Curing Meats

I almost didn’t post this one, because there’s just a little too much room for error. However, I’m just gonna send it, and warn you of whatever obvious mistakes you can make along the way. This has been a common way of preserving meats for thousands of years, so I’m sure you’ll be fine.

This can be done with any type of meat, really, although pork is the most typical.

Getting your meat dried out relies on several factors:

  • Size: The larger the piece of meat, the longer it will take to dry it out.
  • Temperature: Higher temperatures will speed the process of curing. Speed isn’t always a good thing.
  • Fat: The more fat a piece of meat has, the longer it takes to cure.
  • Salt: Salt is the primary drying agent when curing meats. The more salt you use, the faster the meat will cure.
  • pH: A higher pH means a slower curing process.

You will need:

  • Meat: You can use pork, beef, veal, lamb, poultry, and fish. Different cuts of pork will give you the best color and flavor. Lamb, veal, and beef can be cured, but they’ll lose a lot of their protein and nutrients. Poultry and fish do pretty well with curing.
  • Salt: Salt is the most important ingredient in curing, besides the meat. Salt draws the water out of the meat, and kills microorganisms in the meat.
  • Sugar: Sugar is not required; however, you will want to use it for flavor. It cuts the harsh flavor of the salt.
  • Nitrates and nitrites: You’ll have to buy these. Sorry. Saltpeter was used in the past to cure meats, even before people knew what nitrates were. Nitrates and nitrites kill bacteria in the meat, but they also give the meat a nice pink color. Without them, you will have shitty gray meats. They can be harmful to people in large quantities, so follow recipes carefully and never use more than is suggested.

Where you do this is up to you. In theory, you can hang it in your garage, barn, or shed. The kicker is that you need the exact right conditions, or you’ll fuck it all up.

The temperature for your curing area should be between 50-60 degrees F. At temperatures above 60 degrees, bacteria will be able to grow, and below 50 degrees, it will slow the curing process too much.

Humidity needs to be between 70-75%. If it gets below 70, your meat will dry out too quickly on the outside while the inside will become spoiled. If the humidity is too high, you run the risk of the meat not drying out and of growing bad mold on it. Airflow is necessary because it helps to dry the meat and prevents the growth of these bad molds.

Turn back now.

This post will not include a recipe. These are merely the basics. I’ll get into that in later posts. What’s important is that you follow the recipes as closely as possible, as well as these safety tips word-for-word.

Most recipes you find will tell you how long you need to hang your meat to cure. I’m going to tell you to weigh your meat before you hang it. When it has lost 35% of its weight, it’s ready.

When in doubt, throw it out.