Sliced cured cold smoked bacon meats arranged neatly on a wooden surface.

How To Equilibrium Cure or Brine Bacon (Calculator & Tool)

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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.

Discovering how to equilibrium cure or brine bacon was a bit of a revelation. It means I had control over the level of saltiness that you taste (rather than guessing with the old covering the bacon with salt method). I’ve been making my own bacon for about twenty-odd years.

I’ve tried dry curing and wet brining with a whole different array of smoking woods and techniques – so to settle in on one’s technique now really is a blessing.

Equilibrium Curing Bacon

I created an equilibrium curing calculator to make it simple for anyone

Here is my curing calculator page.

Here is another page (with the same tool but other info) on the amount of equilibrium curing here as well.

If you’re new to bacon making or equilibrium curing, please read the rest of this post.

I’ve been using equilibrium curing for dry-curing meats, like more classic Italian Salumi. It took over the way that I cured bacon or pancetta-style bacon.

Considering that this is just a little bit of a calculation to work out the ratios. Once it’s done and recorded it’s pretty straightforward.

The most important thing you can remember is that the total amount of saltiness will include the pink curing salt (@ the recommended 0.25% pink curing salt quantity to the total weight).

So, for example, you are aiming for 2% total salt to the weight of the meat. Then, I would use 1.75% sea salt +0.25% pink curing salt.

Basics of Equilibrium Curing

Equilibrium curing is just about getting the correct amount of salt for fully curing the meat and balancing the salt level’s taste.

You get to a level where it restricts most of the unwanted bacteria, and when you add the pink curing salt, it speeds up curing, and provide another layer of protection from botulism.

I’ve found that over 4-5% is incredibly salty and too much to handle.

But I have read that 5% to 10%, is the appropriate level to use for long-term storage of meat. Just like the explorers of the old world, on their voyages across the globe with salt fish or salt pork, for instance.

Basics of Equilibrium Brining

It’s basically the same as equilibrium curing, but you add water to the mixture so that you can do it in a wet solution. As a guide, I use 40% water to the total weight of the meat, but it depends on the size of the meat and also the container you use!

The metric system makes this nice and easy to calculate.

1 g (gram) = 1 mL (millilitre)

Therefore,

1000g / 1 kilogram = 1,000 mL / 1 Liter

This works if the container is a tight fit for the meat weight.

Sometimes, it’s worth doing a bit of a test run with the meat and the container to see how much water is necessary to submerge the meat in the brining solution.

Advantages of Equilibrium Curing or Brining

Control of Saltiness

Okay, the obvious ones first: If you use an equilibrium curing or brining method, you end up controlling the level of saltiness and, therefore, taste.

For me personally, my bacon is generally dry salt cured at 2.25% total salt (which includes the 0.25% pink curing salt). It depends on your perception of saltiness. I know a lot of people who love to go a lot higher and a bit less.

For every packet of bacon in the shop, I tend to read the nutritional information on the back, they are normally around 1.0-1.5g per 100g (or 1%-1.5%). This seems low to me, but I’m not doing commercial bacon (often brined, though).

But this is a level that I’m happy with when I make bacon. Quite often, I use no sugar, but if I have a sweet tooth ( or am making bacon for others who like a bit of sweetness), I can use up to 1% sugar.

Can Leave in the Cure or Brine for a Bit Longer

The good old-fashioned saltbox or saturation method is based on leaving the meat in the cure for a day per 2 pounds or 1 kg.

The big problem is that salt penetrates at a different pace, depending on the brand and the shape of the salt. With the size of the salt comes wonderful equilibrium curing or brining.

Going by weight, not volume, is the key.

I have left equilibrium-cured bacon in the fridge for an extra five days, with no problems, up to 7 to 9 days even. It developed a slightly slimy exterior.

I think this had to do with all the spices and herbs that were used in this bacon mix. So I guess what I’m saying is you can leave equilibrium curing for longer, but be aware that it’s not a free license to forget about it for a month.

