We're reader-supported. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you.

17 Bacon Substitutes in Clam Chowder

Out of bacon? No worries! Explore our guide to bacon substitutes for clam chowder and elevate your dish with unique twists, meat- or plant-based.

Clam chowder is a heartwarming classic.

A creamy soup filled with clams, potatoes, onions, and, often, bacon. The smoky flavor of bacon complements the creamy, briny flavor of the soup perfectly.

But what if you’re vegetarian, don’t eat pork, or simply don’t have bacon on hand?

Here are the best bacon substitutes that you can use in your clam chowder, ordered by their suitability of substitution.

1. Pancetta

Welcome to the heart of Italy with pancetta. Derived from the belly of a pig and cured with salt and spices, pancetta will transport your taste buds to an Italian piazza with every spoonful of chowder.

Unlike bacon, pancetta isn’t smoked, which results in a subtler, less smoky flavor profile. It brings forth a rich, meaty character to the dish without overpowering the delicate clam flavor.

Suitable for: Carnivores

How to make it work: Sauté about half a cup of diced pancetta until crispy, then incorporate it into your chowder in place of bacon for a luscious, meaty touch.

2. Prosciutto

Envelop your senses in the smooth, salty delight of prosciutto. This dry-cured Italian ham, with its delicate texture and nuanced flavors, adds a touch of elegance to your clam chowder.

Prosciutto is leaner and has a more refined flavor profile compared to bacon. Its delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture offers a unique alternative to the crispness of bacon.

Suitable for: Carnivores

How to make it work: Tear half a cup of prosciutto into small pieces, and stir them into your chowder towards the end of the cooking process to preserve its delicate texture.

3. Canadian Bacon

Savor the mild, subtly sweet taste of Canadian bacon. Made from pork loin rather than pork belly, it introduces a leaner, meatier dimension to your chowder.

Unlike traditional bacon, Canadian bacon isn’t as fatty, but it compensates with a firm texture and a satisfying bite.

Suitable for: Carnivores

How to make it work: Dice half a cup of Canadian bacon, then stir it into your chowder during the cooking process, replacing the traditional bacon.

4. Chorizo

Add some Spanish passion to your clam chowder with chorizo. This firm, smoky, and slightly spicy sausage adds a vibrant and flavorful touch to your dish.

Chorizo differs from bacon in its spiciness and its firm, hearty texture. Its rich color and bold flavor give your chowder a lively edge.

Suitable for: Carnivores

How to make it work: Slice half a cup of chorizo into bite-sized pieces, sauté until it releases its flavorful oils, and add to your chowder, allowing its flavors to permeate the soup.

5. Smoked Turkey

Bask in the lean, smoky taste of smoked turkey. This healthier alternative to bacon brings a unique twist to your clam chowder while keeping it light.

Unlike bacon, smoked turkey is less fatty but still offers a delightful smoky flavor that pairs well with the creamy, clam-filled chowder.

Suitable for: Carnivores

How to make it work: Dice half a cup of smoked turkey, and incorporate it into your chowder during the cooking process.

6. Guanciale

Discover the indulgence of guanciale. Derived from pork jowl or cheek, this Italian delicacy infuses your chowder with an intense, savory depth that’s simply unforgettable.

Guanciale is richer and has a more robust flavor compared to bacon. Its tender, unsmoked texture offers a luxuriously soft mouthfeel that stands apart from the crispness of bacon.

Suitable for: Carnivores

How to make it work: Render half a cup of diced guanciale in a pan until crispy, stir the bits into your chowder, and reserve some for garnish for an added indulgent touch.

7. Smoked Paprika

Ready to infuse your clam chowder with a smoky kick? Smoked paprika is your secret weapon.

While it lacks the crispy texture of bacon, it compensates with its robust, smoky flavor and the dark red color it brings to your bowl.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Stir in 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika to infuse your chowder with smokiness. Adjust according to your preference, mindful of the changing color of your dish.

8. Liquid Smoke

Liquid smoke, a condensation of actual smoke, brings an authentic smoky nuance to your dish, rivaling even the most flavorful bacon.

Being a liquid, it integrates seamlessly into your soup but adds no textural element. But when it comes to flavor, liquid smoke packs a punch.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Start with a few cautious drops, then stir and sample. The flavor of liquid smoke is intense, so add more judiciously.

9. Tempeh

For a meatless marvel that delivers a smoky flavor and satisfying crunch, meet tempeh.

