How to Make Carbonara

Three Methods:Making Classic CarbonaraTrying Out VariationsMaking Home-Cured Guanciale

One of the richest and most popular Italian dishes is also one of it's most deceptively complex. Though the dish only has a handful of ingredients, the best carbonara takes more than just tossing some eggs and bacon into a pasta bowl. For silky texture and perfect flavor every time, a few little tips and tricks will take you from kitchen enthusiast to chef-level carbonara.


  • 1 package dried spaghetti
  • 3-4 large eggs
  • 8 ounces pancetta, guanciale (cured pig cheek), or slab bacon, cut into squares.
  • 1 cup grated cheese, preferably Pecorino and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

Method 1
Making Classic Carbonara

  1. 1
    Set a large, well-salted pot of water to boil on the stove. You want the water to almost taste like an ocean. Roughly 2 tablespoons of salt for 6 quarts of water should cover it nicely.[1]
  2. 2
    Chop up the pancetta, guanciale, or bacon into quarter-inch squares. If you want the most authentically Italian dish, use the guanciale, found at specialty shops, butchers, or online. You can even make your own! If guanciale is unavailable, however, pancetta and bacon make excellent substitutes. Use a sharp knife to cut it into little squares that cook quickly and are easy to eat.[2]
  3. 3
    In a small mixing bowl, whip together the eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper. Crack the eggs in and add you grated cheese. A blend of Pecorino and Parmesan is the classic mixture, but asiago, romano, or any combination of them will work as well. Add a pinch of salt and a generous helping of ground black pepper, then whisk it all together into a smooth, consistent liquid. Set aside.
    • Don't worry if you do this early -- the eggs will mix in better if they're allowed to warm to room temperature.
    • The best pancetta is a quick-moving cooking process. Preparing the eggs and meat, instead of trying to do it all on the fly, will lead to a better dish.
  4. 4
    Boil the spaghetti (or other pasta of your choice) until almost cooked. Spaghetti is the classic choice, but you can use whatever you have in the house if you'd like. You want the pasta to cook until it is just about al dente -- it should be just a touch firmer than you'd normally cook it. Make sure to stir it every 2-3 minutes.
    • Note that you need to keep working as the pasta cooks -- this dish is all about timing and using your heat wisely.
    • This should take 8-10 minutes.[3]
  5. 5
    Fill a large mixing bowl with hot water and set aside. One of the biggest tricks of carbonara is heating the eggs enough to cook, but not enough that they scramble or turn solid. By "cooking" the eggs later in this hot bowl, instead of over direct heat, you can accomplish this with relative ease.[4]
    • The bowl doesn't need to be boiling hot -- the hottest water out of your tap is likely fine.
  6. 6
    Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat while the pasta cooks. Once the pasta is in, you need to get started on the "sauce." Once the oil has just started to let off a little smoke, you're ready to move on.
  7. 7
    Add the chopped meat to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. It should just be starting to darken and crisp up, but shouldn't quite be finished cooking yet.
  8. 8
    Remove and drain the pasta, saving 1/2 cup of the hot, starchy water. Before you drain the pasta, be sure to scoop up a little extra for later. Hot, starchy water from cooking helps your sauce bind to the pasta instead of forming a puddle in your bowl, and it is the best way to keep the dish hot without overcooking the eggs.[5]
  9. 9
    Toss the pasta in with the almost-finished meat and cook for an additional minute. This allows the pork fat to coat the pasta strands richly, helping create your egg sauce later on. It only needs a minute or two over the heat.
    • If you're cooking for company and you aren't quite ready to serve yet, you can cut the heat to both and then reheat in the pan later, adding a splash of the starchy water to keep everything moist.
  10. 10
    Empty the bowl full of hot water and toss in the pasta and meat mixture. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of this hot water into your egg mixture and immediately stir it in. This "tempers" the eggs, warming them slowly so that the next step isn't a heat shock. Move quickly from here on out -- you should be serving the dish in the next 4-5 minutes so that it all stays hot.[6]
  11. 11
    Slowly, stirring the whole time, pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta. Keep it moving as you do to ensure that the egg mixture coats the entire dish. If it gets a little sticky or difficult to stir, add a splash of the starchy water to thin it out and keep it mixing.
  12. 12
    Serve with a light garnish immediately. Once you've mixed the egg into the pasta, it's time to eat -- the egg only needs a few seconds to cook if you've kept everything hot. You can garnish it with:
    • Grated cheese
    • Black Pepper
    • Italian parsley
    • Sliced green onions[7]

