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Home Cured Guanciale is finished!

Home cured guanciale recipe

There it is folks. Look at it. Pork jowl that has been salted, then air dried for 2 months…

There are many things that I love about pigs, and it isn’t just that they are pretty darn cute to look at.

They are tasty. Seriously tasty. We all know that. But for me, properly raised pork is much more than that. In my book, more than any other animal that we eat, you can really taste the difference between the various cuts.

You take a pork loin cut – clean, crisp, mild pig flavor. Not much marbling, pretty lean – and lean tasting. You move toward the shoulder and you start talking about muscles that are used more often. They are tougher. They have more fat marbling. They need slower cooking, but yield a much richer flavor.

Now we start talking about the pig’s head and neck. Tough meat that needs slow cooking, but a cut that yields extreme richness, and a really deep porky flavor. It certainly isn’t one for the pork novice, but if you like food with character, this is a good place to start (rather cheap too, as it happens).

This is really highlighted when you start to cook and eat pork from farms that do a fantastic job of raising their pigs in good conditions. Supermarket pork pretty much sucks – far too lean, and devoid of flavor. (not to mention hormones, antibiotics and all that jazz). When you start thinking seriously about pork you can taste the subtle variations in the different breeds – especially heritage breeds. When you start getting pretty hardcore about it all, you can also notice taste differences depending on what the pig was fed on.

These differences really get highlighted further when you start to look at meat curing and charcuterie. Flavors get enhanced, condensed. Somewhat like the flavor differences between fast and slow cooking something.

Enter Guanciale [ɡwanˈtʃaːle]

Guanciale is a whole pork jowl, that has been rubbed with salt herbs and spices, and air dried. The jowl is the cheek and some neck of a pig. It is quite frankly one of the fattiest cuts of meat I have ever seen. Whilst pork belly (bacon) might have a 50/50 fat to meat percentage, jowl is around 70/30 fat to meat. This really varies on the breed of pig too. Mangalista pigs might even be pushing a 80/20 ratio.

Because of how much these muscles are used there is also a lot of collagen in this cut. What does this mean for the cook and charcuteriest? It means richness, in a word.

When you slowly render out the fat from guanciale, much like you do bacon, you get a rich fattiness which really adds a lot of body and character to sauces.

Guanciale is a cured meat that in my opinion is best used IN something. You can certainly thinly slice and eat this charcuterie raw if you wish. It is rich though, really darn rich. I tried three thin slices raw when I pulled this from my curing chamber, and frankly felt pretty sick after – just from how gosh darn fatty and rich this is.

This is a cut that you certainly want to cook with – think of it like bacon on steroids. But, without any steroids.  Bacon with more porky flavor. Bacon that can give more richness and more body to sauce or a dish.

“Wait.. More richness and flavor than bacon? Matt are you mad?” I hear you say.

Nope, not mad. Try it. Source some out, and give it a go.

You could of course make your own. Guanciale is one of the easiest pieces of cured meat to do at home – next to perhaps duck prosciutto. The jowl is relatively small, and pretty thin – meaning that it cures reasonably quickly, which gives less chance of any muck-ups.

I cured this jowl with Becky Selengut, a fantastic chef and food writer here in Seattle, who happens to share my love of charcuterie. We had a day around the end of last year where we made salami, guanciale and coppa.

Home cured guanciale recipe

(there is Becky, demonstrating the location of a jowl..)

For the curing recipe, we modified the recipe in Michael Ruhlman’s excellent Charcuterie book

we essentially took his recipe, and added extra flavorings that we personally like. It is important when modifying charcuterie recipes not to muck around with salt or sodium nitrate/nitrite amounts. It is also important to treat these values more as ratios of the meat weight (or percentages of meat weight). This way if you meat is a different weight to the recipe (which it most likely will be), then you can accurately work out how much of the other stuff you are going need.

I also urge you to work in metric units, and to use as scale, and not do things by volume. Accuracy is important, especially when dealing with some of the cure ingredients. (having said that, this recipe is more forgiving for that since no nitrate/nitrite’s are used)

Home Cured Guanciale Recipe

2lb/ 1kg pork jowl

70grams kosher salt (7% of meat weight)

70 grams sugar (7% of meat weight)

15 black peppercorns

1 large bunch of thyme

2 bay laurel leaves (look for genuine bay laurel, not the pungent Californian bay)

4 juniper berries

Grind up the juniper, peppercorns and bay in a spice grinder until reasonably fine. Combine with the salt and sugar. Remove the leaves from the thyme, discard the stalks, and finely chop. Add to the salt mixture, and stir to combine.

