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People get a little confused about salt pork, it’s preserved but does it go bad?
It’s a salt-cured piece of meat, but there are variations, of course, in how it’s made. Certain commercial types aren’t made to last (more on this below).
Salt pork has a lengthy off-the-shelf life due to its curation process. Homemade salt pork- that is soaked in salt brine or dry-cured can last for 18 months. Certain commercial salt pork go bad after 1.5-2 weeks unrefrigerated, 2-3 months refrigerated, or 6 months frozen.
I’ve made my own at home, and it’s dead simple to produce; all it takes is some patience. It’s definitely a ‘cured’ meat, and I’m keen on anything cured!
Whether you are looking for a new food option to bring on your next camping trip or simply curious about incorporating a New England specialty salt pork dish.
You might be experimenting with the hundreds of years old style of salt pork. You might have to learn a few things to know how to cook with it.
It’s a simple type of cured meat that, if done at home, can last a very long time.
It depends on the bacterial inhibition level and how long it has been cured in salt (for homemade types).
Continue reading to learn more about salt pork and how you can safely consume it in all of its varieties, it definitely needs some preparation before consumption.
Spoiling of Salt Pork in Detail
Air will quicken the deterioration of salt pork, as with any meat, whether cured or not.
The type or style of salt pork will depend on how quickly it spoils.
Homemade or Traditional Salt Pork is dried. This is much more shelf stable and can last in a moderate climate without refrigeration since it has generally lost 50% or more of the moisture. Which makes it harder for unwanted bacteria to spoil the salt pork.
Commercial vacuum-packed, quickly wet-cured/brined salt pork does not last long once removed from its plastic packaging.
Commercial Vs. Homemade Salt Pork
If you are new to working with salt pork in your kitchen, you might not be familiar with using this type of meat in your diet. However, those in New England will tell you this is a treat you will not want to miss.
The flavor that salt pork can add to baked beans or clam chowder, for example, is enough to elevate your recipe.
Commercial Salt Pork
To begin with the basics, it is important to understand the difference between commercial and homemade salt pork. Commercial salt pork is generally from a pig’s underbelly. It’s usually cured and packaged to last for months in a refrigerator.
Commercial salt pork will look similar to bacon, as it is often sealed in thick plastic. You will be able to tell the difference in its lean proportions, too, as the coloration and fat are clearly visible in the package.
Of course, when cooking with salt pork (article on how easy it is to cook), you might not be trying to get the leanest cut as you would with other pieces of meat. After all, the point of using salt pork in many dishes is to render the fat and add flavor in this manner.
You would use this instead of oil or butter in a few choice dishes. Adding the flavor of the fat from salt pork to infuse a meaty flavor can make an exquisite upgrade.
Homemade Salt Pork
On the other hand, homemade salt pork, like that which colonial soldiers would have consumed, uses much more salt in its curation process and thus requires more cooking preparation. Homemade salt pork often uses the same parts of the pig (fatty pork belly).
Clearly, though, if you are making this yourself, then you will be able to choose which parts of meat you decide to use for your salt pork. Just remember that fat doesn’t shrink as much as meat/muscle. So, using a fatty cut of meat will mean it won’t shrink as much (to do with water content and density, I think).
Homemade salt pork would have been used by colonial soldiers going off to battle for many months. It needed to last for a long time without refrigeration. To make this, pork would be covered in salt, and salt and meat would be layered inside a container (which you can do at home very easily).
Then, a type of (liquid) brine would be used to fill in the gaps before the final result was contained and sealed off (though a brine will form from the water that comes out of the meat while it is curing). Brine isn’t essential; I just change the salt once.
On the other hand, you will have selected the pork that was used to make this, so you will have a bit more say about the fat-to-meat ratio.
The main differences between commercial and homemade salt pork are its packaging, its saltiness, and whether it is wet-brained or dry-cured.
Because homemade salt pork is generally sealed in a container, it will likely have to be opened before you can prepare and consume it. However, both options must be prepared and cooked before consumption to avoid mishaps or food poisoning.
Do You Need to Refrigerate Salt Pork?
If you are cooking with salt pork, you might only use a portion of the meat. Perhaps you would like to save a bite for a meal later in the week. Or, maybe you hope to bring some of the additional (uncooked) salt pork with you on a camping trip.
You should always refrigerate commercial salt pork when it is not in use, and you can refrigerate it. While it can last up to two weeks unrefrigerated, salt pork can last for 4-5 months and even longer frozen.
Reading the instructions should give you an idea.
To refrigerate salt pork, it is best to wrap it and seal it as well as possible. The more tightly sealed your meat is, the longer it can be expected to last.
When your salt pork is repeatedly exposed to higher temperatures, this creates the opportunity for the development of bacteria that can make meat unsafe to eat, but since it’s immersed in salt bad bacteria struggle to get into the meat, it’s also because of the lack of water activity.
Fortunately, as salt pork is prepared through a curing process pre-packaging (whether commercially made or homemade), it can last longer out of the refrigerator compared to standard meats.
This applies to some commercial types.
This gives it enough longevity to be considered a smart protein option for camping trips. Once it has been soaked or simmered in water, you must wrap it in foil, place it over a fire when ready to cook it and enjoy the delicacy of a protein and fat combination.
Is Salt Pork Cured?
Another source of conflict with salt pork is understanding the ifs, whens, and hows of consumption.
Generally speaking, you should cook the meat before you consume it, though there are variations in which you can eat it before cooking. These options are not required to be considered “salt pork”, though, so be sure to check the label of commercially produced salt pork to know if it is cured.
Salt pork has been cured. But you will need to recognize that this meat often still requires being leached of excessive saltiness and cooked before you can consume it.
You will probably find that the dishes you want to use your salt pork for will require full heat, anyway.
So, hopefully, knowing whether or not the meat is cured (if it’s salt pork, it should be cured)- and how that affects your preparation process- will mean that you will probably be cooking this food option.
Whether that dish is New England clam chowder, Boston baked beans, or another choice, you can rest assured knowing that the cooking process in these meats will keep you safe.
Do You Need to Soak Salt Pork?
Of course, to use salt pork in your favorite dishes, you need to know how to prepare it properly. This will largely be done before you even begin to cook the dish. As its name will tell you, salt pork is soaked in loads of salt to help preserve it.
To prepare salt pork for consumption, you must soak it to draw the salt out of it. Depending on the packaging and amount of salt used, you must soak the meat for at least 2-3 hours. Exchange the water you are soaking your salt pork in every hour to expedite the amount of salt withdrawn from the pork.
The longer you soak your salt pork, the more salt will be withdrawn. Considering that your salt pork will have been sitting in a vat or container of salt, you can recognize how this process will affect the safety and flavor of the meat.
Salt pork can often be dried after this salt curing process and often hung. This is more traditional homemade vs. commercial versions, often in wet brines, sometimes inside the packaging.
You can soak your salt pork in just about any container that has been cleaned and will not affect the meat.
You can simmer the salt pork for 15-60 minutes. It really depends on how much salt has been used during the curing. Don’t add any extra salt to the dish; first, see what seasoning applies to the salt from the salt pork!
Salt pork, salt fish, salt beef – all made similarly so they didn’t go bad or off quickly, historically to preserve without refrigeration – since it wasn’t invented!
I wrote another post about how to make salt pork, check it out here.