The classic carbonara is a simple pasta dish with few ingredients, but its simplicity is part of what makes it so perfect.
There are just a few key components that can make or break the meal: thick spaghetti, cheese, eggs, and some kind of cured pork.
And if you ask us, that’s exactly what makes carbonara such an easy meal to customize for a number of different tastes.
Just by choosing to add one extra ingredient—meat—you can take this meal from a simple side dish to a hearty main course.
Here are 10 kinds of meat that go perfectly with carbonara—the only limit is your imagination!
10 Kinds of Meat That Go Well with Carbonara
But let’s get down to brass tacks: what kind of meat goes best with carbonara?
Pork is the most popular choice for carbonara, but beef, lamb, and chicken are all great choices. While pork is the traditional choice, you can use any type of meat for this Italian classic.
We’ve rounded up the top 10 cuts that are sure to help you take your carbonara game to the next level:
By far the most ubiquitous protein in classic carbonara recipes, bacon can be purchased at just about any supermarket and is easy to cook at home.
It’s also an American favorite and often stars in recipes as a clean-up-in-aisle-one side dish.
The good news is, it’s not as tricky to incorporate into pasta as you may think! For example, try out this recipe for bacon carbonara.
If you’re really looking for that classic smokey taste with a hint of maple sweetness, bacon might be the way to go.
But if you want to mix things up a bit, consider adding some of these other meats to your next carbonara potluck!
2. Pork Belly
Pork belly is an excellent choice for carbonara.
This cut of meat has a high fat content and the fat adds flavor to your pasta dish.
Pork belly is considered more flavorful than other cuts of pork, making it a good choice for any pasta dish.
It’s also easy to find and fairly affordable, making it a great option if you’re on a budget.
Ham, an affordable meat that’s available at any grocery store, is an excellent option for your carbonara.
It’s easy to cook, and you can buy it in pre-sliced packages for convenience.
It’s a good source of protein, and you can season it with herbs or spices like rosemary or pepper before cooking.
I like to slice ham into thin strips or cubes for carbonara dishes.
Try cutting the ham into small pieces before adding it to my carbonara recipe!
Salami is a type of cured meat, like prosciutto, with an even stronger flavor than bacon.
To make carbonara that includes salami, you should cut the salami into small slices and fry them until they are crispy.
Top the pasta with the crispy salami pieces in place of bacon or prosciutto bits.
Sausage is meat in casing.
It’s a great option for carbonara, too, because you can either slice it or cut it into cubes to add texture and protein to your pasta.
Plus, sausage adds its own salty flavor, so you don’t have to rely on bacon or pancetta if that’s not your thing.
Even if you don’t have any of the other components on hand—like cheese or eggs—you can make carbonara with only sausage and pasta.
When cooking with Italian sausage, cook it in a pan while your pasta water is boiling.
The pan should be big enough that the sausage can be spread out so it browns evenly without steaming.
If you prefer to keep meat off the stovetop when using cast iron or an electric skillet, remove the sausages from their casings and crumble them into small pieces before cooking them in a pan (you’ll want to use medium heat for this).
A non-stick surface is best for this method though; otherwise, cooked meat will stick to regular pans like glue as it browns!
Prosciutto is an Italian dry-cured ham that is thinly sliced, served uncooked and has a rich, salty flavor.
There are many varieties of this popular ingredient, but all of them are best served at room temperature.
Prosciutto is a common addition to carbonara because it adds a welcomed richness and saltiness to the dish.
Prosciutto is usually cut in thin slices and added just before serving or placed on top as garnish.
This type of meat can easily overpower other ingredients so be sure not to add too much.
If you are looking for a hearty meal, try prosciutto with your carbonara.
Pancetta is a savory meat that gives a little kick to the already flavorful carbonara sauce.
It’s delightful paired with noodles, so you can’t go wrong when adding it to this recipe.
It is best to cut it into small cubes so it cooks well with the sauce.
Everyone loves chicken.
- Kids love chicken.
- Grandmas love chicken.
- People who are on a diet love chicken, too—as long as it’s not fried.
Chicken is great because there are so many ways to cook it: you can bake it, boil it, broil it, sautée it, fry it up in a pan…you get the picture.
Depending on how you prepare your chicken and what kind of sauce or gravy you use to accompany your carbonara pasta, you can take something that’s already delicious and make it even better!
That said, there are two downsides to using chicken with carbonara:
First off, if using store-bought rotisserie chickens is part of your recipe for disaster (yes that was a pun), no one will thank you for eating at their dinner table!
Second off—and this is a biggie—if you’re cooking with raw poultry from the grocery store and don’t handle it carefully when preparing your dish (i.e., by washing your hands after touching the raw meat), then there’s more than just an unhappy stomach waiting for whoever eats at your dinner table later on tonight…
9. Crabmeat (or other seafood)
We’ll say it again: Seafood makes a great addition to carbonara.
Crabmeat, in particular, is an excellent choice since it’s low in fat and contains omega-3 fatty acids.
Plus, crabmeat adds a healthier protein source than most other types of meat on this list.
The only drawback is that crabmeat might not be readily available at some grocery stores!
10. Beef (like Ground Beef, Oxtail, and Flank Steak)
For a classic carbonara sauce, you’ll want to use ground beef.
Choosing the right cut of meat is important for this base ingredient.
First, it should be high-quality beef with at least an 80/20 fat ratio.
Second, the beef should be of the type that can withstand some serious heat.
This means that you’re going to get something with a good amount of collagen in it and, ideally, connective tissue as well.
Oxtail may seem like an odd choice here because of its fatty composition and price tag.
However, when it comes to pasta sauces like carbonara, oxtail can give off some incredible flavor without being too rich or filler-filled.
Plus, if you don’t trim the fat like most chefs recommend doing with oxtail before cooking it up into a sauce, then you’re going to have even more collagen and connective tissue left over after cooking your sauce down.
While carbonara is a great vehicle for all kinds of meat, there are times when you might want to opt for seafood.
Pastas like cacio e pepe, on the other hand, aren’t meat-friendly at all.
These classic Roman pastas both rely on the simple harmony of cheese and pepper and can easily be ruined by adding too many ingredients.
They definitely do not benefit from the addition of protein (especially with cacio e pepe).
Carbonara, however, provides the perfect blend of flavors that goes well with meat and fish alike.
So before you decide what kind of meat you’ll use in your next carbonara dish, consider which flavors and textures go best with one another.
- Is it a light and fluffy texture you crave?
- Then stick to turkey or chicken breast!
- Are you craving something salty and rich?
Use bacon or sausage!
And if it’s seafood you desire, then there’s no better pasta than carbonara to serve as its foil.
Your taste buds will thank you over and over again!
10 Kinds of Meat That Go Well with Carbonara
- Pork Belly
- Crabmeat (or other seafood)
- Beef (like Ground Beef, Oxtail, and Flank Steak)
- Pick your favorite piece of meat from this list to serve with your Italian meal.
- Prepare the rest of your meal.
- Be ready to eat in no time!