Various cured meats made with different styles on a chopping board.

Steps on How to Cure Meat with Salt (with Pictures)

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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.

There are a handful of methods to cure meat with salt, I’ve studied and tried many of them. Curing meat has so many different variations; the meat curing world is infinitely much larger than Italian classic salami or salumi.

This post is an overview to explain each step and how I use salt to cure meat in different ways.

When I started curing meats a few decades ago, I would generally use the traditional saltbox method below for dry curing meat (drying meat enough so it is preserved and stable).

Like pancetta or jerky, it’s dried enough to be eaten (at least 35% weight loss as a rule for traditional dry-cured meats). It’s because of the reduction in water activity which means the bacteria that spoil meat can prosper.

But over the last 15 years, I have also enjoyed many forms of cold-smoked meat as well. Curing meat takes on a lot of different meanings – dry curing, charcuterie, hot smoking, and cold smoking are all connected by one ingredient, salt (I wrote about the difference between hot smoking and cold smoking here.

Methods of curing meat with salt large 1
Different methods used with salt – Salt Pork, Salt Dry Cured Equilibrium Meats and a chunk of cold smoked meat

Different methods have Different Steps:

  1. Wet Brining Meat for Smoking
  2. Saturation or Salt Box Method for Smoking or Dry Curing
  3. Equilibrium Curing for Dry Curing & Smoking
  4. Brine Injecting Needle Wet Curing

Sometimes, when there is a great store deal or excess meat, some simple meat curing can mean the meat will be enjoyed for a longer time without having to refrigerate, especially for making something easy like salt pork, salt beef, salt fish or salt <insert meat here>.

But it’s a confusing process whether you want to understand how it works or try it at home. Hence, I created this site about curing meat and using salt in many different ways.

Steps for Curing Meat with Salt

The main 2 methods I have encountered are dry curing (salt) curing and wet brining. I will give a brief overview and then move on to modern methods like equilibrium curing.

Wet Brining Meat for Smoking

Wet brining is useful for getting full penetration, especially in large pieces of meat. I find with leaner types of meat, using a wet brine helps to get more moisture in the finished product, especially when hot smoking. But that’s more for flavor and moisture rather than preservation.

Quick brining is a chef’s term for ‘salting’ or seasoning meat prior to cooking or hot smoking.

Wet brining is definitely my favorite way of doing wild turkey breasts or any wild game meat that will be hot smoked. (cooked & smoked at the same time).

Wet brining is also called:

  • Pickling
  • Corning
  • Salt Brining

Wet brining is also a more subtle method for bringing out spices and aromatics. Dry methods using saltbox or equilibrium curing tend to bring out more spices or aromatics.

Brining is used before cold smoking in many countries. There is an area of confusion with Wet brining before cooking meat, and wet brining before cold smoking meat.

Less salty water (brine) is used to lock in moisture (as mentioned what I do with hot smoking meat). Where the goal is to cook the meat.

As opposed to salt brining before cold smoking or drying meat.

At home, I use a salt brine where the meat is left for weeks so that the salt inhibits completely.

Once this is done, the bad bacterial population will diminish, and I will use drying and cold smoking to enhance and preserve the flavor.

Specifically, I am talking about brining to smoke meat below:

Wet Brining Process

  1. Create brine
  2. Submerge meat
  3. Place a weight on the meat (optional)
  4. Refrigerate

1. Create Brine

A heavier brine which ‘maxes’ out the salt is used in the commercial cold-smoked fish industry. I read a book all about this called “Home Smoking and Curing”.

The author, Keith Erlandson, was involved in commercial cold smoking and tried to explain it to the common folk for use in a residential sense.

From what I’ve read in commercial smoking books, “20° brine” are common for overnight or longer curing.

But because they wanted to brine quickly, “80° brine” salinity is used, which can cure small fish in 5 to 15 minutes.

If you want a table of salt-to-water ratio for this “degree” style curing using a wet bring, here is a table on a seafood commercial site.

An old classic both from the ’70s Home Smoking and Curing by Keith Erlandson, a great resource, a classic.

