A sharp knife slicing through a thin piece of cured ham, with more slices of ham fanned out in the foreground on a textured surface.

How to Cut Paper Thin Slices of Cured Meat (with Pics)

Share this:

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.

Slicing cured meat wafter thin can be done in many different ways. I have experimented with some techniques and gone all-in with specific knives and a decent deli slicer.

So, I thought I would share some ideas for different cured meats.

Key Points:

  • Slicing cured meat thinly requires precision and tools, such as sharp knives or a functional heavy deli slicer.
  • Different cured meats, like prosciutto or coppa, present various challenges when slicing due to their texture, fat ratio, and dryness.
  • Proper techniques include chilling or slightly freezing the meat to firm it up, using the correct knife or slicer, and applying consistent pressure for even slices.
  • Knives like the prosciutto knife, brisket knife, chef’s knife, and santoku knife are recommended for different types of cured meats.
  • The deli or meat slicer is a valuable investment for achieving consistent, wafer-thin slices, especially for larger volumes of slicing.

Harder or more dry-style cured meats, like prosciutto or coppa, can be challenging. A sharp knife is just the first thing, and there are a few other options below.

Since the thickness can change the perceived level of saltiness, doing it accurately makes quite a bit of difference.

Because I always have some form of cured meat hanging around, I sometimes use a specific knife, or if the volume is adequate, I will pull out the deli/meat slicer.

  1. Chill, slightly freeze or cool the meat to make it firm if applicable
  2. Use the correct sharp knife or meat slicer
  3. Apply the proper technique for the type of cured meat you are slicing
  4. Repeat the process consistently
Salumi plate large 1
Thinly Sliced Dry Cured meat – classic coppa & bresaola

Because of the variations in cured meat, I will try and break down what I have learned into the below styles to give you some ideas.

How to Thinly Slice Cured Meat

The cured meats I make are:

  1. Salumiwhole muscle Salami
  2. Pastrami
  3. Cold Smoked Salmon or Gravlax
  4. Ham
  5. Bacon – Hot & Cold Smoked
  6. Biltong / Jerky

I will go through the different knives and mistakes I have learned.

Thinly cut cured meat

Then I will go over a few deli/meat slicers and certain criteria that are needed for that wafter thin-slicing!

Also, I will mention the deli slicer of my dreams at the end of the article.

Different Types of Cured Meats

1. Salumi – Coppa, Lonza, Prosciutto

Salumi has generally been air-dried for several months, or if you have done the short normal fridge method, you will still have a firm dried piece of meat ready to be showcased.

How to thinly slice cured meat (methods & pictures)
Cured Meat from my kitchen fridge
  • Braesola
  • Prosciutto
  • Coppa
  • Lonza
  • Pancetta

For small or medium-sized cured meats like Coppa & Lonza, the normal vertical slicing works well. Some light pressure may need to be applied depending on how dry the meat is.

It can vary a lot depending on how much fat and what type of meat you are cutting.

Slow, even slicing with some backward and forward strokes seems to work very well (Quite different from long stroke sashimi or gravlax slicing)

Here are some examples using the Arcos 10-inch Prosciutto knife (awesome knives I wrote about here).

Leg of Parma Ham or Prosciutto

In certain Italian restaurants, the leg is sliced by hand. A trolley is wheeled to your table, presenting glorious prosciutto. A stand holds the leg at a 45° angle, and a horizontal cutting motion is used. Quite a sight, but for the home kitchen, the flexible prosciutto knife is also a great option.

This is where the flexibility of the blade is crucial.

It’s somewhat like a fish filleting knife.

You push down onto the cured meat and a bit of pressure is needed while horizontally slicing slithers of meat.

2. Salami

A sharp chef knife can work well, the prosciutto and brisket knife both can produce better results.

This is due to the narrow blade that doesn’t taper too much from the edge to the blunt end. The Granton blade also has the advantage of creating air pockets so the meat doesn’t stick.

