Table of Contents
- Guide to Equilibrium Curing
- What is Equilibrium Curing?
- How is Equilibrium Curing Meat Different from Salt Box Excess?
- Why Use Equilibrium Curing for Meat?
- Curing Time
- What Can Equilibrium Curing be Used for?
- Dry & Wet Equilibrium Curing
- Process of Equilibrium Curing Meat
- Using the Right Sea Salt for Curing
- Essential Equipment for Equilibrium Curing
- Airtight Bag (Reusable Silicon)
- Equilibrium Curing in a Regular Fridge
- Preservatives for Equilibrium Curing
- Spices & Flavoring Equilibrium Curing
- Length of Time to Equilibrium Cure
This equilibrium curing guide will cover everything I’ve learned and know in the past ten years of using it for making cured meats at home. The ‘secret sauce’! It isn’t much of a secret these days – but I want to expand on it.
I wished that this guide had existed when I started; it would have made things a lot easier.
Guide to Equilibrium Curing
The beauty of equilibrium curing with either wet brine or dry cure is consistent salt flavor levels. If you have a minimum percentage of salt and follow the process it creates solid outcomes. If you have cured the meat for a long enough time, you will consistently have great results.
So, I’m going to dive into the what, how, why, process, equipment, and anything else I can think of when it comes to equilibrium curing.
What is Equilibrium Curing?
Equilibrium curing – using a percentage of salt to the weight of the meat. (And also using a percentage of the weight to work out the volume of water if you are wet brining).
2.5% sea salt = 1,000 grams meat
0.025 x 1000 = 25 grams of sea salt
Pretty simple! Using the metric system with grams and kilograms is much easier than using the Imperial system.
Just be careful around the decimals when calculating; that’s also why the calc link is good to use.
How is Equilibrium Curing Meat Different from Salt Box Excess?
The old method of saltbox or saturation is to cover the meat entirely with salt. Now, for one, this method uses a lot of salt.
I still use this method for large meat muscles or making something like salt pork.
Things like salt beef, fish & salt pork fall into this category.
The minimum I like to use for dry curing whole muscle meat like salumi would be 2.25% salt. This often includes the 0.25% pink curing salt 1 or 2 – for dry curing.
I think the saturation methods of salt curing make a lot of sense if you’re using the whole leg for something like prosciutto or multiple 20lb slabs of pork belly for bacon, for instance – I’m talking huge muscles.
Why Use Equilibrium Curing for Meat?
As mentioned above, and you probably already know, it’s more efficient regarding how much salt you’re using.
Equipment needed: having precise, accurate scales so you can measure the amount is crucial. I’m talking about one or, ideally, 2 decimal places (i.e., 0. x or 0. xx). It’s funny as well because so many recipes in just about all my cooking books have a volume amount.
Like 1 cup of this and three tablespoons of that.
With salt, for instance, all the different brands and types take up different amounts of volume and, therefore, can weigh different amounts. In general, it’s a far superior way to use volume for consistency in the kitchen for many recipes. But cups and teaspoons are still the generally accepted norm.
How long you leave something in the cure varies, but it’s more forgiving with equilibrium curing as well.
I did quite a small chunk of pork belly to make cold-smoked bacon last week using equilibrium curing.
One week is enough for a pound or so of pork belly.
But I also like to put a bit of weight on top, this time it was some antique clothes iron I found lying around. This helps to push the cure into the meat, often I just used cans of food as well.
It’s weird, with saltbox and saturation methods you draw or pull moisture out of the meat, sometimes disposing of the excess slurry water mixture as part of the process.
But with equilibrium curing, you extract some of the meat’s liquid, but then it reabsorbs back in. It’s a type of precision salt brine surrounding the meat – in my opinion (because a lot of misinformation is out there that salt draws moisture out, which leads to curing and drying, and this is a yes/no answer).
What Can Equilibrium Curing be Used for?
The primary uses for equilibrium curing around my house are for making dry cured meat, either whole muscle or salamis.
Bacon, pancetta, bresaola, lonza, or pork, venison salami, Hungarian paprika salami etc. For any dry-cured salami, it helps to work out the percentage of salt and other spices (for repeating the recipes).
It’s all equilibrium cured unless it’s enormous.
Dry & Wet Equilibrium Curing
From the community and those groups I’m part of, dry curing using equilibrium curing seems much more popular than wet brine equilibrium curing. Whenever you add brining to the recipes, you are diluting flavor as well.
But the equilibrium curing calculator my brother put together takes into account both.
So whether you want a wet brine cure or a dry cure is up to you.
Dry curing creates a deeper and more pronounced taste from spices and aromatics. Everything seems to be a little bit smoother and subtler when it comes to using wet brining.
My friend’s property is up a brackish /salty / river, which gets quite a lot of seafish. We put a small net out from the jetty and catch a bucket of fish overnight.
Then, we make up a heavy 80-degree brine, which is quite a considerable amount of salt to dilute. (Note this isn’t equilibrium brine curing, but I thought I would highlight how I personally use non-equilibrium cure wet brine).
But it only takes 12 to 13 mins before the salt penetration brining and curing is done in small/medium-sized fish less than 1″ thick.
This was an old traditional commercial method. I read a 1970s book on curing & smoking. In this scenario, you can see it makes sense.
