Complete Guide to Equilibrium Curing Meat

This equilibrium curing guide will cover off everything I’ve learned and know in the past 10 years of using it for making cured meats at home. The ‘secret sauce’! It isn’t that much of a secret these days – but I want to expand on it.

I really wished that this guide existed when I started, would have made things a lot easier.

Calabrian local chilli

I will also include a link here to my equilibrium cure calculator and tool, which is located at the top of each of these webpages. Here is a bit more about equilibrium curing before jumping into the calculator.

The beauty of equilibrium curing with either wet brine or dry cure is consistent salt flavor levels. As long as you have a minimum percentage of salt and follow the process it creates solid outcomes. As long as, you have cured the meat for long enough, then you will consistently have great results.

So I’m going to really 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).

ie.

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 to Salt Box Excess?

The old method of saltbox or saturation is to cover the meat completely with salt. Now for one, it uses a lot of salt with this method.

I still use this method, but for large meat muscles or making something like salt pork.

Things like salt beef, salt fish & salt pork fall into this category.

For me, 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% of pink curing salt 1 or 2 – for dry curing.

I think that 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?

Organic Eastern European (Slovak) Pancetta

As mentioned above and you probably already know, it’s more efficient in terms of how much salt you’re using.

Equipment needed, having precise accurate scales so you can measure out the amount is crucial. I’m talking 1 or ideally 2 decimals places (ie. 0.x or 0.xx). It’s kind of funny as well because so many recipes in just about all my cooking books have a volume amount.

Like 1 cup of this and 3 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 more superior way to use volume for consistency in the kitchen for many a recipe. But cups and teaspoons are still the generally accepted norm.

Curing Time

How long you leave something in the cure of course varies, but it’s more forgiving with equilibrium curing as well.

I did a quite pork belly to make a little bit of cold-smoked bacon last week using equilibrium curing.

One week is enough, probably 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. T his just helps to push the cure into the meat, often I just used cans of food as well.

It’s kind of weird, with saltbox and saturation methods your drawing or pulling moisture out of the meat, sometimes disposing of the excess slurry water mixture as part of the process.

But with equilibrium curing, you end up extracting some of the liquid in the meat, but then it reabsorbs back in. Its a type of precision salt brine surrounding the meat – in my opinion (because a lot of misinformation is out there which says salt draws moisture out which leads to curing and drying and this is a yes/no kinda answer).

What Can Equilibrium Curing be Used for?

The main uses for equilibrium curing around my house, are for making dry cured meat either whole muscle or salamis.

Method for Curing Meat with Salt
Wild Venison Bresaola

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).

Basically it’s all equilibrium cured unless it’s huge.

Dry & Wet Equilibrium Curing

From the community and those groups I’m part of, dry curing using equilibrium curing seems much more popular then wet brine equilibrium curing. Whenever you add brining to the recipes, you are kind of diluting flavor as well.

But the equilibrium curing calculator my brother put together takes into account both.

So whether you want to wet brine cure or dry cure is up to you of course.

Dry curing I find 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 up a brackish /salty / river which gets quite a lot of sea fish. 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 huge amount of salt to dilute. (Note this isn’t equilibrium brine curing, but I thought I would highlight how I use non-equilibrium cure wet brine personally).

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

  1. Weigh the meat
  2. Calculate the salt (and nitrates if applicable)
  3. Calculate the water for the brine (if applicable)
  4. Use accurate scales to measure all ingredients
  5. Use bowl or container to massage and rub cure mix completely into meat (no leftover cure ideally)
  6. Place meat in a bag and remove air/oxygen (using reusable silicone bags is better than single-use plastic – but you need to invest)
  7. Place in the fridge or in 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, when you look at it – there are so many brands on the market.

salt curing pork

But when it comes to curing meat, you always want to have salt that doesn’t have any additives. So ideally no iodized salt or any other thing like an anti-caking agent, which is pretty common should definitely 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 Equilirium Curing

Digital Measuring Scales

I will keep harping on about it, but this its really important for equilibrium curing and pretty much an essential.

You can go for something really precise and invest a bit of money or you can get something that goes to 1 or 2 decimal places but still is actually around $30 – 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 have generally an accuracy to + or – 2 g which is completely unacceptable for equilibrium meat curing.

Spice Grinder or Mortar & Pestle

TIP – if you have a small grinder, you can 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 make 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 I wrote about for spice grinders & scales to do the job.

I find the finer spice mix allows you to spread it across more areas of the meat. Sometimes it feels like you don’t have enough cure volume when equilibrium cure. You just have to trust the calculations you have performed.

Covering 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 really helps.

My favorite is to use a stainless steel mixing bowl which is rather rounded which means I can use the meat to wipe up every last bit of equilibrium cure from the bowl.

One like this work really well for most of the meat curing projects I do.

Which leaves the bowl reasonably empty.

Mop up that cure!

Airtight Bag (Reusable Silicon maybe)

Most guys that are equilibrium curing, use a a ziploc bag and rolling out as much air and oxygen as they can. Or another common method is vacuum packing the meat.

I have a few issues with single-use plastic and try to avoid it if possible. There is actually a method of using a reusable silicon bag inside another larger reusable silicon bag and sucking the air out of the primary bag.