This applies to any salami stick, either dry-cured or cooked/hot smoked.

Salumi charcuterie cured meat 3 large

Chilling again will help firm the meat and fat. Dry cured salami, which is reasonably dried out, will help. Too dry means intense flavor, but of course, it becomes challenging to eat.

Also, depending on the salt content and the flavor, you may want not to have super thin slices.

Try out a range of thickness levels. I have found this can vary the taste quite considerably. You may want very thin if it is high in salt content or a super spicy style.

Tip – Sometimes, you might buy a salami that is too soft or hasn’t dried enough; either leave it hanging in a cool area inside or in the fridge for a few days to dry out more. It just depends on how fresh the salami is.

Cooked or hot-smoked salami will also be different to slice, but in my experience, the same technique works.

3. Cold Smoked Salmon or Gravlax

How to thinly slice cured meat (methods & pictures)

This can definitely be challenging without the right tool if you want thin slices.

For a 1/16 inch cut then a sharp Chef knife can do a reasonable job.

How to Thinly Slice Cold Smoked Salmon or Gravalax

  1. Cut toward the tail end of the fillet
  2. Angle the knife, on approximately 30 – 45° tilt horizontal angle
  3. Slice across the white fat lines
  4. Slowly slice in one stroke through the fillet

The prosciutto knife does an excellent job for cold smoked salmon or gravlax. Having the Granton blade, which creates pockets of air to prevent the knife from sticking, helps.

A single-edge Japanese sushi knife can do a fine job here, being a narrow blade.

Tip –Since the salmon is firm, it doesn’t take much pressure to slice; the key is to let the knife do the work

4. Ham

Now, the Ham knife is the same name used for the Brisket knife, so the technique is very similar.

How to Thinly Slice Ham

  1. Use a ham or brisket knife
  2. Make sure the knife is very sharp
  3. Cut against the meat grain for more tender slices
  4. Apply slight pressure and stroke backward and forward
  5. Look at the knife to make sure the cut is at the desired angle

Usually, I pull out the deli slicer for ham, I can get the wafer-thin slices or thicker cuts you see at the deli. If you buy whole-cured meats or make them regularly, a meat slicer can be a great asset.

If you want some tips on slicers for at home, I talk about a few here

5. Bacon

Thinly sliced cold smoked dry cured bacon
A good batch of thinly sliced dry cured bacon

How to thinly slice bacon

  1. Chill or semi-freeze to firm the meat
  2. Use a long-blade knife – ham or brisket knife is ideal
  3. Cut the desired thickness vertically

The deli slicer can do a fantastic job of even slicing at the perfect thickness you prefer. But it’s only worth looking into if you regularly curing ham, bacon, etc.

6. Biltong / Jerky

Homemade cured meat biltong
homemade cured meat biltong

It depends on if the biltong/jerky is dry or wet. Wet style with some moisture left in the middle can be cut thinner.

Of course, if it’s fully dry, tearing it with your teeth is the no-tools option.

Solid, large, sharp knives work very well also.

The biltong slicer is a great bit of kit, I use one of these for quick easy chopping.

What is a Granton Blade?

The knife has a row of teardrop concave areas spread across the blade, also called hollows.

Different Knives & Uses

Prosciutto Knife – Flexible Long Blade

Best For:

  • Salumi – bought or homemade
  • Salami – thin or thick
  • Gravlax Salmon or Cold Smoked Salmon

I primarily use an Arcos Iberian Spanish flexible blade knife, it is 10″ and really incredibly sharp and holds its edge when you touch it up.

I have several types of sharpening systems; primarily, I can use a sharpening steel to keep this knife very sharp (sharp enough to shave with).

When I use this for wafer thin-slicing it does the best job, without pulling out the deli slicer for large volumes of slicing.

The Granton blade teardrops on the knife, helping the meat not to get stuck to the knife.