Disadvantages of Equilibrium Curing & Brining

Precise Equipment is Needed

The key aspects of equilibrium curing are precision and percentages.

Sometimes, when doing home curing, you may use only 0.5-1.0 pounds of pork belly for the bacon. When you’re doing this, you work in minimal quantities. Using the metric system is the easiest for equilibrium curing or brining.

Investing in accurate digital scales that go down to 0.X decimal places or even 0.XX 2 decimal places is the only way.

This is a must, and since the price of technology has decreased so much. I suggest a couple of options that will do the trick nicely.

Another tip is to use a reasonably fine salt and spices cure.

To achieve this you can use a manual grinding method or automatic grinding methods like a coffee spice grinder.

What I like to do is place the spice grinder onto the scales, and then I can zero TARE the ingredients as I add them in.

Meat curing spice large

Challenges of Equilibrium Curing

Applying all Equilibrium Cure to Meat

This is probably one of the most crucial steps when your equilibrium curing (for brining it’s easy).

I find using a large bowl is a really good method because it keeps the cure in one area.

Equiliubrium curing in a bowl large

You can use the meat to wipe the surface of the bowl with the meat at the end, to really get all the cure onto the meat, before placing it in the bag.

You can, of course, rub the equilibrium cure into the meat on a wooden board, but I have found through experience that you always end up having some level of cure left on the board rather than adhering it to your meat.

Maintaining Contact of Cure Tightly to Meat With Oxygen

Now, I guess in a perfect world, I would have my own Vacpac for this, but I always ended up borrowing friends’ gear instead.

I’ve read on some forums that guys only use Vacpac for equilibrium dry curing. I don’t think it’s necessary as long as you pay attention to removing as much oxygen as possible in a Ziplock bag.

Currently, I’m trying to develop a reusable bag. I dislike the idea of using single-use plastic for my equilibrium bacon curing.

I have heard about using sous vide bags made of silicon, which are reusable and washable. I use one large bag and also a small bag with the meat in it. But I can’t report a proper procedure for this yet, so watch this space.

So here are my methods are broken down, first equilibrium curing bacon, then brining.

If you want to ideas about pork skin for bacon, I wrote a post about how to approach this here.

Process of Equilibrium Curing Bacon

  1. Calculate Equilibrium Cure (Calculator Tool)
  2. Accurately Use Scales to Measure Out All Ingredients
  3. Grind the Salt/Spice Cure to a Fine Powder
  4. Apply cure inside a Bowel
  5. Place Inside Bag and Remove Excess Air
  6. Place in Fridge for Curing

1. Calculate Equilibrium Cure or Brine

It always became quite a hassle to go through the calculations, especially if I wanted to do 3 or 4 spice mixture variations for bacon projects simultaneously. Quite often

(I have a large amount of meat and animals after harvesting, and I have to do the calculations for the various meat curing projects.)

So I created this calculator and tool for easily doing the equilibrium curing and brining, you can find a link here to the calculator.

2. Accurately Use Precise Scales to Measure Out Ingredients

I really slow down when I do this part of it, since it’s really important, accuracy at this stage leads to good outcomes when it comes to your tasty bacon.

Because the measurements are sometimes like 0.5g for certain types of herbs and spices you might want to use. You really want to be precise about all these measurements.

3.Grind the Salt/Spice Cure to a Fine Powder

When I started out doing curing mixes, I used a good old-fashioned mortar & pestle to create a spice salt curing mix.

As I got older maybe lazier (or smarter) I wanted a more fine curing mix (without the arm work), I switched over to an automatic spice grinder.

These are not expensive items but make a big difference in your curing mix.

Another tip I have is to grind your salt separately: first the salt, then the herbs, spices, and pink curing salt.

And then combining the 2 for a final quick blitz in the spice grinder.

4. Apply Cure Inside a Bowel

Again it’s just about taking your time I reckon, having a good-sized mixing bowl is the way I like to do it.

