Artisanal cured meats sliced and elegantly displayed on a wooden cutting board.

Complete Guide to Equilibrium Curing Meat

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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.

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.

Calabrian chilli at lavasi large
Calabrian local chili, aka the REAL Pepperocinco!

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).

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 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?

Cold smoked bacon slovakia 3 large
Organic Eastern European (Slovak) Pancetta

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.

Curing Time

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.

Method for curing meat with salt
Wild Venison Bresaola – Made at Home, My Home!

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

Curing meat before hot smoking large

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

  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 a bowl or container to massage and rub the cure mix thoroughly into the 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 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.

Salt curing pork

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

Meat curing spice large

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.

Equiliubrium curing in a bowl large
Mop up that cure!

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)

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!

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
  • Temperature
  • 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.


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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

    1. I don’t get this. If the meat is inside a airtight bag how it will dry out and loose 35% weight ?

      1. Author

        Hey, stage one equilibrium curing in a bag. (curing is about using salt to inhibit the meat, slow down bacteria).
        Stage two, hang and dry – this is where the weight loss occurs. Cheers Tom

        1. And why in “Complete guide” there are zero words about stage two? Just salt, bag, 1 week per 1 pound?

  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

  8. Do you have to cook the meat after these different methods, or does it depend on the type of meat? Im thinking rabbit, deer, trout. Ive started my first equilibrium cure last night with some slices of chicken, but I havent been able to find anything on line that says whether you can eat it after curing, or if it still has to be cooked, and if it still has to be cooked, how you cook the cured meat. Per method, of course.

    1. Author

      Are you curing to dry or curing to cook? Chicken hold a lot of bacteria so I wouldn’t use it for dry curing. I have a course on this above at the top if you are wanting to dry curing meats. Deer I do a lot of, trout can be like salmon ie. a Gravlox style and rabbit I am not sure about – yet to try!

  9. Hey Tom,

    Great write up!!! Very informative. I do have a question about equilibrium curing a whole muscle that has a bone in it. Lets say a leg of lamb or something similar. How do you calculate the salt and cure % for situations like this?%

    1. Author

      Thanks, I like your channel too 🙂
      I stick to the total weight regardless of bone weight to work out %’s. Keep it simple I say.
      Cheers
      Tom

    1. Author

      Definitely salt and spices, then you can add a coating of spices like peppercorns or chili before hanging/drying if you want also.

  10. Hi Tom, i just gave it a shot and have cold smoked the meat for 3 hours (after 9 days of curing).
    the meat inside the smoking chamber is now all sweaty and wet.
    Question:
    should i pat dry it before placing back in my curing (wine) fridge ?
    or
    just put it in the fridge and leave all the moisture on it ?

    1. Author

      Did you form a pellicle? What about ambient temp outside vs temp inside? I wont need to pat dry cold smoked meat, because I can’t recall it being sweaty and wet! all the best, Tom

  11. Hello Tom,
    I’m sorry to inform you I paid for your course and I can’t get into it, almost as if I was locked out. I paid you about 1 1/2 years ago for your course.
    But you now, I’m wet curing a whole pork belly. 5.76kgs. I’m going with 1.80% salt. My question how long should I leave the belly soak submerged in the brine?
    Thank you.

  12. hello, I followed your instructions for curing small cuts of pork using the equilibrium method and they turned out well. i want to try curing a full pork loin. i have a small curing chamber that is set to 52f and about 80% humidity. i also have successfully grown powdery white mold taken from a dry-cured ham and transplanted it onto the meats i’ve cured.
    i have curing salts #1 and #2. i used #1 for the small cuts as you suggested in your article on using a fridge to cure. i’ve read that larger, longer-curing cuts should be cured with #2. would you suggest using #2 on a full pork loin? also, is it a good idea to tie the loin into a cylindrical shape with butcher’s twine? some of the recipes i’ve read for lonza/lonzino say to tie it up, but i don’t know if that’s just to make it look nice or if it has some practical purpose. if i do tie it up, do i do that after curing in the fridge and rinsing off the meat, or do i tie it up, then let it cure in salt, then rinse and hang?
    thank you for your help. your website has lots of valuable information.

    1. Author

      Heya, yes if you want to tie, I do this after curing. It’s mainly for shape, thats about it. Looks nice too. Cure #2 is if the project takes more then 30 days, since the nitrites break down to nitrates over the longer drying/curing period. Meat over 2.2pds/1kg generally takes more then 1 month to finish I find. Hope this helps, Tom

      1. that’s very helpful. thank you. my first attempt at equilibrium curing turned out well. the white mold grew successfully and i got the weight down to about 50%. it ended up surprisingly delicious.
        wish me luck with the full pork loin. if it’s as good as the little ones then i’m going to really get into this.

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