Method 2
Trying Out Variations

  1. 1
    Chop half of a yellow onion finely and add to the meat as it cooks. The cooked onion will bring a light sweetness to the dish, and almost as many chefs who add it to their carbonara as those who don't. Chop the onion into small squares and cook in the fat of the pork, adding them at the same time and cooking until translucent.
    • If possible, use a slightly bigger pan so that everything has more room to cook.
    • Want a little less "onion-like" taste? Substitute a shallot for the onion, adding it to the meat for the last minute or so of cooking.[8]
  2. 2
    Add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic for the last minute the meat cooks. Just like the onion, there are a lot of differing opinions on whether or not garlic has a place in carbonara. So just do what sounds tasty to you! Chop the cloves up nice and small and add them right before the pasta, allowing them to cook in the pork fat for about a minute.
    • When in doubt, add the garlic a little later. Such small pieces will burn easily if you're not careful.[9]
  3. 3
    Deglaze the meat pan with a sharp kick of white wine, especially if you added onion and/or garlic. Once the meat is almost finished cooking and the garlic and onions are soft, a half cup of white wine will help deglaze the pan and add a burst of fresh acidity to the dish. Once the wine hits the pan, use a wooden spoon to scrape up anything that sticks to the bottom of the pan, then add the pasta in once most of the liquid has evaporated.[10]
  4. 4
    Add 1 cup of cooked peas for a splash of sweetness and greenery. Of all the variations mentioned, peas are the most controversial -- some claim they are absolutely necessary for a sweet, green bite, others claim they are a sacrilegious addition to a blissfully simple peasant dish.[11] If you fall in the former category, add them right when you toss the pasta and meat together in the pan to make sure they are nice and warmed up for serving.[12]
  5. 5
    Toss in a splash of fresh cream or whole milk as the meat and pasta cook. After you've tossed the pasta in the pan with the pancetta/guanciale/bacon, add a 1/2 cup of heavy cream and stir around the pan. Make sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, and heat until the cream is bubbling and the pasta is finished cooking. Proceed like normal from here, stirring in the egg/cheese mixture in your mixing bowl.[13]

Method 3
Making Home-Cured Guanciale

  1. 1
    Order or procure raw pig cheeks from a local butcher. Head into your local butcher and ask around if they have pig cheek, though they will likely know what you mean by guanciale as well. You can order it online, as well, if you're serious about curing your own meat frequently.
    • This recipe is for 1 lb of pork cheeks/jowls.
  2. 2
    Cut away any visible fat or glands, leaving a clean, flat slab of meat. It will be about an inch and half thick when you are finished. If you are buying directly from the butcher, you can usually ask that they clean and prepare it for you.[14]
  3. 3
    Create your curing mixture using No.1 or No. 2 curing salt and a seasoning mixture. The curing salt can be bought at big grocery stores but is also available online. The seasoning mixture can be tweaked to your preferences and style, but a good base recipe includes:
    • 2 tablespoons Kosher Salt + 1 Teaspoon No. 1 or No. 2 curing salt
    • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander.[15]
  4. 4
    Rinse and dry the pig cheeks, the rub completely with spice mixture. Make sure the entire jowl is covered by your spices. Note, again, that the mixture above is for 1 lb or jowls -- you'll need to add more if you want a bigger batch.
  5. 5
    Zip the cheeks in a plastic bag and refrigerate for three days, flipping occasionally. This allows the salt to get to work curing and saving your meat, removing moisture quickly to speed up the process. Every morning when you wake up, flip the bag so that a different side is soaking on the bottom.[16]
  6. 6
    After three days, rinse the cheeks off and pat them dry. They're now ready to hang, but make sure you get off as much moisture as possible. This, after all, is the point of curing it!
  7. 7
    Hang the cheeks in a dry place for two weeks. This is often the tricky part for a home chef, but it doesn't have to be. You can make a simple hook with a cleaned metal coat hanger, hanging them in the basement, garage, or attack -- somewhere without a lot of traffic or light.[17]
    • If possible, hang it in front of a wood stove or fireplace -- this can speed up the process considerably if it is usually on.[18]
    • Remember that this meat still needs to be cooked before it is eaten.
  8. 8
    Alternatively, roast the cheeks for 3 hours at 275F to speed up the process. This will lead to a slightly different flavor and texture, but not so different that you can't use it to shortcut the curing process. The raised heat will speed up the drying out of the cheeks, giving you delicious guanciale in an afternoon instead of two weeks.[19]


  • Tip for a reheat if you don't manage to eat this in one sitting: add a little milk to loosen the mixture and gently warm through!

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Categories: Pasta and Noodles