Tempeh, a plant-based food made from soybeans—or any beans, really—mixed with brown rice, is earthy, nutty, and with a bit of culinary magic, can mimic bacon’s enticing crispness.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Dice and sauté tempeh until crispy. Add these crunchy bits to your soup just before serving, preserving that sought-after crunch.

10. Coconut Bacon

Coconut bacon is a tasty alternative to traditional bacon in clam chowder.

Made from coconut flakes, it’s a vegetarian and vegan option that’s crispy and smoky. Unlike bacon, it doesn’t have a meaty flavor, but it can contribute a unique coconutty hint.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Sprinkle coconut bacon on top of your clam chowder just before serving to keep it crispy.

11. Mushroom Bacon

Savor the rich, earthy notes of mushroom bacon as it seamlessly blends with your clam chowder’s flavors.

Made from mushrooms that have been marinated and baked, mushroom bacon has a meaty texture and a savory, umami flavor. It won’t have the same smoky flavor as traditional bacon, though.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Use shiitake or portobello mushrooms for the best results. Sauté them until crispy and add to the soup at the end of cooking.

12. Soy Bacon

Soy bacon, anybody?

A vegetarian and vegan-friendly option, it emulates the salty, savory notes of bacon while bringing a unique character to your chowder.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Chop soy bacon into bite-sized pieces and sauté until crispy. Add these just before serving for the best texture.

13. Smoked Salt

Substitute bacon with the deep, woodsy aroma of smoked salt.

Smoked salt may not offer bacon’s texture, make no doubt about it, but its potent smoky flavor makes it a compelling substitute.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Swap regular salt with smoked salt when seasoning your chowder, but do so sparingly—its flavor is potent.

14. Smoked Tofu

Smoked tofu is yet another of our favorite alternatives to bacon in clam chowder.

Smoked tofu is a meatless option that’s been smoked to provide a similar flavor to that of bacon. However, its texture is more spongy and less crispy than bacon.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Dice smoked tofu into small cubes and add them to the soup towards the end of cooking.

15. Seitan Bacon

Embrace the chewy, meat-like texture of seitan bacon.

Made from wheat gluten, seitan bacon has a chewy, meat-like texture. Its flavor can be quite different from bacon, though, being more wheaty and less smoky.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Chop seitan bacon into small pieces and sauté until crispy. Add them to the soup just before serving.

16. Smoked Almonds

Lend a nutty crunch to your clam chowder with smoked almonds.

Smoked almonds might not mimic bacon’s texture or flavor, but their smoky edge and surprising crunch make for a delightful substitute.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Coarsely chop smoked almonds and sprinkle them over your chowder just before serving for a crunchy twist.

17. Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Enliven your chowder with the tangy, umami-packed punch of sundried tomatoes.

While sun-dried tomatoes might not offer a smoky flavor, they add a vibrant depth that’s uniquely their own.

Suitable for: Vegans, vegetarians

How to make it work: Chop sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces and incorporate them into your soup during the final minutes of cooking.

Why We Add Bacon to Clam Chowder

Bacon plays an essential role in a traditional clam chowder recipe, contributing much more than just savory bits of meat.

The smoky, salty flavor of bacon has the magical ability to elevate the overall taste of the chowder, creating a delightful interplay of flavors between the clams, cream, potatoes, and herbs.

When you sauté bacon, it releases fat that acts as a flavorful base for sautéing other ingredients like onions and celery.

This process, called rendering, infuses the entire dish with a bacon-tinged aroma that makes clam chowder so irresistible.

Moreover, the crispy texture of bacon adds a satisfying contrast to the creaminess of the soup, enhancing the overall eating experience.

When we contemplate substitutes for bacon in clam chowder, we need to look for ingredients that can mimic these attributes—the smokiness, the salty punch, the ability to infuse flavor into other ingredients, and that element of texture contrast.

The Takeaways

Whether you’re embracing a vegetarian lifestyle, looking to experiment with flavors, or simply out of bacon, there’s no need to abandon your clam chowder cravings.

From the Italian touch of pancetta and prosciutto to the Spanish flair of chorizo, and from the crunch of smoked almonds to the fiery allure of smoked paprika, you can modify your chowder to reflect a variety of culinary traditions and dietary preferences.

Remember, a good chowder is about harmony of flavors, so experiment freely but thoughtfully, keeping in mind the balance of smokiness, saltiness, texture, and overall flavor infusion each substitute brings.

Above all, let your culinary creativity shine and make your clam chowder a testament to your personal taste.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.