Salt pork is fat cut from the back or belly of a pig; it is heavily salted for preservation. It has a rich, savory flavor and is used to give recipes a meaty, salty flavor. Additionally, the fat rendered from salt pork can be used as a source of cooking fat. Though salt pork has a distinctive flavor, you can replace it with other ingredients from your kitchen without significantly affecting your recipe.
Bacon is similar in flavor to salt pork and is among the most readily available pork products. However, bacon is cured and smoked, a process that often includes the use of sugars and flavorings. For the closest replacement for salt pork, look for a plain, unsliced slab of bacon without extra sugars and flavorings added to the curing mixture. While you can use the same amount of bacon as salt pork in your recipes, especially for flavoring, bacon does not need soaking before use like salt pork.
Olive Oil or Butter
For those who eschew pork products or are watching their cholesterol intakes, olive oil can be used as a replacement for salt pork. You can use this replacement when cooking vegetables for a stew or soup. Replace each ounce of salt pork with 1 tbsp. olive oil for a vegetarian substitute or butter for extra flavor. Since olive oil does not have the same flavor as salt pork, it should be used in recipes that only call for 1 or 2 oz. of salt. pork. Taste the recipe before serving, as you might have to add extra salt to compensate for the less salty oil.
Pancetta is an Italian bacon with less fat than salt pork. Unlike bacon, pancetta has not been smoked, so the flavor is closer to salt pork than bacon. You can often find this Italian bacon in specialty markets and delis. Sold in rolls, pancetta is frequently used in the same way as salt pork to add flavor to dishes. Cutting through a roll of pancetta can be difficult due to the amount of fat; chef Alton Brown recommends freezing the pancetta slightly for 30 minutes before cutting it to make slicing easier. You can substitute pancetta for an equal amount of salt pork.
Fatback is the fact collected from the pig’s back but, unlike salt pork, fatback contains no meat. Use fatback as a salt pork substitute only in recipes that use salt pork for fat and flavor instead of as a meat source. Since fatback has not been preserved in salt, you will need to add more salt to the recipe if you desire a saltier flavor. Taste the dish before serving and adjust the salt as needed.
References and Resources"The Church Potluck Supper Cookbook"; Elaine Robinson; 2003
"Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen"; Damon Lee Fowler, et al; 2002
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cooking Substitutions"; Ellen Brown; 2008
Gourmet Sleuth: Salt Pork
"Joy of Cooking"; Irma von Starkloff Rombauer; 1997
"Good Eats: The Early Years"; Alton Brown; 2008