2. Submerge Meat

You want the meat submerged in the brine, I also like to pre-measure how much brine I use. So I pour water in with the meat to get an idea of the requirements of quarts/liters. Personally, I don’t like to waste salt brine.

3. Weigh Down Meat

Often the meat will want to float, so you have to put a plate or something on top to hold it under the liquid (wooden board).

Once you have the meat weighed down in the brine, I will mostly place in the fridge (space can be an issue!)

4. Brine in the Fridge

If it’s really cool and winter you don’t really need to put it in the fridge, but under 60°F/15°C I find works well. Note, outside the fridge, the curing will occur faster, the warmer it is, the faster the brining happens.

Using Weight to Help Cure Penetrate

So for a lot of different meat curing projects, you want to use meat injectors for legs of ham for instance, for thick dense meat like a pork leg, which can vary. There are then calculations that can be done for the ‘uptake’ of the brine, so you can weigh it to see the added ‘brine/cure’ weight.

Advantages of Brining for Curing Meat (to Dry or Smoke)

  • A curing method good for ‘bulk’ meat
  • Strong brines can cure thin meat fast

Disadvantages of Brining

  • Brining does take up space
  • Tends to dilute flavors like aromatics, herbs, and spices

Saturation or Salt Box Method for Smoking or Dry Curing

Used mainly for dry crying meat, you apply salt to dry meat and let the curing commence. This is also the technique for many long-term meat-preserving techniques, like salt pork.

Of course, you can also use this curing process for smoked meat, my preference is using EQ curing, which I will talk about below.

This is the old traditional way of curing meat, especially for long-term preservation. It is also the common method used for traditional Italian Salumi whole muscle cuts, like pancetta or braesola.

Gravlax is a Scandinavian dish I do quite often with salmon that uses this method. Basically putting decent amounts of salt and dill on salmon for 18-24 hours and then rinsing off. Slicing thinly and that’s it. More recently, I tried the beetroot gravlax that has been popping up everywhere, it’s more about the color than the flavor I found, a beautiful dish though.

Slicing cured salmon gravlax large
Beetroot Gravlax Salmon – lasts about a week – had some great breakfasts with Mum!

Salt pork and salt beef were useful preserved protein that was used during many military campaigns in the early 19th century (see here for an easy salt pork post). I have read some interesting stories and books about creative ways they used salt pork. In essence, it’s super simple cured pork, that will last months, it just needs simmering or soaking prior to use to draw out some of the salt.

Salt Box Process

  1. Massaging & Rubbing Salt into Meat
  2. Placing in Tray or Pan
  3. Refrigerate
  4. Rinsing
  5. Hanging

1. Massaging Rubbing Salt into Meat

It starts simply with a tray, you then layer some salt on it. You rub your meat with the salt covering all areas.

Sea salt needs to be in every crevice and covering the entire meat.

2. Placing in a Tray or Pan

Leave the meat on the tray, all the salt will draw out the moisture. Depending on the recipe, you can place the meat in a ziplock bag too.

Of course, it really does depend on what size the meat is.

3. Refrigerate

Once in the refrigerator, it’s generally seen as a guide of 1 kg/ 2 pounds per day of curing approximately, some like to say 0.8-0.9 kg per day.

4. Rinsing

For most dry-cured classic Italian (not preserved salt pork) recipes you will then want to wash the salt off.

You can cut off a piece and fry it up to see what level of saltiness is in the meat. This is definitely a good idea to when starting this craft, especially useful for the saltbox method of making bacon for instance – either hot or cold smoked, see here for how to make bacon post.

5. Hanging

If you are smoking then you should check out the beginner’s smoking guide if you are dry curing then it’s hanging the meat time (here is more detail on dry curing meat in a regular fridge which I have awesome success with).

There are quite a few options when it comes to hanging the meat.

Cellar / Basement / Garage

Some people find it fine to use a cellar if you’ve got roughly the right conditions in regards to humidity and around 11°C/52°F temperature. For bacon/pancetta or another smaller cut of meat, it can work fine.