Process of Equilibrium Curing Meat
- Weigh the meat
- Calculate the salt (and nitrates if applicable)
- Calculate the water for the brine (if applicable)
- Use accurate scales to measure all ingredients
- Use a bowl or container to massage and rub the cure mix thoroughly into the meat (no leftover cure, ideally)
- Place meat in a bag and remove air/oxygen (using reusable silicone bags is better than single-use plastic – but you need to invest)
- Place in the fridge or at a similar temperature for an allotted time, depending on weight/size.
Using the Right Sea Salt for Curing
Sea salt comes in many different forms and sizes; many brands are on the market.
But when it comes to curing meat, you always want salt that doesn’t have additives. So ideally, no iodized salt or other thing like an anti-caking agent, which is pretty standard, should be avoided.
Rock salt verse fine sea salt measured by the cup will be a completely different weight, therefore, saltiness will vary greatly.
I use a spice grinder, like one of these (electric or manual) – it makes quick work of any salt or spice mix – and a kind of powder I find preferable for equilibrium curing my meat.
Essential Equipment for Equilibrium Curing
Digital Measuring Scales
I will keep harping on about it, but this is important for equilibrium curing and pretty much essential.
You can go for something and invest a bit of money, or you can get one that goes to 1 or 2 decimal places but still is 0 – here is a page on some recommendations.
Getting the degree of accuracy is the most important thing.
My partner bakes all sorts, especially sourdough, and the scale she uses generally has an accuracy of + or – 2 g, which is unacceptable for equilibrium meat curing.
Spice Grinder or Mortar & Pestle
TIP – if you have a small grinder, place this on your scales and just TARE Zero In as you add the ingredients.
You can get away with a mortar and pestle for crushing/mixing the cure, just a little arm workout needed. It takes much longer to get a finer salt and spice mix.
For many meat curing projects, a finer powder, which can be done in seconds with an electric spice (coffee) grinder, makes quick work of the job.
Best to dedicate a spice grinder to meat curing, coffee beans can linger in the grinder! Here are a few recommendations for spice grinders & scales to do the job.
The finer spice mix allows you to spread it across more areas of the meat. Sometimes, you don’t have enough cure volume when equilibrium cure. You have to trust the calculations you have performed.
You cover all areas across the meat into every crevice you can find.
Container or Bowl
This seems pretty basic, but getting the right size container or bowl for your piece of meat helps.
My favorite is to use a stainless steel mixing bowl, which is somewhat rounded, which means I can use the meat to wipe up every last bit of equilibrium cure from the bowl.
One like this works well for most of the meat-curing projects I do.
Which leaves the bowl reasonably empty.
Airtight Bag (Reusable Silicon)
Most equilibrium-curing guys use a Ziploc bag and roll out as much air and oxygen as possible. Another standard method is vacuum packing the meat.
I have a few issues with single-use plastic and try to avoid it if possible. There is a method of using a reusable silicon bag inside another giant reusable silicon bag and sucking the air out of the primary suitcase.
This 2-minute video of a guy shows you how…
So for this, you need:
(Outside Sous Vide Hack Bag)
(Inside Curing Bag)
Stasher Bag – Half-Gallon or other size (size 10. 25” x 8. 25” x 1. 5)
Dishwasher and Microwave safe as well
You can do so much more with the silicon bags, too!
Put Silicon “cooking” bags in the oven, boiling water, freezer, or sous vide styles. Initially, they cost more to invest in, but having something reusable that is better for the environment makes me feel a lot better about what I’m using.
Equilibrium Curing in a Regular Fridge
There will be quite a few guys out there who don’t use a meat curing chamber and may have a suitable environment with high humidity and the right temperature around the house. If you know little about temperature and humidity, check out the post here.
Another option, which I’ve had some success at, is based on the size of the meat with equilibrium curing in a regular kitchen fridge; if you want a complete guide or a rundown, please find a post here.
Preservatives for Equilibrium Curing
I strongly advise you to do your research when it comes to using nitrates; I’m not looking to get into a discussion of detail -it’s a decision and research each should do themselves.
I know the traceability and source of meat I use, whether it’s wild or farmed. If I’m doing whole-muscle things like bresaola or pancetta, I’m happy to use salt and spices without pink-curing salt.
When making dry-cured salamis, I use the appropriate 0.25% pink curing salt due to the slightly higher chance of ground/minced meat issues.
Spices & Flavoring Equilibrium Curing
This is probably the most exciting part of meat curing: the sweet smell of bay (leaf) laurel, the savory flavors of juniper berries, or maybe the various paprika of the world. They can create entirely new flavor angles.
Length of Time to Equilibrium Cure
Factors do influence such as:
- The amount of fat present
- Salt Concentration
My general rule is one week per 1 inch of meat for Equilibrium Curing
But if you have genuinely taken all the air/oxygen out of the curing bag. Then you could leave a piece of meat in a vacpac for a month or two.
Equilibrium Curing – The curing will wait for you, not the other way around, like with traditional saturation or excess salt methods, which always creates some unknowns for me.
Now for Salt Box or Saturation Curing (with or without wait)
For the simple answer, it is:
- 2 Days Per Pound for a small cut of meat
- 3 Days Per Pound for a large cut of meat
I hope this has given you a little more background.
I will also have created an equilibrium cure calculator and tool located at the top of each web page.
See this article below for more on the next stage and how to dry the meat.