View Single Post
Old 01-03-2012, 12:45 AM   #1
KnucklHed BBQ
Babbling Farker
Join Date: 10-14-09
Location: Kalispell, Montana
Lightbulb Education/Discussion - Who's Got The Cure??? Long, Not for the Easily Distracted!

We'll call this "Part 1"

Alrighty, something I've wanted to do for some time is start a thread that puts all of the pieces together for the folks beginning their adventure into charcuterie.

I am in no way an expert in the field, I only know what I've been able to glean from other's experiences, various books and what the interwebs have to offer, we also have a great collection of Brethren that are well educated about curing various forms of meats, so I hope to learn from this thread as well!

In the interest of continuing education, food safety and reminders, I pose the following questions with a fairly straightforward answer but you can always use the google'izer to find further (endless) reading on the matter.

There are plenty of recipe threads/sites available elsewhere (although you never can have too many) so I would like to ask that this thread be kept to the topic of "why's and how's" of curing meats, thereby keeping it simple to get a start and grasp on the curing process.

Let's get Started!

-What is curing and what does it do?
“Curing” is a means of food preserving, primarily meat or fish products, using some combination of salt, nitrAtes, nitrItes, sugar and/or smoke.
Often times the combination of the afore mentioned curing agents (or lack thereof) will dictate the degree of dehydration or smoking.

In the most common vernacular, curing is most often referring to a rub or brine that contains sodium nitrIte (most common) or sodium nitrAte (used only in very specific cases - not typically used in the home unless you're using Tender Quick)

The color and texture of the meat changes, think of the difference between a slice of cooked pork loin and a slice of Canadian bacon – both are fully cooked but the color and textures are completely different.

There are many “laws” that come into play depending on the method and use of curing ingredients during curing – this is simply impossible to compact into the space (and attention span) we have here…

-What does “wet cure” mean?
a) Involves immersing the raw meat in a brine solution (of the afore mentioned curing agents) for a number of days (usually 24 hours per 1 inch of meat) at a low temperature. Moisture content of the meat is increased dues to salt and water being absorbed into the meat via osmosis.

b) The raw meat is injected with the curing brine solution to reduce the time needed to fully cure the meat. Curing times are drastically reduced, moisture content of the meat is increased. This is the most common way that meat is commercially cured.

-What does “dry cure” mean?
The oldest way of curing meats – curing ingredients are rubbed directly onto the surface of the raw meat and allowed to cure for a number of days (usually 24 hours per 1 inch of meat) at a low temperature.
Moisture content of the meat is reduced, texture of the meat changes.

The oldest ways of dry curing mainly consisted of rubbing large amounts of salt on the surface of the meat. This was often times called “salted” as in “salted beef”, “salted pork” or “salt cod”. Sometimes these were dehydrated completely, sometimes they were partially dehydrated and then canned.

-Which is better?
Well, that depends… Is beef brisket better when seared and served med rare as a steak?
Is tri-tip better when slow cooked for 16 hours and then pulled?

The answer really is both are better… depending on the cut of meat being cured…
Personally I prefer my belly bacon and buck board bacon (BBB) dry cured and my Canadian bacon wet cured.
My general rule of thumb, High fat content – dry cure. Low fat content – wet cure.

-What is Sodium Nitrite? (NaNO2)
Sodium NitrIte is the foremost curing agent used in meat curing today, both commercially and in the home kitchen. Potassium nitrIte (KNO2) is it’s lesser known counterpart

It’s primary use is to prevent botulism bacteria from growing in meats and causing illness and death.

Preserves color and promotes a distinct “cured” flavor, think of the difference between cooked pork and ham or pot roast and corned beef.
It quickly converts Nitrous Acid (which lowers the pH, reducing bacteria growth) and then converts to Nitric Oxide.
Since it makes these conversions pretty quickly, it is used in “quick” cures, usually lasting 7-10 days.

It is rare that you will find this in pure form for food use, it is too toxic in that state and too difficult to measure with accuracy. Typically the most concentrated it will be found is 6.25% (1oz nitrite to 1lb salt & red color (makes it pink) added for safety).

Most commonly, recipes will call for 1 level Tsp per 5lbs of meat. Salt must be added to assist the carry of the nitrite into the meat.

Most Common Names: Cure #1, Pink Salt, Tinted Cure Mix (TCM), Tinted Curing Powder (TCP), Prague powder #1, InstaCure #1, Modern cure, D.Q. powder, FLP, L.E.M. cure, Sure Cure, Fast Cure

-When should I use sodium nitrIte?

As stated above, nitrIte is used when the cure duration is short (7-10 days, in contrast to long curing/aging, up to a year under the right conditions )
It can be used in either wet or dry curing
It’s used because of its fast acting conversions that cure meat. For that reason, it is also found in slow curing applications where sodium nitrAte is used to give it a jump start before the nitrAte can begin it's conversion

Typically the types of meat that you’d use nitrIte for (nitrIte without nitrAte) are: belly bacon, BBB, Canadian bacon, corned beef, pastrami, jerky, pepperoni snack sticks, hot dogs, commercially made smoked turkey legs, commercially made smoked salmon/fish

-What is Sodium Nitrate? (NaNO3)

Sodium NitrAte is far less common in the home and commercial curing. Even more obscure is Potassium nitrIte (KNO3), it’s counterpart.

