Pancetta is Italian specialty meat that is cut from the pork belly of pigs. It is cured with salt, seasoned with pepper and other seasonings, then rolled and air-dried. In stores, pancetta is often sold in thin slices as cubes. Once cured, it does not need to be cooked; it can be eaten as cold meat. Its bacon flavor also makes it a popular addition to pasta dishes.
If you can’t find pancetta at your local grocery store counter, there are several other types of meat such as ham, bacon, salt pork, and Canadian bacon that will work in your dish as well.
Prosciutto is cut from the jowl of a salted ham. It is brined and then air-dried. It is sold in extremely thin slices and, like bacon, can be eaten raw. This is the best substitute for pancetta, when available, as the flavors and texture are extremely similar. However, if your bacon recipe calls for bacon cubes, ham slices will not add the same amount of fat to the dish.
Some people recommend blanching the bacon before using it in a bacon dish, to bring out some extra salt and smoky flavor. Unfortunately, this also removes some of the fat from the bacon, which can leave your dish dry and tasteless.
Salt pork is a very fatty pork product used exclusively for seasoning dishes. Salt pork is finely chopped, then rendered crispy, melting most of the pork fat to flavor the soup, stew, or casserole. While this would not work as a substitute for bacon for any cold meat preparation, it is a great replacement for hot, savory dishes.
More similar to ham than American-style bacon, Canadian bacon is cut from the back of the pig, rather than the belly. As a result, it is much thinner. Canadian bacon can be made by smoking or bringing. If possible, try to use brined Canadian bacon, as this will not significantly change the flavor of the dish.