Most grocery stores sell prosciutto and pancetta in the deli section, and the two meats look similar. Choosing between them is simple as long as you know what you want to use the meat for. Choose prosciutto for raw applications like an antipasto plate. Opt for pancetta to add flavor to cooked dishes.

Pancetta is made from pork belly -- the same cut of meat used when making bacon. Prosciutto comes from the hind leg. It is the same cut of meat used for ham.

Both prosciutto and pancetta are cured meats. The difference is in timing. Pancetta is cured for about two weeks, while prosciutto cures for months or even years. This long cure incorporates a warm air-drying process that concentrates the flavor of the ham by allowing water to evaporate. This prevents bacteria from multiplying and makes prosciutto safe to eat without cooking. Pancetta's shorter cure imparts flavor but does not protect against bacteria that cause food-borne illness. It should be fully cooked before eating.

Pancetta is typically sold in blocks, diced cubes or thin slices. You can use it in recipes that feature bacon as a flavoring agent, such as:

Try substituting crisped pancetta for Canadian bacon in eggs Benedict, or adding cubes to your favorite salad.

Prosciutto is often eaten raw and at room temperature. You can enjoy it alone, or incorporate it into an appetizer or main dish:

  • Pair with gorgonzola, apple and a sliced baguette for a quick appetizer
  • Combine prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato for a caprese salad.
  • Incorporate prosciutto into your next grilled-cheese sandwich. The softness of the meat mixes well with the gooeyness of melted cheese.

Prosciutto is a welcome feature on a cheese and charcuterie plate, or as a last-minute addition to a light vegetable pasta dish.

Both pancetta and prosciutto are available as pre-packaged products in most grocery store deli sections. Some stores will cut them to order behind the deli counter as well. While they look similar, identifying pancetta and prosciutto is easy once you know what to look for.

  • Pancetta is typically sold in cubes or round slices with large ribbons of fat running throughout in a pinwheel design. You can also buy pancetta in uncut blocks from the deli. 
  • Prosciutto is sold in paper-thin strips. If you buy prosciutto from the deli counter, ask for the thinnest possible cut, and request a slice of paper between each strip. This will keep the meat from sticking together. 

These cured meats are more expensive than typical cold cuts, but a little goes a long way.