Using a sharp boning knife or pairing knife remove any glads from the meat. These will look like small off-white bumps that are reasonably hard. Some might be hiding under some fat.

In a large tupperware, or zip lock bag combine the cure ingredients and the jowl. Rub the cure into the meat on all sides thoroughly. Seal the bag, or the tupperware and pop in the fridge for 7 days. On day 3 redistribute the cure over the meat just by rubbing the meat again.

After 7 days the meat should feel firmer. Take it out of the fridge, and rinse it in cold water to remove the cure. Some of the herbs might well stick to the meat and fat, that is fine – just give a good rub over to get the cure off. Dry with a towel.

Make a hole in one end, not too close to the edge of the meat (since it will shrink). Tie some butchers string through the hole, and hang at 55F 75% humidity for at least a month, possibly two.

You will know when the jowl is cured because it should feel firm to the touch. The fat will feel softer than the meat, that is fine.

Once cured it should keep in the fridge easily for a few weeks, or frozen longer. You can keep it hanging at 55F and 75% humidity too if you wish – the meat might well harden more, but it will develop an even stronger flavor.

Home Cured Guanciale Recipe

What to do with all this guanciale?

Well, glad you asked. A little can go a long way for sure.

I doubt anyone is as lucky as Danika and I are for this. Becky just happened to have done a stint at one of Seattle’s best (and authentic) Italian restaurants, La Spiga, making pasta for a year. So, when she says “hey, why don’t you guys come over and I will make a carbonara with some of the jowl” you do not say no.

Dang, that was some seriously good pasta. Guanciale is the traditional cured meat used in carbonora, but most people (including me, until we cured some) would normally use pancetta or bacon).

How about this?:

* Mackerel, flageolet beans, guanciale, preserved lemon, parsley oil

Mackerel, flageolet beans, guanciale

That was a recipe I knocked together almost a year ago, with some guanciale I bought at the store.

* Truth be told, guanciale goes GREAT with beans. Better than bacon I would say.

* How about the classic Bucatini all’amatriciana – this recipe from Babbo restaurant is fantastic.

* Anything with eggs. Dice it over a fried egg if you wish. Just fantastic.

Home Cured Guanciale Recipe


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40 Responses to “Home Cured Guanciale is finished!”

  1. my spatula says:

    that gorgeous piece of meat looks well worth the wait. my husband’s going to be relentless about us trying this now. you look like you could use some help eating it up. when can i come over? :)

  2. Ed Schenk says:

    Excellent post! Curing your own meat is outstanding. Very bold!

  3. Ed Schenk says:

    Great post! Curing your own meat is outstanding!

  4. Alex says:

    Dang, you beat me too it. The garage was just too humid and the things were just sitting in there staying wet so I modified a curing box and they’re now drying outside.

    I love the pics on this one. A great project that I feel a huge affinity for and the recipes are simply stunning.

  5. nina says:

    Master chef……that’s what you are my friend….truly a master at what you try!!!!

  6. Beautiful! I’m so glad it worked out for you after the “salami incident.” All’amatriciana is one of my favorite pastas. I’m sure yours will be fabulous.

  7. Alan says:

    Outstanding!! I recently cured and smoked some similar to my bacon recipe. It goes very well with steamed then sauteed brussels sprouts. The smooth fat is just amazing! The salami box is ready and the cultures are in hand. Off we go this weekend. Great stuff, can’t wait for your next post.

  8. Scott says:

    Looks great, Matt! You should have a look at the absolute monstrosity of a Mangalitsa jowl I just put in to cure myself.

  9. barbaraT says:

    ciao! I’m writing you from rome, italy.
    for a very traditional amatriciana sauce, no onion and no parsley and, please, pasta MUST be al dente! only guanciale, tomatoes and pecorino (hot pepper is optional), try it.. for me, it’s way better!
    I use guanciale for carbonara as well (although the original recipe is with smoked pancetta), but if you have a good guanciale cut with a good balance between meat and fat, it’s just perfect.
    I like your blog very much, and always admire (with a little envy!) your successful home made cold cuts..
    greetings from an unusual snowy roma!

  10. Liam says:

    Very important question: which kosher salt, Morton’s or Diamond? Diamond is half as saline per unit of volume as table salt; Morton’s is 2/3 as saline. There’s an important difference.

