A platter of thinly sliced bresaola, beautifully presented on a white serving dish alongside dry cured meat, ready for guests to enjoy.

What is Dry Cured Meat? Dry Cured Bacon, Ham, Sausage

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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.

One of my passions is dry curing meat it an old craft that can create amazing results, I get asked a lot about what is dry curing meat, many people think it has something to do with smoked meat. Sometimes, it does get smoked, but most of the time, it doesn’t, depending on the recipe and outcomes one desires.

Definition:

The meat is cured with a dry salt cure and then dried naturally. Using a dry salt cure removes moisture and intensifies the flavor. It also provides a preserving effect. Preserving occurs due to a drier environment that reduces the growth of bacteria that could spoil the meat.

Traditionally, dry-curing meat was used to preserve it for the long term. So when you harvested a pig, you would cut it up into major muscle groups and rub salt into it. Leaving it for a set amount of days.

There wasn’t any refrigeration or freezing back then. The salt removes the moisture, making the environment less friendly to bacteria that spoil the meat.

The pig was then enjoyed months later.

Dry cured meat
Selection of Dry Cured Wild Meats

There have been some modern methods introduced, which have now meant if you’re dry curing to make Italian salumi or other types of cured meat, you can make sure it doesn’t get too salty.

Salumi is all about dry curing the meat in a traditional Italian way, I wrote a post about the difference between salumi and salami, check it out here.

There are two main methods for dry curing. The modern method used when preserving/drying is called equilibrium curing.

The other method, which is still used extensively, is saturation or saltbox curing the meat (leaving the meat immersed for several days based on weight).

What is Dry Cured Meat

If you want to know more about salumi vs. salami – I explained it quickly here.

All these dry cured meats are in essence ‘dried’ until they are safe to eat, they are first salted so that moisture is pulled out and the bacteria that normally causes deterioration in meat can’t survive in the saline environment.

Popular Types of Dry-Cured Meat

Dry Cured Prosciutto

Prosciutto is fantastic; it’s a classic dry-cured pork leg ham that originated in Italy. No wet brining here, just curing the meat with the saltbox method. Once the meat is fully cured, it is dried until at least 35% of weight has been lost.

The moisture is removed, which means bacteria can’t deteriorate the meat as easily, and salt helps the battle. Therefore, in a suitable environment (humidity and temperature controlled ideally), Prosciutto can be aged/dried for up to 4 years! That’s the premium stuff in Italy.

A type of Prosciutto from Parma, Parma Ham, which is quality pork and salt, is aged a minimum of 12 months. I think pigs are fed the leftover whey from the Parma cheese producers, making them the king of prosciutto.

Dry Cured Bacon

Dry cured home made bacon 4 to 5 days of cold smoking
Dry Cured Homemade Bacon

Some folks like to wet brine (salty water) bacon, and some like to dry-cure it. I prefer dry curing because removing the moisture intensifies the flavor. Adding spices or aromatics to dry-cured bacon enhances its flavor.

You can also make ‘green’ un-smoked bacon, but generally speaking, smoke gives bacon that bacon flavor we all love!

Making Bacon @ Home – If you want a comprehensive guide on wet brine, dry cure, or ‘green’ bacon, please find a post I wrote here.

Dry Cured Sausage

Dry cured salami on a chopping board with a flexible knife on the foreground. Orange and dark brown salami colours.
Dry Cured Salami

Basically, this is a name for dry-cured salami. I have met many Central or Eastern Europeans that use ‘sausage’ for what other Western world people call ‘salami’.

Dry curing sausage/salami involves fermenting, drying, and smoking the goods, generally speaking. There are thousands of variations across Europe, not just in Italy, the mighty dry curing capital of the World.

Methods to Dry Cure Meat

So, I have used two main methods for dry curing: the first one is a saturation method, where you rub salt all over the meat. The second method is measuring a percentage of salt in relation to the weight of the meat you are using to cure—equilibrium curing.

Salt Box Method (Classic Dry Curing)

The title of this method gives it away: you put salt in a box, and then you put the meat in the box. When using this method, you want to make sure every area of the meat has salt covered so that you get complete penetration into the meat.

