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Fatback and salt pork are both used to season dried beans, vegetables and soups. They have one thing in common: They’re both cuts of meat from a pig. Fatback is pure fat, while salt pork is meatier and has been dry- or wet-cured. The jury is out on whether or not eating small amounts of fatback and salt pork is bad for you, but there’s no argument about the meaty flavor they impart.

What’s the Difference: Fatback and Salt Pork

Pork fatback, in its purest form, is simply a slice of pork from under the skin of the back of a pig. Uncured, it’s used to add juiciness and flavor to ground beef or pork sausage. It can be sliced very thin and used to wrap other meats or it can be rendered into lard.

Salt pork is pork fat that has been dry-cured in salt or wet-cured in brine. The fat can come from the back, sides or belly of the pig. To make salt pork, coat slabs of pork in a mixture of salt and sugar. Stack the slabs in a crock, cover and let cure for a week per inch of thickness. For wet-cured salt port, put slabs in a plastic bag with liquid brine. Store both at 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the curing process.

Fatback, Pork Belly and Lard

As the names suggest, fatback comes from the back of the pig, pork belly from the underside. There aren’t any big differences in flavor or texture, but fatback rarely has any meat other than fat. Pork belly usually has both meat and fat and, when cured, becomes bacon. Fatback and pork belly are both considered hard fats.

Lard is fat that has been rendered, a process that involves melting the fat and then straining it. It solidifies when it’s cool, but never regains the texture of meat. Lard is considered an unhealthy saturated fat, but you don’t have to give it up completely to have a healthy diet. Limit your intake of saturated fats to less than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake.

Cooking With Salt Pork and Fatback

For flavoring: Use a sharp knife to remove rind, if present. Cut the pork into small cubes and saute over medium heat until the cubes are brown and crispy. Add to green beans, Brussels sprouts, chowder or collard greens.

As a meaty component: Add a large hunk of pork to dried beans with chopped onion and flavorings like brown sugar, molasses and mustard. Cover with water and simmer on top of the stove for an hour. After an hour, transfer the beans to an oven-safe dish and bake at 375 F until the beans are tender.

Homemade ground beef and sausage: If your sausage or ground beef has a low fat content, it will be dry. Adding pork fat when you grind it keeps it moist and juicy. Pork sausage has a fat content between 20 and 45 percent; between 10 and 20 percent is the norm for home-ground beef.

Salt pork and fatback can both be used for flavoring and making ground meats, but you'll need to adjust the seasonings if you're using salt pork.

Making Bacon at Home

Rinse and pat dry about five pounds of pork belly. Combine 1/4 cup each of kosher salt, dark brown sugar and honey with two teaspoons of pink curing salt (optional) and two tablespoons each of red pepper flakes and sweet paprika. Rub the mixture all over the pork. Put the meat in a zip-top bag and refrigerate for at least a week, turning once or twice a day.

Once the pork belly feels firm, remove it from the bag, rinse it and pat it dry. Let it rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Set your smoker to 200 F and smoke the pork belly until the internal temperature reaches 150 F, about three hours. Slice the pork and store it, wrapped, for up to a week in the fridge or in the freezer for two months.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan

Native New Yorker Meg Jernigan stayed in Washington, D.C. after attending the George Washington University, and worked in the tourism industry with the National Park Service for many years. She’s a dedicated foodie with an extensive cookbook collection and years of experience in the kitchen. Jernigan’s recipes have been published online and in magazines like Southern Living.