And wiping up the cure with the meat inside the bowl, so the bowl is practically clean of curing mix at the end of it.

Another tip: It’s a good idea to do this reasonably quickly. It doesn’t take long before salt starts drawing a little bit of moisture out of the meat.

Then, you end up leaving a small amount of dry curing converted into a kind of salt brine in your bowl. But as I said, if you move fast, the moisture brine mixture isn’t left hanging around the bowl.

4. Place Inside bag and Remove Excess Air

Need some air-sealed bag, ‘Ziploc’ work very well for this.

I like to roll the meat up in the Ziploc bag, with the seal slightly open on one end. This squeezes as much air out of the bag as possible.

Then you have to ziploc close the last bit up.

5. Place in Fridge for Curing

When you place your pork belly cured bacon (or whatever cut of meat you are using for bacon) in the fridge, it gets a bit of a uniform shape and forces the cure into the meat a bit more. I utilize the space underneath the fruit and vegetable containers in my fridge.

Quite often, some cans are given a little bit of extra weight. Pressing down on the cured meat, I presume, just speeds up the process a little bit.

Some people like to wash the cure after, some people don’t. I think a very basic little wash is a good idea, but I also like to leave some of the herb or garlic ingredients on the cured meat.

Example of the Calculations

1,000 grams of pork belly with 2.25% Total Salt

Percentage of Meat WeightAmount (Grams)
Sea Salt2.0%20.00 grams
Pink Curing Salt0.25%2.50 grams
Black Pepper0.50%5.00 grams
Dry Thyme0.50%5.00 grams
Juniper Berries0.20%2.00 grams

Process of Equilibrium Brining Bacon

  1. Calculate Equilibrium Brine
  2. Accurately Use Scales to Measure Out All Ingredients
  3. Grind the Salt/Spice Cure to a Fine Powder
  4. Dilute Cure Mix Completely in Water
  5. Place Meat into the Brine Cure Container
  6. Remove and pat dry (if you want)

1. Calculate Equilibrium Brine (Calculator Tool)

If you skip straight to this part, I mentioned that I got my mathematical brother to create an equilibrium curing and brining calculator tool, so you can have a look.

If I have a computer nearby, I use a Google sheet to record all the recipes and percentages, but I’ve been known to have a few too many pieces of paper floating around with “secret” bacon recipes.

2. Accurately Use Scales to Measure Out All Ingredients

Same as with equilibrium curing, having an accurate digital scale for this is a must. You really need a minimum of 1 decimal place, ideally 2 decimal places.

I have a few recommendations for decent digital scales; check them out here (near the bottom of the page).

3. Grind the Salt/Spice Cure to a Fine Powder

This makes diluting the cure in the water much easier if you have finally ground cure mix.

As I said, I like to grind the salt separately, get it to a fine powder, and then grind the rest of the ingredients to a fine grind. After combining the two, I give it a quick blitz in the grinder.

4. Dilute Cure Mix Completely in Water

I find lukewarm to cool water temperatures work well. With a fine powder, it dilutes pretty quickly. You just want to make sure you can’t see any particles of the cure once you’ve stirred and mixed it into the brine container.

5. Place Meat into a Brine Cure Container

There isn’t much to say here, to submerge the meat, make sure that the meat is totally underwater, at 40% water to the weight of the meat should be submerged (some weight might need to be placed on the meat to keep it submerged).

6. Remove Pat Dry

I pat dry the pork belly or whatever meat your making into bacon. Some people like to wash the brine off, I guess it’s completely up to you and what salt level you decide to go for as well.