  11. Talley says:

    incredibly gorgeous. and probably all the tastier after the missed salami.
    May I ask where you got the jowl? Can it be procured from the vendors at the farmers’ markets here with a little advanced notice?
    great post.

  12. mattwright says:

    my_spatula: it’s already gone!!! gonna make some chorizo this weekend though.. so gimmie a month!
    Ed: thankyou!
    Alex: Watch that humidity. Too high for too long and nasty stuff starts to grow
    Nina: hardly, but thanks!
    Kristina: We are so glad it worked out too! thankyou
    Alan: I bet it is awesome with brussels!
    Scott: Send me a photo mate, would love to see! I can only imagine how fatty that is
    Barbara: Ohh, great recipe advice, thankyou very much!
    Liam: Indeed, a very important question. The difference is pretty small when you are talking weight, but like you mention the difference between the salt brands is much higher when you measure salt out by volume. For all charcuterie you should absolutely work by weight (buy a good scale) and NOT volume (cups). This pretty much negates the issues with different kosher salt brands having different flake sizes, which leads to these irregularities. It also allows you to more effectively work a recipe – since we generally work the salt amount as a percentage of the meat weight (salami for instance – salt weight should be around 3% of the meat+fat weight.. learnt that one the hard way)

    Talley: I got the jowl from a butcher that Becky and I know. http://heritagemeatswa.com/ is the link to him. You can easily get a jowl from Seabreeze farms at the farmers markets however, they only need short notice. Both Skagit River Ranch and Wooly Pigs have jowls too. I would personally think twice about using Wooly Pigs (mangalista) for curing – the meat is fantastically tasty, but VERY VERY fatty – even too fatty for my tastes, which is saying something

  13. Joan Nova says:

    A very informative post and seriously impressive.

  14. Scott says:

    Hey, Matt, just click on my name, it’s right in the post.

  15. ruhlman says:

    gorgeous! congrats, great post, great pix!

  16. Fabulous, Matt. I am actually planning to do a post on this soon as well. I have some Mangalista jowels that are about to be cured, thanks to the local pork CSA that’s been going on here in the Bay Area. I was excited to see your post! Guanciale is still a lesser known magic. :)

    Question: how did you find a place where you can ensure the temp and humidity guanciale requires? I also know that it liked ample ventilation… would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  17. mattwright says:

    Joan: Thanks!
    Scott: Ah, that thing is a beast!!
    Heidi: Many thanks
    Ruhlman: From you that is high praise indeed!
    Steph: I actually have a couple of old fridges set up in my basement, that I
    have rigged with temperature and humidity control devices.. I did a
    post on that a little while ago: http://mattikaarts.com/blog/charcuterie/meat-curing-at-home-the-setup/

    I will say though that guanciale is one of the lesser idiosyncratic
    cured meat items to make. Anywhere that is cool (50-60F – certainly
    not over 63F) that is relatively humid – 60-70% humidity will do the
    trick. Because it is relatively thin, you don’t have a lot of chance
    of case hardening, or any other problems generally associated with
    much thicker cuts.

    Do you have a basement, or garage that you don’t park a car in? Get
    yourself a temp/humidity sensor, and place it in there and see how
    those spaces look – in that post I gave the link to above is my
    recommendations on what sensor to buy.

    Environments like that however are really susceptible to weather
    changes – humidity will be higher when it is wet outside, and so on.
    That is really why I kitted out an couple of old fridges – with
    temperature and humidity controllers it is pretty much fool proof –
    which is a good thing for me.

  18. hank says:

    Matt: You need to get another batch of jowls in your curing fridge, because you will run through that guanciale fast — I use mine in everything. I prefer it to bacon, but it is not as decadent as lardo… ;-)

  19. Joy says:

    Wow…I never thought meat could be this sexy but this Guanciale does it for me. To be honest I’ve never had jowls, which is disappointing because being Chinese my mother has fed me almost every part of the pig possible. I can only imagine how good this tastes…it is so impressive that you cure your own meats. Very beautiful post indeed.

  20. Jonathan says:

    I’m in awe. I love pig cheeks and had heard rumours about how to cure pig cheeks. So thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m looking forward to giving it a go in the future.

  21. Lana Tolman says:

    I was in Florece last year and i saw a guy take Guanciale and Red Onion and he said that he would slow cook that for 10-12 hours and then combine that with some kind of pasta. Do you know what he is talking about.