It’s use was far more common before the chemistry of curing was understood.

NitrAte slowly converts to NitrIte, so if we’re doing a quick cure, why wouldn’t we start at the nitrIte stage instead of slowing it down (risking spoilage or dangerous bacteria) by starting with nitrAte?

It also preserves color and promotes a distinct “cured” flavor, again, think of the difference between cooked pork and ham or pot roast and corned beef.

It is rare that you will find sodium nitrAte in pure form for food use, Potassium nitrAte however is commonly known as salt peter, both are typically found at 99% purity… if you’re making massive batches of cure you could theoretically buy it this way and dilute with salt and nitrIte… but then I’d have to call ya’ a freak!

Most commonly for meat curing you will find it mixed much like the sodium nitrIte above, 89.75% salt, and 6.25% sodium nitrite, and 4% sodium nitrate (1 pound of salt, plus 1 ounce of sodium nitrIte, plus .64 ounce of sodium nitrAte). This gives it the “right off the bat” quick start for the cure (nitrIte) and the continuously converting nitrAtes for the slow curing/aging/drying.

Most commonly, recipes will call for 1 level Tsp per 5lbs of meat. Salt must be added to assist the carry of the nitrite into the meat.

Most common names: Cure #2, Prague powder #2, InstaCure #2, Modern cure #2, D.Q. powder #2

-When should I use sodium nitrate or salt peter?

It should be used for making dry cured products such as pepperoni, hard salami, genoa salami, proscuitti hams, dried farmers sausage, capicola, fermented sausages, pancetta, whole ham. These are products that do not require cooking or smoking, (but can be) or refrigeration. Cure #2 can be compared to the time release capsules used for colds--the sodium nitrate breaks down to sodium nitrite and then to nitric oxide to cure the meat over an extended period of time. Some meats require curing for 6 months or longer.

-So What's Tender Quick?

Morton's Tender Quick IS NOT a tenderizer.

Now that we have that clear, IT IS a more suitable cure for beginner's (and heck, even experienced folks use it!).
It's quite a bit more diluted than the Cure #1 & #2 that we've talked about.

Tender quick's ingredients are: Salt, sugar, 0.5% sodium nitrAte, 0.5% sodium nitrIte, propylene glycol (prevents caking)
salt is 56% of the total ingredients, we know sugar is the other main ingredient, but under carbohydrates it says 0g, 0%

Essentially, TQ is an already mixed up concoction, you can add your spices, rub and you're done

Recommended usage (on the pkg) is 1 TBS per lb (waaay more diluted than pink salt!) But they are really only referring to a very quick cure on small thin pieces of meat like ribs (why would you??), pork chops, chicken, etc... and leave on for only 4-8 hours, rinse, dry & cook

For brine curing, it says to use a cup to 4 cups of water, brine for 24 hours.

IMO - either of these uses will turn out INCREDIBLY WAY TOO SALTY!

With consistent success, I've used 1/2 TBS per lb of belly bacon or butt for BBB (both dry cured) with perfect saltiness (similar to commercial bacon, slightly less salty)

Usually most recipes that you find online that call for TQ will give a dosage different than that on the pkg IME

-Umm, you mentioned botulism earlier… should I freak out now???

Uhh, no. While botulism is very bad schtuff, the primary reason we use nitrites & nitrates is to prevent botulism from potentially growing.

-“How would it grow with all that salt? I’m gonna smoke it anyways, won’t that help?”

Well, botulism is a very odd bird. It’s one of the few organisms/bacteria that grows only in very low to zero oxygen environments.
That means the time spent in your smoker (very low oxygen) or the time after the smoker spent in vacuum packaging (jerky, snack sticks, smoked fish, bacon, etc…)

-So should we say that you should use nitrItes especially if you plan on smoking salted or cured meat?

Yeah, we should say that.

Stay tuned for Part 2: "So I just wanna make some bacon, but you made me read all that garbage up there..."

Coming soon!

Hybrid Pellet Pooper [I][B]"The Meat Vault"[/B][/I] - [B][COLOR=red]3[/COLOR][/B] [COLOR=red][B][I]RED [/I][/B][/COLOR]Weber Kettles O, H (with Cajun Bandit Mod) & [COLOR=black]pre '79[/COLOR] - [COLOR=black][B][I]Black[/I][/B][/COLOR] OT Platinum (DH) - [B]SS AusPit[/B] - [B]Rib-O-Lator[/B] - SJ UDS (DI) - [B][I]CRAZY FAST[/I][/B] [COLOR=yellow][B][SIZE=3]Yeller[/SIZE] [COLOR=black]Thermapen[/COLOR][/B][/COLOR]

[B][I]We shall throw our bacon wrapped all beef justice upon the wooden skewers of truth to be held on high and let them know that we will not stand for this. ~Butz[/I][/B]
KnucklHed BBQ is offline   Reply With Quote

Thanks from: --->