But one of the more critical parts of dry curing is the humidity which is why the fridge makes it a bit difficult and runs typically at 30 to 50% humidity. Ideally, you want to be dry-curing meats at around 70% humidity.

DIY Curing Chamber

Salami in curing chamber diy large

Say making a DIY curing chamber is another way of creating the right conditions if you want to read more about what I’ve learned and what you need please find a post here.

As mentioned, you can just use a normal fridge but what I discovered is you need to keep the cuts of meat small this means that you don’t get much case hardening going on.

Advantages of the Salt Box Method

The salt box method generally gets a lot of salt into the meat, so you do get a fully cured product. It differently suits many larger salt-curing projects.

Disadvantages of the Salt Box Method

As mentioned previously, the over-salting is the biggest issue with the saltbox method. In my experience, meat can vary a lot in volume and density depending on how much fat or existing moisture is in it.

It also uses up quite a lot of salt and you end up with quite a lot of wastage, although salt is quite cheap it’s nice to have a precise amount needed for curing with the equilibrium curing method.

Equilibrium Curing for Dry Curing and Smoking

This method cures the meat and draws out moisture, creating a more intense flavor. And when you look at things like Parma ham and prosciutto, this is still the main method used by classic Italian producers.

But in recent times equilibrium curing has become very popular with home curing enthusiasts because it has much more accuracy with salt content, therefore, creating much more consistent outcomes.

Equilibrium Curing

The dry-curing meat this is the best way to go, I also love to use this for bacon/pancetta-style projects. Braesola beef or wild game projects works well.

Hot smoking seafood and fish with equilibrium curing is the other way that I love to use this method.

As you can see it’s my go-to method for a lot of the curing projects.

Dry Curing Meat in a Regular Fridge

I have found using a regular refrigerator you can cure meat with either the salt box method or the equilibrium method. It seems to work best for meat around 7oz/200g or less.

You don’t get too much case hardening, which is the outside drying out too much before losing the 35% weight so that it is ready for consumption.

Equilibrium Curing Equipment

Meat curing spice large

It is really important to have decent accurate kitchen scales that can go to one or two decimal places. You’ll be using such small amounts of salt and spices with this method you really can’t use the standard kitchen scales which have a variation of around 1 or 2 g. Check out some suggested scales here.

Ziploc bags make EQ curing meat easy and vacuum packing is used by some home curing enthusiasts. Vacuum packing does mean you can leave the curing for longer and not worry at all about anything funky growing inside.

I also knew a guy who vacuum-packed some dry-cured salumi for three years and it came out fantastic it ended up just aging more in becoming more intense. This is like Parma ham that has been trying for 12 months minimum up to three or four years, extreme!

Recently, I’ve had my own projects that are 3 years or longer under vac-packed in bags at the back of the fridge. They get more complex, over time!

Equilibrium Curing Process

  1. Accurately weigh meat
  2. Measure salt and other spices -Calculate Amounts
  3. Mix together and rub all of the salt mixture into the meat, in a bowl helps
  4. Bag the Meat
  5. Refrigerate
  6. Remove from Bag, Hang/Dry

1. Accurately Weigh Meat

So the first step in equilibrium curing is to weigh the meat. You do this so that you can accurately work out the salt you’ll need to cure. For bacon, I am using usually 1.5-3% salt of the total meat weight.

For example, 1000g of pork belly for bacon I would use 15 to 30 g of sea salt.

2. Measure Salt and Other Spices, Calculate Amounts

Once you’ve calculated the precise percentages salt, spices, aromatics &/or nitrites (Pink Curing Salt @ 0.25% of the meat weight) are ones that should be used if you want to find out more about nitrates please find a post here.

There are two types of nitrates/nitrites you can buy pink curing salt 1 & 2.

In short, the No. 1 pink curing salt is for cured meats that you’ll cook or less than 30 days to consume.

No.2 pink curing salt is for dry curing meats that will be drying for more than 30 days such as all the Italian Salumi/Salami

Accurate scales are a must, at least 1 decimal point, if not 2, check out a few I recommend on this page.

The other bit of kit that is super useful is a spice grinder (same as a coffee grinder), some links above are on the same page as the digital scales.

