small salami binding

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Curing Meat

Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

(Last Updated On: November 5, 2023)

Over the first 10 years I was curing meat, I made many mistakes. This had a lot to do with the lack of information, and I just hadn’t read the textbooks that are available nowadays, the internet was quite young at the time in the early 2000’s!

Over the second 10 years, I practiced and learned meat curing at home and around the world.

It’s been more about refining the techniques and learning from all the outcomes and mistakes along the way.

The main aspect of meat curing, I use this for, is to create dry-cured charcuterie meats such as whole-muscle pancetta or prosciutto.

This is a process of salting the meat, usually drying meat in favorable conditions.

Salumi Charcuterie Cured Meat
Dry cured meat done at home, olive wood board from Italy!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Curing Meat

  • Over Salting the Meat During Curing
  • Not Being in a Cure for Long Enough
  • Not Using Quality Fresh Meat
  • Hygiene and Not Keeping the Meat at Fridge Temperature Before Curing
  • Not Having Optimal Conditions for Drying after Curing
  • For Dry Cured Salami, Not Creating An Effective Bind During Mixing
  • Not Paying Attention to the Meat as it Loses Weight/Moisture
  • Getting the Correct Airflow Around the Meat When Hung
  • Not Trusting Your Senses
  • Not Following Well Proven Methods and Processes

Over Salting the Meat During Curing

This mistake can be avoided by using methods such as equilibrium curing instead of saturation or salt box methods of curing.

Traditionally for hundreds and thousands of years salt was used to cover the meat and left for a certain amount of time – this is basically the definition of the salt box method or saturation method.

This can not create consistent outcomes because of the difference in structure from one animal to another, and there are other factors as well.

Saturated meat fully with salt is traditionally also how salt pork, salt beef or salt fish is created.

Not Being in a Cure for Long Enough

With the saturation salt curing methods, the meat is covered with salt and left for a certain amount of time, which is often also dependent on the weight of the meat.

What can be difficult is a chunk of meat or whole muscle that is 5 to 7 inches thick. The salt has to penetrate all the way to the core of the meat which can take several weeks.

If the salt has not penetrated the core of the meat, the whole project could be a waste.

Some factors such as the amount of fat to meat ratio can also vary the time it takes to cure meat. Animal fat has less water content, the salt travels slower through the fat.

Decent pieces of pork belly have 30-50% fat.

Not Using Quality Fresh Meat

I’ve made this mistake myself from buying cheap pork at the supermarket ‘on special’. And used this for making dry-cured salami, the outcomes were not great.

If you look at the culture around meat curing in Italy. Quality & freshness of the meat is always a key factor.

Hygiene and Not Keeping the Meat at Fridge Temperature Before Curing

Sometimes the process of meat curing can take quite a bit of time especially the trimming or grinding of the meat – depending on what you are making, too.

You need to be in a cold environment to avoid the extensive growth of bacteria.

When I visited salami factories, they actually do the meat grinding, casing, and spices in a room that is kept at a refrigerated temperature.

Not Having Optimal Conditions for Drying after Curing

Meat Curing in a Fridge
OPnly for small chunks under 1/2 pd/500grams can you use your normal kitchen fridge for drying, humidity is often very low – like 20-35%

You can get away with dry cured meats in environments that don’t fall into the ideal range of 50 to 60°F 10 to 15°C.

This humidity is also generally for things that take more than a month or two and need to have at least 70% humidity but less than about 85%.

I’ve heard from many people they used variations in the temperature and even lower humidity.

I’ve written an article on how to make dry cured meats (small pieces) in a regular kitchen fridge as well.

What you risk is the drying happening too fast on the outside before the center is allowed to dry, sometimes, known as case hardening. If this happens excessively, it can spoil the whole project.

For Dry Cured Salami, Not Creating An Effective Bind During Mixing

One of the key aspects of making dry-cured salami is a level of bind or mix where you extract some of the myosin out of the meat, which has a tacky kind of feel.

These are not emulsified projects such as a hot dog or mortadella, where you get more of a uniform texture.

Depending on the meat and the ingredients – it’s under-mixing which has been a mistake that I’ve learned over the years.

Not Paying Attention to the Meat as it Loses Weight/Moisture

A friend of mine who I’ve taught how to make charcuterie dry cured meats is a medical professional with a very busy life.

Sometimes he might not check the cured meats drying for three or four days or a week.

I really think you need to be checking on drying meat every one to two days, the other option would be a backup contingency alarm probe for the temperature and humidity.

Especially important is this, when someone is building their own DIY converted fridge at the start of the charcuterie career at home.

You really need to keep an eye on the drying process.

Getting the Correct Airflow Around the Meat When Hung

Drying meat does not need a year, yet, at the same time, it also needs a bit of time.

Something like 5 meters/second, it’s very hard to calculate this fan! I read that in a meat sausage curing commercial text book.

Also, that might be a mistake of not having enough air exchange input and output from the drying fridge.

Because you do need air exchange to some degree. So, if you are converting a fridge it may already have some kind of air exchange system that cycles through.

Back in the day, a lot of cured meat was drying in caves in Italy! And they still do in Umbria.

Not Trusting Your Senses

Probably one of the most common questions is – what people are asking is whether their meat-curing projects are going all right or whether mistakes have been made.

My response is to have a really good smell, our noses have developed over time to detect things that are probably not good or pleasant for our body.

Smelling is really the key.

Then, of course, it is checking how it’s drying and if anything is growing on the casing or on the meat is very important.

Trusting these two senses before using your taste is probably one of the most important things to avoid making mistakes I’ve learned over 25 years.

Not Following Well Proven Methods and Processes

Finally, I get a lot of comments and emails where people send me a recipe that’s been handed down to them on a scribbled piece of paper.

As you can imagine, I have no idea how safe these methods are.

This is another reason why I’m very careful about recipes I post on cured meat.

I want to provide methods to avoid mistakes and have consistent, safe, and delicious outcomes!

Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

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