  22. mattwright says:

    Lana – No idea what he is talking about – sounds like he is slow cooking some red onions in Guanciale. What would happen is that the fat would slowly melt, roasting the red onion in some very porky fat. That might well be the most delicious thing I have heard in a long time!

  23. David Eger says:

    Matt,
    The guanciale is beautiful! I’ll use your recipe & guidelines while making my own guanciale over the next few weeks.

  24. randall says:

    I’m working on putting together my first batch of guanciale, and in all my research, I’ve found many contradictions, and variations of the recipe…. and who knows but they ALL may be perfict!

    Reading this thread raises some important questions for me. I’ll separate them into paragraphs so hopefully each concern could be addressed.

    1. MANY sites and authors say that 4% salt has been found to be too heavy (especially when soaked for 7 full days) and others say 3% is too light. I was going to go to 3.5% (by weight) to be safe, and shorten to 5 days if the cheeks were thin. But you say 7%! — 7 days!

    2. Matt: you point out the importance of weight and ratios, but you equate 1kg to 2 pounds. If a person used this ‘poundage’ against your other measurements, I’m sure you realize they are on a different recipe, huh? 1kg = 2.2 pounds last time I checked. I only point this out to avoid confusion (like my currently confused state).

    3. Sugar: Most recipes I’ve saved called for 50% sugar to salt. 8 ounces of salt goes with 4 ounces of sugar. Any other opinions on this?

    And finally, in my hunt for the ‘perfect’ cheek, I thought I had it in the bag. I have access to meat wholesalers, and arranged for an 11 pound box of 100% Berk jowls to be available for pick up (very tough to do in Newport Beach, CA). I got them… drove home with a GIANT grin on my face… opened up the box, and DANG! Not them!

    I was expecting Snake River untrimmed Berkshire cheeks, and instead got something that was actually created for Japan!!! Sitting there, each individually wrapped was the trimmed ‘meat’ from dozens of cheeks!!! Here is a site with a great photo of the actual product:
    http://www.norecipes.com/2009/10/05/japanese-chashu-recipe

    I called the manufacturer of the pork in Alberta, Canada and they tell me that 99% of this gets sent to Japan and wondered how I got it!

    Anyway… still on the hunt for my cheeks, and now have 10 pounds of this stuff to play with… wish me luck, and I look forward to the answers to the questions above.

    I think I will put some together with a mini-cure and see what happens… meat to fat ratio is about 60/40, but total thickness is only 1/2 inch. It might actually turn out interesting, and with a price of $3.05 per pound, may be well worth it’s weight in cured product.

    BTW — so far the toughest part of this quest is locating the cheeks… good ones. I THINK I have located them for $3.50 per pound… 11 pound boxes… 100% Berk. No shipping costs and here in Orange County, SoCal.

  25. Summer says:

    Hi Matt,

    I’m new to preserving meats and have gained much from your excellent blog and scrumptious looking/sounding recipes. I am curious if you can share any more info. regarding the use of other ingredients in place of straight nitrates/nitrites. I have read that in addition to smoking, curing, salting, sugaring, and fermenting; one could use powdered celery juice, green tea, garlic, rosemary, oregano, etc.

    I know that you believe that using the small amount of nitrate required is worth it to miss the potentially lethal effects of botulism. That makes a lot of sense. I am, however, still interested in any info. you or anyone else has on a conversion list of sorts which would list how much of these other options I’ve listed here would be needed in place of nitrates, given that the humidity and temp. would be controlled. If you can refer me to such a list/article, it would be most appreciated. Thus far i have yet to find a resource listing ratios of substitutions.

    Thanks,
    Summer W.

  26. Jamesie says:

    Where can I buy some of that jowl pork? Whole Foods in Seattle? Where? Your recipe sounds great and your fans seem to love it. Am anxious to get started! Where do I begin????

  27. Fesshead says:

    A friend gave me Michael Ruhlman’s Charcutiere book and I’m hooked. I’m getting my pork from a great local farm, Overlook Farm is Westhampton, MA. My first pork belly I got from them was outstanding! I’m never buying bacon in a store again. My wife’s kin in eastern Tennessee told her try curing and smoking a hog jowl. So, I have a pork belly and 2 hog jowls on order. One jowl to cure and smoke and the other to make Guanciale. Wish me luck!

  28. Beauzeaux says:

    I have Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book here in front of me and I would love to know where the recipe for guanciale is.

    I made guanciale using Babbo’s bare-bones recipe and it turned out well. Now I’ll try this one — we just received four pigs worth of jols yesterday!