4. Mix Spice Rub into Meat, in a Bowl

A spice grinder (coffee grinder), works well to make a finely blended spice mix, for equilibrium curing, this helps also. Another option is the good old mortar & pestle.

This is where you get all the mixture rubbed and embedded into the meat. I like to do this in a bowl rather than on a chopping board because you keep all the cure in the bowl and you make sure you can get all of it onto the meat.

Equilibrium curing in a bowl large

5. Bag or Vaccum Pack the Meat

Having right-sized ziplock bags is useful here.

You can roll the meat up in the bag to try and squeeze all the air out. Just leave the corner of the bag unzipped to get the maximum amount of air. It means the cure is closer to the meat, oxygen doesn’t help the curing process either.

A lot of home curing enthusiasts also use vacuum packing and the stage. I don’t think it’s necessary but I guess it’s personal preference.

6. Refrigerate

Place it in the fridge if you want you can put some weight on it. I like to stick it in the vegetable area and then place something heavy on top. It is out of the way also.

7. Remove and Dry

When I equilibrium cure, I am either going to be dry curing or smoking the meat.

Dry Curing

A gentle rinse is good at this stage, you also want to pat on some dry spices like pepper at this stage, definitely when making pancetta!

For the drying process, whether you are using a cellar, curing chamber, or fridge and you want to be heading the magic 65% of the starting meat weight. Then you’ll know it is fully dry-cured. Same as the above options below the saltbox method.

If you want to know about curing in a normal fridge, check out a post here.

Brine Injecting Needle Wet Curing

Nitrates for Meat Curing

A lot of inaccurate interpretation of research on nitrites & nitrates, at the low levels that are now regulated and followed below, I think there aren’t any concerns. Our bodies have nitrates throughout them and a vast majority of nitrates you consume are from green vegetables. Far more than you will ever get using the correct amount of pink-curing salt.

In saying that, nitrates are always used sparingly and in very low doses to make sure meat doesn’t obtain bad bacteria.

Since this isn’t the focus of the post, make sure to read about nitrates, it is my advice to use them for the correct project:

ie. Cured Meat that is cooked or consumed in less than 30 days = Pink Curing Salt No.1

For Dry Cured goods that will be consumed in more than 30 days = Pink Curing Salt No. 2

Saturation or Saltbox = 5 grams/ 1 teaspoon per 2 pounds / 1kg of salt.

Wet Brine =  5 grams / 1 teaspoon per quart/liter of water

Equilibrium Curing = 0.25% of the meat weight

For a full rundown on curing salts, please find a detailed post here.

Cold or Hot Smoking the Meat

For cold smoking you want to make sure that it’s fully cured, it needs to be fully penetrated throughout the meat. Hot smoking is not so important because you are cooking and smoking at the same time. The salt has a different purpose, to hold moisture in whilst cooking/smoking.

Cold Smoking is for preserving which is really just a form of drying. Unless its non-meat, you can cold smoke all sorts of foods for flavor only too!

Most country and Christmas hams are done with an injection brine. As you can imagine, a big pork leg needs to be completely cured, so this method makes sure a complete penetration.

This has been my preferred method for equilibrium brining chunks of meat for cooking/hot smoking, like smoked ham.

Related Questions

How do You Preserve Meat With Salt?

If done accurately, the salt curing saturation method effectively preserves meat. Salt pork and beef were traditionally preserved this way. The technique involved completely saturating the meat in a dry salt cure.

How Long Will Salt Cured Meat (also write an article on how to store cured meat) Last?

Using a salt cure saturation method with a fully penetrated salt cure, the cured meat will last 6-12 months when placed in an appropriate cool area. The taste may deteriorate, but it can last up to 12 months. Vacuum packing will also extend this time frame.

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    1. Author

      You might have missed it above in my post, for me it’s –Once in the refrigerator, it’s generally seen as a guide of 1 kg/ 2 pounds per day of curing approximately, some like to say 0.8-0.9 kg per day.

  1. Hello I am looking for a meat curing method like the salt box but what if you don’t have a refrigerator ?

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