If you’ve ever had carbonara in a really good Italian restaurant and bitten into a crispy, juicy, umami filled nugget of pork, you’ve tasted guanciale. It’s sweet and crisp, full of umami and porky-ness.

What is guanciale?

Guanciale is an Italian cured pork cheek. It’s a key ingredient in carbonara and alla gricia. The cheek, or jowl, is super fatty making it perfect for curing with salt and herbs. It has a salty, super rich flavor that is similar to pancetta or an unsmoked bacon.

guanciale | www.iamafoodblog.com

What does guanciale taste like?

It tastes balanced between sweet and savory, rich and buttery, with a very, very porky flavor. The sweetness comes from the pork and it’s a huge umami bomb, salty and deeply rich. When rendered, the fat is fragrant, sweet, savory, and not too salty. Biting into a crisped up cube of guanciale is biting into pure delicious pork goodness. Because it’s cured, it has an intense concentrated pork flavor.

Where can you buy it?

You can buy guanciale at specialty Italian delis and amazon or other online shops. Sometimes they’ll even have it at high end grocery stores.

How do you cook it?

Guanciale is typically cooked by crisping up over low heat until the fat is rendered out. then the fat is incorporated into a sauce such as carbonara or alla gricia while the meat is used as a topping in the same pasta dish. It’s also used sautéed with greens, beans, or used in stews, and ragus. To cook it, slice it or cube it and cook in a dry pan over medium to medium low heat, stirring to crisp all sides.

guanciale | www.iamafoodblog.com

What do you use guanciale in?

Guanciale can be used to add fat and flavor to almost any recipe. Classic dishes that use it are: carbonara, amatriciana, and alla gricia.

You can also use it instead of pancetta in dishes like:

  • Bolognese
  • braises
  • ragus
  • sautéed greens
  • soups

pasta alla gricia | www.iamafoodblog.com

Difference vs pancetta

The main difference is the cut of pork: cheeks vs. belly. The second difference is the curing process, guanciale is cured with spices and pancetta is cured with only salt.

Guanciale: salt and spice cured pork cheeks. It tends to be fatter and has a more robust flavor due to a longer cure. Slightly sweet due to the curing process.

Pancetta: salt and pepper cured pork belly. Pancetta is a tiny bit less fatty and leans more towards the saltier side.

Difference vs bacon

The difference between guanciale and bacon is much the same as with pancetta. Guanciale is cheek and bacon is pork belly. Bacon is also smoked and cured and therefore has a distinct smoky flavor.

Guanciale substitutes

If you can’t find guanciale, you can sub bacon or pancetta. Bacon will be more smoky and pancetta will lack the same delicate spices. Both work in a pinch.

How to store

Slice off what you need and keep it wrapped up in kitchen paper and place it in the fridge. It’s best to not wrap it in plastic wrap because the resulting condensation will make it soft. It keeps well for up to 6 months in the fridge.

guanciale | www.iamafoodblog.com

pasta alla gricia | www.iamafoodblog.com

Guanciale Pasta

aka Pasta alla Gricia
Serves 2
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 13 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes


  • 4 oz guanciale cubed
  • 6 oz pasta shape of choice
  • 3 oz Pecorino Romano finely grated
  • freshly ground black pepper a lot, at least 2 tsp


  • Crisp the guanciale in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until the fat renders out. Once the guanciale is crisped to your liking, transfer the meat to a bowl, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
    crisped guanciale | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • While the guanciale is crisping, cook your pasta of choice in a large pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until pasta is 3 minutes shy of the package time. Save 1.5 cups the pasta water, then drain the pasta without rinsing.
    spaghetti cooking | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Add 3/4 cups pasta water to the skillet and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, swirling often to emulsify the pasta water and rendered fat, about 1 minute. Add the pasta to the pan and continue swirling until pasta is cooked al dente and the sauce becomes thick and glossy, 2 minutes. Tip: use silicone covered tongs to avoid breaking the pasta.
    pasta alla gricia | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the crisped guanciale cubes, pepper, and two-thirds of the grated Pecorino. Toss well to melt the cheese and combine. Enjoy immediately topped off with the remaining Pecorino.
    pasta alla gricia | www.iamafoodblog.com

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Guanciale Pasta
Amount Per Serving
Calories 570 Calories from Fat 252
% Daily Value*
Fat 28g43%
Saturated Fat 15.8g99%
Cholesterol 147mg49%
Sodium 1317mg57%
Potassium 152mg4%
Carbohydrates 46.6g16%
Fiber 0.01g0%
Sugar 0.01g0%
Protein 29.1g58%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


  1. Sabrina says:

    5 stars
    yes, love and make carbonara regularly (usually with bacon over panchetta), but never with guanciale, and have never even heard of it! I’m ashamed to say, but now I know, so thank you!

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