  29. LeftBanker says:

    Beauzeaux: Try using the index. Under pork jowl.

  30. LeftBanker says:

    “hang at 55F 75% humidity for at least a month, possibly two” Question: How do you know? What’s the indicator for “doneness?”

    Mine’s only been hanging for two days, but I’m wondering how to determine when it’s ready.

  31. LeftBanker says:

    Ok. For anyone else who finds this and wonders the same thing as I did above: At 30 days, I weighed the jowl. It had lost 23% of it initial weight. Told myself: “Probably should let it go to 30%, or at least 25%, right?.” Myself replied: “Hell with that. Let’s eat.”

    So, at 31 days it became a Bucatini al’Amatriciana. Soft, pillowy, melty fat in the pieces of guanciale in the sauce. Excellent, porky flavor. Much better than the best of our local pancetta preps (Fra’ Mani, for those keeping score).

    Scored two more pig faces and they’re on their way.

  32. Nkuchmak says:

    Hi Matt!

    After a long time of wanting to cure my own meat, ive started on my own journey.

    I had the opportunity to make some Pancetta and Coppa with my girlfriends Nonno and while I anxiously await the completion of our product…I want to start on some more on my own.

    I noticed in this Guanciale recipe you dont use any cure #2 like you do for bresola and salami. When I made it with my adopted Italian Grandfather he did not use any either. How come you use nitrates in some of your cures but not others?

    According to my mentor it takes 6 months for his meat to be complete. We are in Ontario where our winters our cold and dry but this seems long compared to the recipes ive read on your site. He only makes it in January when his cold cellar is around 50 degrees and uses a towel for humidity. Is the longer timeframe due to the colder temp slowing down the process? Can you make great cures through the summer?

    Sorry for the long comment….This is the best resource ever!

  33. mattwright says:

    Nkuchmak – The reason I don’t in guanciale is because it is cooked. It is recommended not to use nitrate in cooked products, because cancer causing chemicals can be created when you heat the foods to 500F or so – which you can achieve in a hot cast iron skillet. I tend to add a bit to pancetta however because of two reasons – one it is rolled – the air voids inside scare me a bit. Secondly, I generally hang that for a long time, and during curing (to my knowledge) some nitrate gets used up – so by the time it comes round to fry it up there is precious little nitrate left.

    Personally I cure through the summer, but have a dedicated curing fridge setup, so I can still cure stuff effectively even when it is warm. My chamber is in the basement where it generally stays reasonably cool most of the year round – never really over 65F. I tend not to make much salami through the summer however because production of that relies on my kitchen, and that can get bloody hot in mid summer, which is really bad for good salami manufacture.

    Hope that helps!

  34. Nkuchmak says:

    Matt your the best.

    Didn’t even cross my mind that when we go to use Guanciale we are going to cook it. Im going to start with the duck proscuitto in my bar fridge this week and after that I think if I can get my hands on a jowl…that will be next.

    Thanks for the help and I’ll let you know how things turn out! Cheers

  35. Claudia says:

    Thanks Matt for your excellent directions on the guanciale. I’m curing mine in an extra fridge (this is Hawaii after all) but I notice Ruhlman says to hang it in a cool, dry place. However you mention (as well as some others) a 75% humidity. So, which should it be? That fridge won’t get up past about 50% (I have salt water in pitchers in there), but maybe it’s not necessary?

  36. mattwright says:

    claudia – I personally think that all meat should be air dried around 75-85% humidity. Ruhlman is less particular on that. Guanciale is forgiving however. You normally don’t fully cure that (35% weight loss – which might never actually happen given the amount of fat in it), and you cook it after you cure it. If you hang it for too long at 50% humidity you are going to get a hard crust on the meat, which isn’t the most appetizing, and it will prevent moisture loss from the guanciale.

    Personally I like to air dry my guanciale for at least a month, if not more. It develops a really great strong pork flavor, which after all is what guanciale is all about.

  37. Chuck says:

    Wohoo! I just pulled my guanciale out of the curing fridge. Unfortunately, I forgot to weigh it before I put it in to dry, but it seems to be fine. (Oh, how I wish I had found your site before starting this project.) I can’t wait to make something with it…

  38. Terri Miller says:

    Where to buy Guanciale in the Tacoma/Seattle Area? I assumed Whole foods would have it since they show all the chef shows going there but they looked at me like I was crazy.

  39. mattwright says:

    Terri – You might try either Salumi or DeLaurenti’s. I wish I was setup to sell stuff to you!