Prosciutto is an absolute staple in Italian New Jersey households.
I’ve grown up gorging on the fatty, salty, delicious cured meat. Not to mention preparing countless meals with it in my own kitchen and at my first job in an Italian-owned New York-style bagel shop.
You will find prosciutto used Crudo (cooked) to deepen the umami flavor of hot dishes. It can also be served Cotto (cold) to add a punch of salty goodness atop salads, charcuterie boards, and gourmet sandwiches.
But what if you’ve run out of this seemingly irreplaceable delicacy? Don’t panic.
There are equally delicious and, depending on where you live, often easier to acquire alternatives that you can use in a pinch.
In this article, I’ll walk you through a few good substitutes. We’ll also discuss when and how to use each one, so you can skip the grocery store and have your meal served ASAP.
4 Crudo Prosciutto Substitutes
Guanciale is a cured Italian meat, similar to prosciutto, except it is fattier (if you can believe it).
Since the guanciale is even fattier than prosciutto, I’d only recommend using it in dishes where you would have cooked the prosciutto.
The rendered fat will add a mouth-watering depth of flavor to the plate.
Try this in carbonara, frizzled atop olive and arugula pizza, or cooked with greens for a delectable side dish. If you can get your hands on guanciale, it’s an excellent cooked prosciutto alternative.
Especially for cooked meals, any kind of ham can work in place of prosciutto in a pinch.
If possible, choose a smoked variety to replicate the prosciutto’s iconic flavor. Depending on the cooking application, you can slice the ham thin, like cold cuts, or dice it into tiny cubes.
I prefer to use slices for garnishing hot appetizers and finger foods. I opt for cubes when I want to use the rendered fat to flavor the dish, like in pasta or to cook with vegetables.
Bacon is the perfect texture match for prosciutto. The “salty-to-smokey” flavor ratio is on point as well.
Are you trying to make prosciutto-wrapped asparagus? If so, bacon is the best substitute. You will follow the same steps and achieve the same fatty, salty, and crunchy outcome.
Slice bacon into thin strips to cook to use it in your pasta recipes. Wrap it around stuffed dates before baking them. Or fry it up and then garnish your meals the same way you would with prosciutto.
Bacon is versatile in application while still providing the smokey and salty flavor you are after when cooking with prosciutto.
Pancetta is very similar to bacon, but it is uncured and unsmoked. You will have a cleaner, saltier, deep meaty flavor than the smokey flavor of bacon when substituting prosciutto.
It can be sliced thin and served cold like prosciutto, but I prefer cooking with it in small cubes. The edges get caramelized and crisp to achieve that same crunchy texture you’re after with prosciutto, and each bite is as tasty as the last.
Pancetta is also super easy to substitute since you can often find it already cubed and ready to cook right from the package. This makes throwing an impressive dinner together in a flash easy as pie.
4 Cotto Prosciutto Substitutes
Culatello is very similar to prosciutto in that it is smoked and cured Italian meat.
The most noticeable difference is that culatello has incorporated dry white wine, so it has a wine-y taste that prosciutto lacks.
In applications where you would have used uncooked prosciutto, culatello is the best alternative you can find.
Top your bruschetta with culatello, wrap it around ripe cantaloupe, or serve it charcuterie style.
Personally, I prefer the white wine flavor and love to use culatello instead of prosciutto in almost every dish with cold, uncooked prosciutto.
We touched on using smoked ham in place of prosciutto for cooked meals. But when the prosciutto was the star of the show and served uncooked for its salty and sweet flavor, you will want to opt for a ham with a similar flavor profile.
Black forest ham and honey ham are the best ham substitutes for cold prosciutto.
Black forest ham has a similar smokey flavor to prosciutto while incorporating spices like garlic and black pepper.
Honey ham is another smoked ham with a strong sweet yet salty flavor that will compliment anything you serve alongside prosciutto.
Pro-Tip: If you love prosciutto sandwiches, you simply have to try using Virginia ham instead. Slice it thin on a crusty baguette, spread with salted butter, and pile it high with arugula, roasted sweet peppers, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
Salami is a perfect substitute for uncooked prosciutto because it can be cut thin and served just the same and has the fatty, salty flavor profile you are after.
You can use salami in place of prosciutto in any application, hot or cold. Still, I prefer using it in place of uncooked prosciutto to appreciate the similar flavor and texture of the cured meat.
The better quality salami you can get your hands on, the closer it will taste to prosciutto.
Genoa salami is easy to find with the pre-cut cold cuts in your grocery store and will work in a bind, but if you can find a stick of uncut cured salami that you can prepare at home, it will be even better.
I like to cut the stick of salami longways on a mandolin to get very long and thin slices, exactly like prosciutto.
Capicola is an Italian dry-cured meat, covered in spices. It’s easily sliced up and served cold.
Capicola comes in hot and sweet varieties.
Opt for the sweet capicola to sub for prosciutto if you want a similar flavor profile. But if you’re looking for a change that can spice things up, feel free to try using hot capicola.
Similar to using salami in place of prosciutto, look for good quality capicola, the fattier the better, and the swap couldn’t be simpler.
Pro-Tip: When substituting stiff capicola for paper-thin, soft, and easily foldable prosciutto, replicating the ultra-thin slices will help the substitution pass as prosciutto.
Vegetarian & Vegan Alternatives
Smokey, Aged Cheeses
Changing out prosciutto for a hard, aged cheese that is salty and smokey can work in a pinch for vegetarians.
The dairy provides the fatty flavor of prosciutto. Going along those same lines, finding a cheese that is also salty yet slightly sweet will create a convincing swap.
Parmesan, romano, asiago, or smoked gouda are some great options to achieve the same umami flavor that the prosciutto would provide for the dish.
Use the cheese in the same way you would have used the prosciutto in the recipe.
If it was to add a salty garnish to a cold dish, grate some of the cheese on top. If the prosciutto was to be cooked into pasta, incorporate the cheese in its place for a melty plate of deliciousness.
For vegans, using mushrooms in place of meats is not a new trick.
This swap is so prevalent because it is convincing and works a charm for so many meat substitutions not only in flavor but also in texture.
Unfortunately, you will be hard-pressed to replicate the texture of paper-thin prosciutto with mushrooms, but you can nail a salty, sweet, caramelized flavor addition to your dishes.
I have found the most success with using portobello mushrooms sliced thin, or shitake mushrooms to replicate prosciutto.
Caramelize the mushrooms in butter or olive oil, garlic, and thyme. Then at the very end, finish the mushrooms with a splash of liquid smoke.
Use these mushrooms however you were going to use the prosciutto, and you’ll enjoy a delicious meal full of salty, sweet, umami flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a vegetarian or vegan alternative to prosciutto?
If you’re vegetarian, smokey and aged cheeses are an excellent substitute for prosciutto. If you’re looking for a vegan alternative, you can’t go wrong with the versatile and umami mushroom.
Can I use ham in place of prosciutto?
Yes, you can use ham in place of prosciutto. Look for a smoked and salted ham with sweet undertones, like black forest ham or honey ham, to replicate the complex flavors of prosciutto.
What is the closest substitute for prosciutto?
For cooked prosciutto, the closest substitute is the fattier guanciale. For uncooked prosciutto, opt for culatello, which has a similar taste and texture with an added wine undertone.