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

Is Cured Meat Raw? Why Does it Look Raw

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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.

It gets a little bit confusing with the cured meats and raw meats since the definition of cured meats does have a lot of variations across the globe.

I’ve been lucky enough to have tasted and experienced, as well as made, many of the variations of cured meats in the traditional and modern context.

I will try to give a simple answer to start with. However, just to inform you, it isnt straightforward!

Some cured meats can be eaten raw (I wrote about cooking cured meats here), some need cooking, and some cured meats cannot, let’s get into a bit of detail about it.

Is Cured Meat Raw?

Certain cured meats are not raw because it has generally gone through a process of salt curing to minimize unwanted bacteria, it is then then dried also to reduce more chance of spoilage by bacteria and provide preservation. Other cured meats are cooked also as the final step before being ready to eat. Raw meat does not have the addition of salt.

I use the definition of cured meats with the addition of salt and in the recipe.

However, some definitions online will consider salt and the addition of nitrates/nitrites as part of the salt curing process. A salt cure can be without nitrites/nitrates at home or commercially.

Uncured meat, for most of the world, is considered meat without salt curing.

Often fresh or raw.

However, in America, due to some poor regulatory changes. Uncured meat is salt-cured meat that has a natural form of nitrates/nitrites, such as celery or beetroot powder.

We also create our own nitrite inside our bodies, as well as, get a lot from dark green vegetables;

but that’s getting into a different topic!

Raw Meat vs. Cured Meat

Raw meat has no other ingredient: an animal is killed, then the meat is butchered from it, which then creates raw meat.

To preserve raw meat salt curing and drying were used over the last few thousand years.

Cured meat had salt added as a preservative – to inhabit and slow the unwanted bacteria which leads to food spoilage.

Dry-cured meat has also evolved, which means meat that has been fully cured for preservation and either needs to be cooked as the final step or as a cooked ready-to-eat product.

I will add some examples of cured meats in these different categories below to help explain this further.

Not All Cured Meat is Preserved

If you take something, such as pastrami or dry cured cold smoked bacon.

Pastrami is salt brined (pickled, some would say) and cured, often with some form of acidity, which also carries preserving properties. Pickling is a form of curing which often includes vinegar and salt.

It is then steam cooked or hot smoked\cooked until the internal temperature has reached a fully cooked threshold.

Therefore, pastrami as a slightly cured but not preserved cured level of salt inhibition will last slightly longer than most meat once it’s cooked but isn’t made to be preserved.

It is a ready-to-eat cooked cured product, with maybe 1 to 2 weeks of shelf life.

Dry-cured cold-smoked bacon has been salt-cured and then dried slightly, as well as cold-smoked bacon.

This is a slightly dried, slightly raw, slightly cured product. Isn’t that confusing?

(Not everything in this world is black or white!)

This is the type of cured meat (I wrote about cured cooked and not cooked cured meats here) that needs to be cooked, not all bacon is like this from Western supermarkets I’ve been to. But I’ll ask you this question, would you buy a packet of bacon from your supermarket and eat it without cooking?

Probably not, because its salted, smoked a bit – but needs the sterilization of cooking before it can be consumed.

However! Some bacon from supermarkets is hot smoked (also if your interested I wrote about whether cured meats are keto) until it is cooked at an internal temperature, then packaged. You then are re-cooking it to make it crispy.

Many homemade bacon recipes, where the ‘smoking’ is also during the cooking process, is about reaching an internal temperature of about 150°F/63°C.

Otherwise, the bacon will probably be the slightly raw, dried, cold-smoked type.

As you can see this is where variations create different outcomes to cured and raw meat products!

Different Types of Cured Meat

Here is a table of different common types of cured meats:

Ready to EatDried PreservedCured Needs Cooking
PastramiProsciuttoDry-cured cold smoked bacon
Smoked HamCoppaSalt Pork
BolognaPepperoni (dry cured/hot smoked)Hot Smoked Bacon (ready to eat too)

Is Cured Meat Fully Cooked?

As you can see in the above table, the ready-to-eat cured meats are examples of fully cooked to an internal safe temperature cured products.

Sometimes, like commercial pepperoni – it’s often not dried but the factory will use salt, preservatives and acidic reactions to ‘preserve’ it quickly, it only takes a few days. Rather than the real dry-cured salami, which takes months until it’s ready!

Cooked vs Uncooked vs Dried Cured Meat

In a way, you can put uncooked cured and dried/cured meat in the same category, and then you have cooked cured meat in a separate category. The difference is whether the uncooked cured meat has been fully dried on or not.

Cooked Cured Meat

When I make things like

Hotdogs, Hot Smoked Ham, Certain Hot Smoked Salami Sausages, Hot Smoked Bacon or Pastrami.

I use less salt than the dry cured meat recipes below.

Since, you are only curing for seasoning mainly and sometimes to hold the moisture in the meat, less salt needs to be in the meat.

Another factor is that cooked/ready-to-eat cured meat can be eaten in thicker slices, whilst thinly sliced dry cured meats should be wafer-thin sliced since they often contain more salt.

The thickness of the dry cured meat cut will vary the perception of salt.

I’ve realized this after a few decades of slicing my own homemade cured meats.

Dried Cured Meat

When I make dry cured meat, the percentage of salt added to the weight of the meat will often be more than 2 percent.

This is basically the level at which you can get a preserving effect to be effective.

2% of salt to the weight of the meat to fully inhabit the meat. In metric terms, this is 20 grams per 1000 grams of meat (if equalized in a bag or container to make sure the meat is fully penetrated to the core).

This is why I use a process called equilibrium curing, which forces the cure and flavor of the spices into the meat. It can be done with wet or dry curing also; I have a calculator on this site that’s very popular for that!

Uncooked Cured Meat

Here is an example of dry-cured cold smoked bacon, as opposed to losing 35% weight for dry cured preserved meats I make.

This has lost 15-20% of the weight and has some water/moisture left. I will fry it up/cook it before eating it!

Thinly sliced Cold Smoked Dry Cured Bacon
A good batch of thinly sliced dry-cured bacon

Hopefully, this gives you an insight into the subtle and not-so-subtle variations of cured meats!

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