Examples of the Calculations

You add the water to the meat weight to give a total that you work out the percentages for:

1,000 grams of pork belly

2.25% target total salt level

Percentage of Meat + WaterAmount (Grams)
Water40.00%0.4 Litres
Sea Salt2.0% (0.02 x 1400)28.00 grams
Pink Curing Salt0.25% (0.0025 x 1400)3.50 grams
Black Pepper0.50% (0.005 x 1400)7.00 grams
Dry Thyme0.50% (0.005 x 1400) 7.00 grams
Juniper Berries0.20% (0.002 x 1400)2.80 grams

Equilibrium Curing or Brining Smoking

  • Green Bacon (Drying – No Smoking)
  • Hot Smoke @ Low Temperature
  • Cold Smoke for 8-50 hours

I often go after pancetta-style bacon. I end up drying out the meat in the DIY curing chamber or even putting it on a non-reactive rack in the fridge. Even though a normal kitchen fridge is running at 20 to 30% humidity, the pork belly that I am drying out is normally less than 1 inch thick. It seems to dry out nicely in the kitchen fridge in between some light cold smoking sessions.

I’ve done a little bit of hot-smoking bacon, but to be honest for me it’s not really bacon, as you’re just really curing and then low & slow smoking a piece of pork belly. So you end up cooking for the first time during the smoking session and then end up cooking it again when you decide to grill or pan-fried.

I cold smoke most of my dry-cured bacon. I think the dry curing brings out the herbs and spices used in the mixture. I like to cold smoke generally over 15-20 hours, which gives it that subtle smoke angle that makes bacon awesome (pretty light smoke, high humidity, and airflow, of course).

Adding Sugar to Your Cure Mix or Not

I never exceed about 1% sugar, but I realize some people like to make bacon candy or a sweeter type of bacon. I can understand why sweetness goes very well with pork.


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Comments

  1. Hi Tom

    How long would you cure or how long can/should you dry out bacon in the DIY meat chamber.
    I have made my own chamber and ive been curing bacon now for a while im wanting to dry it out as i understand you get more flavour and it can last longer.
    Ive not tryed my DIY chamber yet im just fine tuning the temperature and humidity at the moment.
    Thanks in advance for any information you could give me.

    Craig.

    1. Author

      Hey Craig,
      It depends on size and fat. It could be 2-4 weeks or much longer. The drying intensifies the flavor! So quality meat helps too.

      Awesome glad to hear you’ve got a setup! I kind of cold smoke in the evenings and stick the bacon slab in the curing chamber during the day the first 2-5 days. Then it has taken on a fair bit of smoke flavor. So on with the drying for a while. Since you are going to cook it you can choose the level of drying too. Sometimes I just get hungry and what to try it!
      Actually I just got a chunk of pork belly today! havent had a crack for a while. salute!
      Tom

    2. Hi, when curing corned beef, should i follow the 2.5% salt?
      As most recipes i found are 5%.. wondering if the 2.5% only applies to sausages and bacon.. also have you used sodium erythorbate? I dont know if i should calculate the ppm from the meat weight, brine weight only, or total weight?

      1. Author

        Ahoy! i don’t comment on others recipes, but I don’t use 5% because its mad salty, unless you are soaking/boiling it later to remove it again. For dry Curing i use 2 to 2.5%. For fresh sausages (that will be cooked/grilled) I use between 1.3-1.5% equilibrium salt dry cure.
        sodium erythorbate =no, I don’t know it
        i don’t use ppm
        i calc from meat weight fresh for dry equilibrium curing, i calc meat weight fresh plus water for eq wet brining.
        Cheers
        T

    1. Is the curing time the same for wet and dry brining, about a week per inch?

      1. Author

        eq curing/brining, I have more recently been injecting the eq brine for universal penetration. Fat content could also affect this. For wet brine eq curing, I haven’t gone more than 3 weeks since the water can get very funky! Cheers Tom

  2. Great stuff!

    I’ve been doing wet brined cured brisket (like pastrami) for a few years, and while I submerge in about 100% water (i.e. 1kg of brisket using 1kg of water) and weigh salt and sodium nitrite separately, my ratios are EXACTLY what your calculator spits out for 2.5% salt! So happy to see. I usually inject and brine for 5 – 7 days.