This 2 min vid of a guy shows you how…

So for this you need:

(Outside Sous Vide Hack Bag)

Vac Pac Set & Hand Pump (largest bag I could find – 13.4″ x 11.8″)

and

(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!

Silicon “cooking” bags, put them in the oven, boiling water, freezer or sous vide styles. Initially, they cost more to invest in, but having something that’s reusable 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 that don’t use a meat curing chamber and may have a suitable environment with a high level of humidity and the right temperature somewhere around the house. If you don’t know much about temperature and humidity – check the post out here.

Another option and I’ve had some good success at, is based really on the size of the meat with equilibrium curing in a regular kitchen fridge, If you want to full guide a rundown of this please find a post here.

Preservatives for Equilibrium Curing

I strongly advise you do your own 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.

For me personally, because 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, personally I’m happy to use salt and spices without pink curing salt.

For me personally when I make dry-cured salamis I use the appropriate 0.25% pink curing salt due to the slightly higher chance of issues with ground/minced meat.

Spices & Flavoring Equilibrium Curing

This is really probably the most exciting part of meat curing, The sweet smell of bay (leaf) laurel or the pungent flavors of juniper berries maybe the various paprika’s of the world – they can create entirely new flavor angles.

At some point in the future, I will be sending out an email list on my top favorite meat curing recipes.

Length of Time to Equilibrium Cure

Factors do influence such as:

  • The amount of fat present
  • Temperature
  • Salt Concentration

My general rule is 1 week per 1 inch of meat for Equilibrium Curing

But in saying that if you have truly taken all the air/oxygen out of the curing bag. Then you could leave a piece of meat for a month or two in a vac pac.

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 Pont for a large cut of meat

Hope this has given you a little more background.

 

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Comments

  1. Great writeup and intro to EQ. Thank you for sharing. I will be linking to this post from my webpage for those who are curious about EQ

  2. For a long time I cured the venison tenderloins using the excess salt method. I tried the equilibrium method on one of the deer this year (at the same time I’m doing the excess salt method), and It looks great so far.

    One question though, the equilibrium cured piece seems to have lost moisture a WHOLE lot faster than the excess salt cured. Is that normal?

    For the numbers –
    Excess salt cure: packed in salt 8/24, left for 36 hrs, hung on 8/25.
    Starting weight at hang – 87 g; target weight – 57 g.
    Time to hit target weight -14 Days.

    Equilibrium cure – seasoned and vaccuum sealed on 8/24. Pulled out of bag on 9/1 (7 days), rinsed and hung same day.
    Starting weight at hang – 107 g; target weight – 70 g.
    Time to hit target weight – seems to have only been about 6 days.

    Does that look right to you?

    1. Author

      Hey James,
      Here’s my take on this.
      Excess Salt / Saturation / Saltbox method = yes your drawing moisture out during the curing phase.
      Equilibrium Curing is about precisely inhibiting the meat with salt, reducing water activity inside the meat by using salt to meld with the meat molecules. In a way it’s a wet brine (but done with precision)

      the internal fat could also effect it, fat is slower to ‘dry’ out.
      A bit of mystery, especially if you have used the precise temp/humidity in a chamber.
      If it was me, I would just trust the weight lost target fo sure.
      Cheers
      Tom

  3. Hi Tom, Thanks for a good overview of the options and for sharing your methods. I do equilibrium cures myself, and agree on the advantages. There might be a typo in this paragraph:
    “But when it comes to curing meat, you always want to have salt that doesn’t have any additives. Non-iodized salt or any other thing like an anti-caking agent, which is pretty common should definitely be avoided.” Should it read “Iodized salt”. . . should be avoided? Thanks,
    Cassandra

  4. Great information, I was using excess of salt method, getting salty meats, now will go into EQ method,

    Thanks for all this valuable information

  5. congratulations, interesting read. Is there a minimum amount of salt that needs to be respected? I find 2.25% (2% salt + 0.25% cure) produces a salty product. can I drop to 1.75% (1.50% + 0.25) or 2.00 % (1.75% + 0.25)safely?

  6. Hi Tom, Im a novice for sausage making. Today I got my stuffer and last couple of days Im only busy with reading all in and outs. Your EQ is a great article. Appreciate that.
    Have one question: do you have an article which discribes the differences between curing salt #1 and#2?
    Thanks in advance
    Peter Beumer

    1. Author

      Sure, here you go!
      LINK to curing salt – more and more salami I am making doesn’t have nitrates/nitrites, but I control all other variables closely – ie fresh quality meat, exact salt, often cold smoking, ph/acidity control, winter/temps that are near fridge like!

  7. Hello Tom,

    Thank you for the great article. I’m still new to this hobby and have cured some bellies for Pancetta and a whole loin for Canadian Bacon. I’ve had great results. But to my taste they where very salty. I’m using the dry EQ method and using the standard 2.25% sea salt and 0.25% cure #1.
    Is there anything scientific about these numbers?
    Can I use less sea salt, say 1.85 and keep cure #1 the same?

    Thanks again!

    1. Author

      Hey there I’ve grown more fond these days of around 2%, if you were to use #1 that would be 1.75% sea salt and 0.25% #1.
      I’ve been studying a lot of commercially dry cured product packaging and noticed 1.8g per 100 grams (1.8%…). But personally always do 2%+
      All the best,
      Tom

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