Dry Curing for Preserving vs Quick Salt Curing for Moisture Retention

If you were curing, add some seasoning to the meat so you’re not looking to preserve a dry cure. Then, just a sprinkling of salt from both sides can enhance flavor. The above dry-cured turkey method is the way to go: 1/2 teaspoon fine salt to 1/2 kg/ 1 pound of meat.

<Back to Salt Box Method>

As you can imagine, it’s used for large pieces of meat. Many home curing enthusiasts use this method to make dry-cured bacon. Because you draw moisture out of the meat, it seems to intensify the flavor, including the aromatics and spices added to the cure.

Saltbox is based on leaving the meat in the cure for 1 day per 2 pounds/1 kg of meat

I would say pork belly would be a very popular salt box method of dry curing because bacon is very popular (for a reason, it’s delicious!).

It’s also very similar to salt pork; if you want a rundown on salt pork for a longer preserved meat, please find a link here.

Equilibrium Curing

Curing chamber bacon pancetta

My favorite way of dry curing meat, it’s something I picked up about 10 years ago. This method is great because you don’t end up over-salting like the salt box method.

What is Dry Curing Used For

So we have gone over Dry Cured Bacon, Ham, Sausage/Salumi & Quick Curing Turkey, what else?

The world of salumi with farmed or wild animals opens up many options.

Then there is jerky & biltong (salt & vinegar cured, technically wet brine).

I also use dry curing for trout, seafood, and other seafood.

I calculate the weight of the fish fillet and then 1.0%- 1.5% of that total weight. This is a method that I use instead of wet brining; it’s quicker and still does a good job.

Wet brining is also used to hold moisture around the outer part of meat so it doesn’t dry out during low & slow cooking sessions.

After the curing process I will dry out overnight so that the pellicle forms. Once this is done the fish fillets are ready to be smoked.

If you haven’t tried smoking anything or want to know about various methods, check out my beginner’s guide here.

Check out some easy meat to smoke here, I just picked the simplest and wrote about them

Dry Curing Meat at Home

You can dry cure meat in a regular fridge, I generally like to use smaller lean cuts of meat. Because you will end up drying the meat quicker because the humidity usually is around 30 to 50% in your fridge. For traditional Italian dry curing, you want humidity to be around 70%, but that is for long-term dry curing.

Then, when it comes to temperature, you want this to be around 11°C/52°F. Of course, a regular fridge operates much cooler than this. But as long as you’ve got a little bit of room to hang some dry cured meat, then it can be done in your fridge.

I have played around with dry curing in my normal fridge, check it out here. Some great results too!

I also put together a DIY curing chamber. Being a passion, I knew I would be curing a lot of meat, so I bought a second-hand double-door massive drinks fridge. There is a community online of DIYers who have done this, some exciting dry-cured meats have been showcased, very inspiring.

Using thermostat control, humidifier, dehumidifier, and an eco-panel heater. I am able to have complete control over humidity and temperature. The only other thing that’s needed is some airflow and some invisible ‘good’ bacteria’ – penicillin, to protect and help all the dry-cured meats.

What Meat is Dry Cured?

I think technically you can use any meat and dry cure. I generally use game meat and free-range or quality farm meat.

I like meat curing:

  • Venison
  • Beef
  • Goat
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Various fish fillet
  • Tahr

How Long Will the Dry Cured Meat Last

For dry-cured meats in the right environment with the above temperature and humidity, that can be 2 to 4 years. However, this is the end of it. For dry-cured bacon, it takes 6-12 months in the right conditions, or it starts to dry out.

When I do a dry cured meat project in my regular fridge, the last one to two weeks after being wrapped up. However, it tends to dry out pretty quickly since the humidity is below the ideal 70% mark.

Dry cured meats from the fridge and jerky/biltong are what I take camping or other longer outdoor pursuit activities. If you want some ideas on meat for outdoor adventures, check out a post I wrote here.

Dry cured meat, like hot smoked meat, can last 7 to 10 days.

Then, cold smoking can be dry cured first to help the drying out, which generally has months of life.


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