Here is a further review of some recommended knives for this application.

Brisket Knife

Best for:

  • Brisket
  • Salami
  • Pastrami
  • Boneless roasts
  • Cakes

It can make cutting large soft items very easy. The Victorinox 12″ Fibrox is a beast. It keeps incredibly sharp and is the easiest to touch up with a steel.

If you want to read more of a review, find it here.

All-Purpose Chef Knife

Best use: It depends so much on the thickness of blade, angle, and sharpness. Most importantly how it’s used, of course, practice does help I have found over the years.

My 8″ chef knife can also work okay. It’s ancient, the brand has worn off it. But it’s a classic, it’s a Henckels, it sharpens up quickly and gets a lot of use.

Knife recommendations here from some decent chef knives I am familiar with.

If you have a fine angle of under 20° on the knife, you can achieve some form of success. However, narrow gradients also generally mean more maintenance.

Granton / Teardrop can help here – see below for more details.

I find doing long strokes or even 1 stroke through the meat instead of a sawing motion helps a lot for softer cured meats like thicker cuts of gravlax.

Also, try to let the knife do the work. Pushing down will not produce good results for softer cured meats.

For harder-cured meats, some light pressure may help.

Santoku Knife

I have been reading about these knives. They seem to have a narrower blade thickness, and the blade angle is generally under 15°. This knife is on my wishlist because it has the potential to thinly slice cured meats.

On my shopping list currently, if you have tried it would love to get some feedback.

Deli / Meat Slicer

Slicing cured meat with deli meat slicer large 2
Worth the dollars if you want consistent, wafer-thin

Since I upgraded to a professional slicer for home use, it’s been a game-changer. Of course, it was an investment – since I do a lot of slicing it just made sense.

Many home meat slicers in the under $200 range just can not do wafer-thin slicing. If you want to achieve this, you have to look at the semi-professional slicer. From about $250-$350, you can have a machine that will provide precision.

You just can not get translucent, wafer-thin prosciutto unless you use a slicing machine. The right knife with the proper technique can work quite well as an alternative. But it takes some time and practice, like anything.

Many “domestic” meat slicers slice nicely, but they will never achieve a wafer-thin slice. They are more designed for slicing ham or cheese, for instance, which is 1/8 inch thick.

They can look intimidating, but once you get your head around the basics and adhere to a bit of safety, you will get those wafer-thin slices happening!

Thinly sliced dry cured venison meat layed out on a plate.
Wild Venison Braesola

The most important rule is to turn it off at the PowerPoint switch if it isn’t running. It’s an excellent habit to get into.

How To Use a Deli or Meat Slicer at Home

  1. Leave unplugged until ready to slice
  2. Check device is clean & all screws are tight
  3. Optional – protective glove
  4. Set the desired thickness
  5. Put the meat securely on the guide plate
  6. Plug in slicer
  7. Turn the switch on and slowly start slicing
  8. Reset to starting position

Pushing Hard or Soft

You have to develop a technique depending on what you are slicing. For firm-cured meats, it sometimes takes firm pressure to get the desired cut.

You can use lighter pressure for less dense meat. I have tried some boneless roasts. They got messy, but the results were impressive.

Fat Can Smear – Refrigerate if Needed

As mentioned above, having chilled or par-frozen meat will make slicing much easier. Presumably, this is due to the binding that occurs at colder temperatures.

Related Questions

How to Slice Salami Thinly?

The narrow blade, which is sharp, will give the best results for slicing salami thinly. Granton blade can assist in minimizing the meat sticking to the blade. Certain home semi-professional deli slicers will also work well.

How to Thinly Slice a Ham?

Either a deli slicer or a sharp, thin-bladed knife is ideal for thinly slicing a ham. A semi-professional slicer will allow wafer-thin slicing. Using a ‘ham’ or prosciutto knife with a reasonable-length blade can also be effective for thinly slicing ham.

Share this:

Leave a Comment