. 350-400 about 30 minutes turning every 10 minutes or so. the key is to make sure it is crispy
That sounds really good! Thanks for sharing for everyone!
Understandable when it comes to Brussels sprouts, if it wasn’t for bacon I’d never eat those horrible horrible little balls of disgustingfulness.. but pour on the pork lard and I can stomach them???
Thanks for the side pork ideas. Will add salt when cooking and slice some potatoes with the pork. Hope it tastes good
Sounds good Sharron! Enjoy!
My family loves side pork. We fry it and make gravy from the drippings. You do have to salt and pepper the meat, or it’s basically flavorless. We make it for supper with mashed potatoes and another veggie. Pour out most of the drippings, add flour and make a roux. Then just add milk till you get it the consistency of gravy. You might have to add more salt and pepper.
That sounds tasty Teri! Thanks for sharing how you prepare it!
Bacon that is advertized as “nitrate-free” usually has celery juice or another “natural” source of nitrate. When it was tested, the amount of nitrates in “nitrate free” bacon varied wildly, sometimes twice the amount in ‘regular’ bacon. One can measure the amount of nitrates added, but vegetable sources vary very much. I can’t site the study now, but it might be worth looking into if you are concerned. We have been lucky enough to get really wonderful humanely raised pork and my favorite is to get the belly whole and make a big roll of pancetta with half and bacon with the other half. By using ‘pink salt’ (for preserving meat, not Himalayan pink salt), I can control how much I use and consume.
I haven’t looked into it very much, but I have heard that as well. One of my cooking goals is to make my own bacon. Homemade pancetta sounds lovely as well!
We ate a lot of side pork when I was a kid. Mom soaked it in milk for a little while. Then dredged in seasoned flour, fried in oil until browned and then into the oven. I don’t know what temp or how long but I know until it got really nice and crispy. It was lovely and we ate it with mashed potatoes and a veg,probably cabbage, for dinner. Or supper where I came from. I miss that and had not been able to find side pork here it the south until I realized that maybe I could get a butcher to slice a pork belly for me. On to the butcher shop!
I went through the exact same thing for exactly the same reason. I cut mine in half separating the leaner half from the fattier half. Then toss it in a cold pan, heavily salt it (smoked salt is yummy), and sprinkle it with thyme. Cook it until it is mostly crispy. Well beyond “done”, but by no mean burnt. I don’t like the fatty pieces much, but I also don’t like crispy bacon. The end result tastes just like bacon. The grease even tastes like bacon. It can be done.
Wouldn’t cooking it in bacon grease add the nitrates from the other bacon?
Using smoked salt sounds lovely! Using bacon grease with nitrates will add some, but if you buy nitrate-free bacon, this is a way to extend that more expensive cut of meat by using the grease to make the bacon-flavored side pork.
We have been enjoying fresh side for the past few months. The farmer we buy pork from does not send it out to be turned into conventional bacon. I was skeptical at first. They said they just season it with salt and fry it. I wasn’t sure how much to use. I googled around looking for how other people season their fresh side. I came across a recipe that combines 1/2 c flour, 3 T seasoned salt, and a dash of garlic powder. I make up the mix, dredge some slices of fresh side in it, and fry it in a skillet. We really like it. We call it “not bacon” because it is its own thing. I save the drippings just as I would bacon grease. The flour helps to not over salt the fresh side. If you’re gluten free, I don’t see why you couldn’t use your favorite gluten free flour blend. I keep extra “not bacon” seasoning in a jar to make it easy to fry up as much or as little as I need.
I have not delved into whether or not seasoned salt has questionable ingredients that should be avoided. If you have a preferred brand, use that. We like the flavor of Lawry’s.
That sounds good! Thanks for sharing Amy!
I believe what you are referring to as fresh side pork is simply known as pork belly, for which there are many recipes and is a popular cut of meat in Korean culture and some other Asian cultures. In Korean culture, it is used as a main dish. You don’t want it to taste like bacon and you don’t want the slices as thin as bacon. Instead, you often wrap barbecued pieces (thicker slices) up in lettuce with a special sauce (samgyupsal) or boiled pieces (bossam). Or in another Asian style, you can bake it the oven to make crispy pork belly (in large thick pieces, not bacon slices and slice after baking). I think it is best with rice but I have also seen pork belly used in dishes like bahn mi sandwiches (Vietnamese) or as a taco/fajita ingredient (fusion). I have found pork belly at Costco in areas that have a large Asian population.
Here’s a link that will explain how side pork is the same as pork belly: https://howtocookwithvesna.com/whats-the-difference-between-side-pork-and-pork-belly/
Also, if you look up the recipes for samgyupsal and bossam, the flavor of the pork belly is enhanced with pungent sauces or other side dishes that you wrap with the pork belly, or it the case of samgyupsal, it can be eaten with dipping the pork belly pieces in something as simple as toasted sesame seed oil and salt (pour some sesame seed oil over a small spoonful of salt) and eating it with rice.
Sorry-one more comment. I wish I could edit my original comment but here goes. I meant to say that Bossam is basically boiled pork belly while Samgyupsal is barbecued/grilled pork belly. You usually would wrap either in lettuce, perilla leaves, some other leafy vegetable, or in the case of bossam, you would also have a choice of crispy pickled napa cabbage leaf. You would have different side dishes/sauces that you would also put in the leaf with the the pork belly. I also put in rice when I wrap the pork belly.When you eat it like a wrap, you make them as you eat them. It’s not done ahead of time. It’s a traditional way of eating certain barbecued meat or when eating bossam.
Thank you, Jae! I didn’t realize that and probably should have ordered the cut as “pork belly” instead of choosing “side pork” on the order form. Ours came all sliced thinly in packages that looked just like bacon! But I looked up a few pork belly recipes which look delicious, and I’ve had it in restaurants before. Totally kills it to slice thin — I’ll know for next time once the last pound is gone from the freezer LOL 🙂 Thanks for all your help! 🙂 Katie
We often have fried side pork for part of our breakfast and enjoy it.After frying we blot it a bit then season wit garlic salt and pepper.
Thanks Laurie! I think others feel the same, but it just wasn’t our favorite…until bacon grease. 😉 Katie