What is Salt Pork?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Salt pork is a cut from the belly and sides of a pig which is cured in salt. It is very similar to bacon, except that salt pork is not smoked, and bacon tends to be leaner. It is also distinct from fatback, another similar product, as fatback is not salted. This cured pork product has a long history, and it is still a part of the cuisine of some regions of the world, such as the New England coastline, where this pork has been used in soups and stews for centuries.

Salt pork is made from meat cut from the belly and sides of a pig.
Salt pork is made from meat cut from the belly and sides of a pig.

Salt curing is one of the oldest techniques for curing meat. When meats are salt cured, they are packed in salt and periodically turned for a period of months. As the curing progresses, water is drawn out of the meat, and salt penetrates inwards. The salt prevents molding and rotting, acting as a preservative to keep the meat in good condition. Well-handled salt pork could last a year or more packed in barrels, making it a staple food in many regions of the world.

Salt pork was traditionally packed and stored in wooden barrels.
Salt pork was traditionally packed and stored in wooden barrels.

Traditionally, salt pork was kept on board ships as a ship's ration, and this food was also used to supply armies and explorers with their basic protein needs. Many Europeans acquired a taste for the pork, thanks to time spent on ships, in remote colonies, and in the military, and as a result, it is a common feature in the cuisine of former colonies and coastal regions. Today, many people use bacon instead, since salt pork can be hard to obtain.

Salt pork is cured in salt to prevent rotting.
Salt pork is cured in salt to prevent rotting.

When salt pork is cured in the traditional way, it must be soaked in several changes of water before use to draw the salt out, or it will be unbearably salty. Cooks often cut a piece and set it out to soak the night before a dish was to be cooked, sometimes blanching it to encourage more salt to leach out. Once the pork has been soaked, it could be cut for use in whatever dish is being prepared.

Salt pork is similar to bacon, but is typically not as lean.
Salt pork is similar to bacon, but is typically not as lean.

People often use salt pork as a base for foods, especially soups. Along with seafood, potatoes and bitter leafy greens, for example, it is a common soup ingredient in the Northeast of the United States, and this meat also plays a role in the stews of the Caribbean, Portugal, and Spain, among other regions.

Pork is high in protein and B vitamins, but also high in fat and saturated fat.
Pork is high in protein and B vitamins, but also high in fat and saturated fat.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon944894

If making cabbage rolls, add some to ground meat. For added taste, cut salt cured fatback into 1/4x1/4 cubes fry till crisp and brown. Add on top when serving. Also do the same for porgies.

anon138360

making black eyed pea soup. do I leave salt pork in soup to serve or remove it first?

anon75477

Yes, salt pork needs to be cooked before using but saying that all meats need to be cooked is incorrect. There are plenty of uncooked meats that are fit for consumption. Cured meats like Pancetta, capicola, etc. Oh, and fish is meat, often eaten raw in sushi.

anon70434

just like any other meat, it needs to be cooked before consumed!

anon60299

My Great Grandma's recipe calls for salt pork for making stuffed cabbage rolls. Should I blanch and soak that piece as well. I'll be placing the pork salt on the bottom of the pot covered by cabbage leaves. Just wondering if, I should still soak it? Thank you for your time!

anon59108

kup kakor: mashed potatoes stuffed with salt pork. It's german.

anon27517

Does this mean that salt pork must be cooked before being consumed?

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