What Is Salt Pork? And How to Use It
It’s the secret ingredient in many baked beans recipes.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Salt pork can deliver deep pork flavor and provide the perfect fat for sweating vegetables for soups and stews without the distinct smokiness of bacon.
What Is Salt Pork?
Popular in the South and New England, salt pork is typically used to flavor dishes like baked beans and chowders. In fact, salt pork was a staple in most households before we had refrigeration. Salt pork refers to heavily salted slabs of pork belly and pork sides. Dry or wet brine is used to cure and preserve the fat and small amount of meat in these cuts of pork.
Salt pork shouldn’t be confused with fatback: fatback is from the back of a hog, and it isn’t salted -- most often it’s rendered into lard.
The Difference Between Salt Pork and Bacon
Salt pork and bacon are both made from pork belly, and both are salted to cure the meat. But bacon gets an added step and spends some time in the smoke house, where it takes on its signature "bacony" smoked flavor. Bacon and salt pork are available in slabs or sliced, but bacon is easier to find in national grocery stores. If you can't find salt pork, bacon is a good substitute.
Salt Pork In History
From the 1600s through the 1800s, salt pork was a rations staple for military troops in the U.S. and Europe. It's high fat content was considered a good source of energy, and it's salty cure meant that it could last on long voyages along with grains, pickled vegetables and ale.
How to Prep Salt Pork
In the old days, salt pork was very heavily salted to preserve it, and soaking it and often simmering it in a few batches of water was required to remove enough salt to make the it palatable. Nowadays, salt pork doesn't have to be as salty because it's refrigerated, but if you’re using a large piece, it’s a good idea to soak it in water for an hour or parboil it so it.
You can leave salt pork in a large piece, cut it in cubes, slice it or dice it depending on the recipe you’re following. To achieve really small pieces that will render quickly, you can also put salt pork through a meat grinder.
How to Use Salt Pork
How to Render Salt Pork
One of the main ways to cook salt pork is to slowly render the fat from it. Then you can use the flavorful fat for cooking and the crisped up pieces of salt pork as a garnish.
To render salt pork, cut it into small cubes. Add it to a skillet with a splash of water and cook over low heat. The water will prevent the pork from scorching before the fat has started to render. When the bits of meat look crispy and crunchy, remove them with a slotted spoon and reserve them to use as a garnish.
How to Add Salt Pork to Soups and Stews
Another use for salt pork? Infusing flavor and fat into a dish to give it body and silken texture. You can add large cubes of salt pork to slow-cooked dishes like stews, collard greens or a crock of baked beans. Our recipe for Maple Baked Beans below uses that technique and is very specific about where to place the cubes in the pot.
Salt Pork Substitute
Since salt pork is pork belly that hasn’t been smoked like bacon and pancetta is pork belly that has been cured but not smoked, we think pancetta is the best substitute flavor wise. Pancetta doesn’t have as much fat as salt pork, so you can add lard to the mix. while we think pancetta is the best substitute, if you want more fat and are fine with the flavor of bacon in your dish (like most of us) go for the bacon.
Recipes Using Salt Pork
Great fish chowder comes down to just a few high-quality ingredients: the freshest fish, potatoes, broth, cream, onion and salt pork. Some people add a knob of butter and a pinch of paprika, but one thing's for certain: crackers are a must.
It doesn't get more southern than slow cooked collards with salt pork, onion, red pepper flakes and hot sauce on the side. Unless you add cornbread.
Grammy’s rule is to take these beans to every family gathering. Once you make them, you might make that your house rule too.
Classic New England Clam Chowder typically starts with a chunk of salt pork, and this one is no exception. The salt pork seasons and flavors the broth but doesn’t overpower it with the smoky flavor you get when you use bacon.
This baked bean recipe is super simple: you’re basically using your oven as a slow cooker with the temperature at 250 degrees F. The directions call for plastic wrap and then foil to cover the pot, but you can use parchment instead. You can also use a tight-fitting lid if you’re cooking in a Dutch oven.
Split pea soup is such a winter comfort meal, and we love the idea of a slice of salt pork in every bowl.