Demystifying Kaiserfleisch: Exploring the World of Smoked Pork Belly

Bacon comes in endless forms around the world – from classic American breakfast strips to porky Italian pancetta. But few bacon styles are as distinctly delicious and culturally significant as the German and Austrian specialty known as kaiserfleisch.

Kaiserfleisch’s popularity has started spreading beyond Europe to places like Australia and the United States. But for many bacon lovers, this smoky cured pork remains a mystifying mystery meat. What exactly is kaiserfleisch? How is it made and used? Let’s dig into everything you need to know about this noble bacon variety.

Definition: What is Kaiserfleisch?

The name kaiserfleisch translates from German as “emperor’s meat” It refers to cured and smoked pork belly – essentially bacon in its most classic form.

Kaiserfleisch is made from the fatty belly portion of pigs. The pork belly is dry cured with salt, spices, and saltpeter. It is then hot smoked over wood chips to impart flavor. The final product has a firm, dense texture and deep smoky aroma.

This preparation process is similar to other bacon styles. But the kaiserfleisch cure incorporates more salt and smoke than many varieties, giving it a more intense porky flavor and dark mahogany color.

Where Does Kaiserfleisch Come From?

Kaiserfleisch originated as a specialty of German and Austrian cuisine. Pork belly smoking traditions in these regions date back hundreds of years. The name kaiserfleisch itself comes from the Austro-Hungarian Empire era, when cured pork belly became a dish fit for imperial tables.

In the post-WWII period, mass migration brought kaiserfleisch recipes to places like Australia, Canada, and the United States. Demand endures among German and Austrian immigrant communities who wish to enjoy tastes of the old homeland.

Today, global interest in charcuterie and bacon has also brought this smoked pork belly out of obscurity. Artisanal bacon producers internationally now craft their own versions. And kaiserfleisch has started appearing on restaurant menus as chefs rediscover its savory appeal.

How is Kaiserfleisch Made?

Producing authentic kaiserfleisch requires specialized curing and smoking processes. Here are the key steps:

  • Selecting Pork Belly: The meat comes only from the fatty belly portion, not the loins or other sections.

  • Dry Curing: Pork belly is rubbed with a mix of salt, spices, and curing salts like saltpeter and left to cure for 1-2 weeks.

  • Optional Cold Smoking: Some makers do an initial 1-3 day cold smoke at low temperatures before hot smoking.

  • Hot Smoking Kaiserfleisch smokes for hours over hardwoods like beech at temperatures from 140-185°F

  • Aging: After smoking, the kaiserfleisch rests to allow flavors to further develop, usually 1-4 weeks.

  • Slicing: Finally, the skin is removed and kaiserfleisch is sliced to desired thicknesses.

The entire process takes a minimum of 3 weeks and results in concentrated cured pork flavor with hints of wood smoke.

How is Kaiserfleisch Typically Eaten?

Unlike many bacons, kaiserfleisch is not fried or grilled before eating. The smoking process essentially cooks it already. Kaiserfleisch is consumed in thin slices without further preparation.

Its firm yet supple texture makes kaiserfleisch ideal for sandwiches. Slices are often piled into rolls with mustard and pickles for a classic German snack. It also shines served cold on antipasto platters or cheese boards.

In the kitchen, kaiserfleisch can be used similarly to pancetta. It adds welcome salty, smoky flavors when chopped into pastas, salads, soups, and braised dishes. Heartier cuts easily stud stews and roasted veggies.

Beyond pork, kaiserfleisch’s deep umami taste enhances lean proteins like poultry and fish. Let rendered fat imbue pan sauces. Or wrap lean fillets in thin slices to keep moisture in while cooking.

The Pros and Cons of Kaiserfleisch

Like any food, kaiserfleisch has both benefits and downsides:


  • Intense smoky, salty bacon flavor
  • Firmer, steak-like texture
  • Adds lots of rich umami taste
  • Shelf-stable without refrigeration


  • High sodium content
  • Not vegetarian/vegan friendly
  • Contains carcinogenic nitrates
  • Can be expensive
  • Needs imported from Europe

For hardcore bacon devotees, the bold porkiness outweighs the downsides. But kaiserfleisch may disappoint those seeking a leaner, health-focused bacon.

Is Kaiserfleisch the Same as Speck?

Speck is another smoked pork belly delicacy hailing from German-speaking regions. Both speck and kaiserfleisch are made from pork belly. But speck undergoes a more extensive curing process.

Speck is cured in spiced salt brine for up to 2 weeks before smoking. This gives it a more complex, aromatic flavor profile compared to the straight-forward smokiness of kaiserfleisch.

Speck also has slightly more fat marbling. It is more moist, with a tenderness closer to prosciutto. Kaiserfleisch has a drier, denser texture and more concentrated cured pork taste.

  • Kaiserfleisch = only dry cured and smoked
  • Speck = brine cured then smoked

While similar, the curing differences make them distinct pork belly treats.

Where to Find and Buy Kaiserfleisch

Authentic kaiserfleisch remains most prevalent in Europe, especially artisanal producers in Germany and Austria. Look for it vacuum-sealed in tubes and slices at delicatessens.

Outside Europe, your best bet is gourmet butchers and charcuterie purveyors. Some specialty food shops also stock imported kaiserfleisch. Online mail order is another option.

When buying, look for:

  • The label “kaiserfleisch” – acceptable spellings include kaiser fleisch, kaiserfleish, kassler, etc.

  • Dry cured and naturally smoked

  • Free of artificial flavors/colors/nitrites

  • From accredited heritage pork producers

Expect to pay a premium for handcrafted kaiserfleisch – $15-30 per pound is typical. This is treats-only territory, not everyday bacon.

Pancetta vs. Bacon vs. Prosciutto vs. Speck


What’s the difference between bacon and Kaiserfleisch?

Known in Central Europe as the ‘Emperors Meat’, Kaisserfleisch is bacon royalty and truly lives up to its name. More commonly known as streaky or belly bacon; it’s packed full of flavour due to the alternating layers of silky fat gracing the fine ribbons of meat that naturally occur in pork belly.

What is Kaiserfleisch smoked pork?

The Kaiserfleisch is a Ham made only from the eye of the pork loin. Marinated for one day – golden smoked and tenderly cooked the next. Thinly sliced Kaiserfleisch is an eye-catcher on your finger food or party platter. And it tastes divine.

Can you eat Kaiserfleisch raw?

Kaiserfleisch comes from the Austrian and German language, and is smoked pork belly. It has a dry consistency and can be eaten as it is, without additional cooking.

What’s the difference between pork belly and bacon?

Although bacon can be made from other meats, when most people think of this traditional breakfast side dish, they think of pork. Large slabs of meat are cut from the underside of the pig, known as pork belly. The pork belly is later seasoned, smoked, and sliced to make bacon.

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