    Now here’s my newest challenge. I bought a vacuum tumbler to reduce the curing time to within a couple of hours and I need to rework all the numbers. Thinking I wouldn’t need as much water with a vacuum tumbler, I tried my exact same brine recipe ratios, but reduced the brine quantity to 25% (i.e. 25% water, spices, salt, sodium nitrite). But after vacuum tumbling and cooking, it was pretty flavourless. How do you think the calculations would change, if at all? Or, should I just use the calculator, set the water at 25%, keep salt at 2.5%, and use the values for salt and pink salt? Since the meat isn’t covered by brine in the vacuum tumbler drum at 25%, I’m hoping the vacuum action will suck the brine into the meat evenly while it tumbles and penetrate deep enough given enough time.

    Sorry, long winded question(s). Really just looking for a starting point as meat is expenses and I don’t want to toss out too much.

    1. Author

      Hey thanks
      Tumbler, never heard of or used one!
      Since these eq calcs are based on equalizing, I wonder if the tumbler can apply enough ‘pressure’ to equalize faster? Which is your theory I think. With eq brining, I do it often in either vacpac bag or tight container. Vac Packing of course is applying more ‘equalizing force’ for what is inside the meat and outside the meat but in the vacpac bag.

      Do you use an injector? Often for Ham these days, I inject 10-15% of the equilibrium brine to speed things up.

      I remember many years ago (20yrs I think) I knew a commercial butcher with a 6 figure cold smoker that worked under pressure, I remember him boasting it could cold smoke what took 10 hours in 20 minutes! This was dry/cold smoking not the curing/brining stage though. The other Dutch butcher locally I knew, piled up sawdust and lit it in a big iron smoke house….contrasts…..I preference would always be the latter.

      Another more expensive route would be to buy a pH meter with a salinity meter built-in, (Apera do some) then you could use a spearhead probe to ‘test’ the salt content inside the meat after ‘tumbling’. $250 USD+

      Sorry I don’t have any straight answers, just some thoughts! 🙂
      Cheers
      Tom

  3. Hello,

    I love this guide Super informative and precise, just the way I like to work in the kitchen. I’m curious, you don’t use sugar in your brines, and I have been other ones typically use it. Is there a reason? Pros/cons? Is it purely for flavor, or is the sugar also going to affect the moisture/texture?

    1. Author

      Heya, yep flavor from my perspective. Apart from bacon, I don’t often use any type of sugar in the eat I cure. People think it has an impact on ‘curing’ but from what I have learned over 20 years, it’s purely flavor. Cheers T

  4. Why does it need to be in an air sealed bag? Instead, could it sit in an open plastic or glass dish like a glass baking dish?

    1. Author

      you equalize by having the meat and salt squeezed together, its more effective if no air is around, a bit of air hasn’t made much different and over the years most of my eq curing has been in bags rolled up so most of the air is removed. a bowl or dish doesn’t achieve this.

  5. Hi. I am really enjoying your content.

    I have a question for you. I was able to pick up some 12oz cured salt pork packs for a song a while ago.

    Is there a way to further the cure to make them shelf stable? They were cured with water, salt, sugar, dextrose, sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrate with instructions to heat to internal temp of 160F

    Thank you for your response.

    1. Author

      Heya, I cure at home, if it’s salt pork – its just salt and pork. With other additives, I’m not sure. Those types are products arent made for long term preservation like traditional style. Freeze for 6 months, is what I’d do if you need to.
      Cheers
      Tom

  6. Tom,
    Have you ever put ice cubes to equal the 40% water into the bag so that you can really vacuum seal? I’ve read about it, but not done it. I think I’ll try it this time with you proportions and recipe. Thanks for all the good, geeky info.

    1. Author

      Hey thanks, ice? not sure, never tried . Personally, I want the brine universal across all the liquid when it starts. All the best, Tom

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