Sliced wild venison pastrami on a wooden cutting board.

Guide to Using Pink Curing Salt at Home

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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.

Pink curing salt or Prague powder can be used in many different ways (and there are many other names for it).

I want to explain how I use pink-curing salt and other important details about this ingredient.

Summary Points:

  • Pink curing salt is used to cure bacon, pastrami, and ham, both homemade and commercially.
  • It comes in two types, pink curing salt #1 and #2, with different sodium nitrite and nitrate percentages for various curing durations.
  • Pink curing salt contains sodium nitrite and nitrate, which protect against botulism and gives cured meat a characteristic pinkish-red color.
  • Equilibrium curing ensures precise salt and pink curing salt ratios based on meat weight, ensuring uniform curing and flavor.
  • Different names and variations exist worldwide, with European standards having different nitrite/nitrate ratios.
  • It’s a optional choice to use this product based on the process and method of curing meat.

Pink curing salt is found in many popular foods produced at home or commercially, such as pastrami, bacon, corned beef, pancetta, and many hams.

This website eat cured meat is all about curing meat, so over the last 15 or 20 years, I’ve been using pink curing salt as part of my recipes for salamis, pancetta, bresaola, and many other cured meat projects.

There have been some improvements in how pink curing salt has been calculated. I’ll go over with you how it’s used for large-volume projects small-at-home curing or charcuterie projects.

Method for Curing Meat with Salt
Wild Venison Meat Cured with Pink Curing Salt, Sea Salt and Spices

My brother has put together an equilibrium curing calculator, this is a very popular tool that works out the salt percentage to the total weight of the meats used for curing. This calculator also works out 0.25% of the pink curing salt, whether it is pink curing salt #1 or #2, the percentage of pink curing salt is the same.

There is a link at the top of each page, or you can find that pink curing salt and equilibrium curing calculator here.

What is Pink Curing Salt?

Pink curing salt is either no.1 or no.2.

TypeSalt AmountSodium NitriteSodium NitrateUsesExamples
Pink Curing Salt #193.75%6.25%Under 30 Day Cured & Cooked FoodsPastrami, Luncheon Hams, Corned Beef
Pink Curing Salt #289.75%6.25%4.00%Over 30 Day Cured & Cooked FoodsDry Cured Salami, Braesola, Country Ham, Lonza, Coppa, Pancetta

Pink Curing Salt is:

Salt (NaCl) – basically sea salt/sodium chloride

Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) – helps protect the meat from unwanted bacteria.

Sodium nitrate (NaNO3) – for over 30-day curing, sodium nitrate breaks down to sodium nitrite as the curing progresses. It converts and breaks down.

A color change is used with pink curing salt. The meat takes on a red/pinkish hue, which is a reaction happening inside the myoglobins in the meat. You’ll notice most commercially produced cured meats, like hams or bacon, have this pinkish, reddish color.

When I do not use nitrites or nitrates in my homemade cured meats, the meat stays a more neutral color.

How to Use Pink Curing Salt?

Most of the pink curing salt packages I’ve seen indicate a commercial quantity and ratio of use.

Pink curing salt is generally written as 4 ounces should be used for 100 pounds of meat.

The way I work out my meat curing is to decide on the amount of saltiness using the modern equilibrium curing, so let’s say 3% salt for making braesola.

I use 2.75% salt + 0.25% pink curing salt #2 equals total 3% salt

Since the majority of pink curing salt is ‘salt’ with the nitrate/nitrites.

For example,

1000 grams of meat

= 27.5 grams of salt

= 2.5 grams of pink curing salt #2

Here is a table to highlight the different amounts; whether it is No.1 or No.2 the amounts is the same:

Amount of Meat Pink Curing Salt Amount (ounces)Pink Curing Salt Amount (grams)
100 pounds4 (0.25%)113.4 grams (0.25%
5 pounds0.2 (0.25%)5.66 grams (0.25%)

There are 2 methods of using pink curing salt for meat curing, either a brine or a dry cure. Above the table is dry curing.

A brine is a water/salt type of curing, sometimes known as pickling or wet brining.

A ratio of 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat is the guide for brining. However, one has to work out the brine and salt amounts.

My preference is using an ‘equilibrium’ brining; I also created the calculator for this.

For Equilibrium Curing at home, 0.25% of the meat weight means accurate scales are very important in measurement – here is a page of scales I can recommend.

Why to Use Pink Curing Salt?

When curing meat, canning, brining – its protection from unwanted bacteria, using pink curing salt in the correct ratio can avoid bacteria such as botulism.

Taste and color are also factors, a grey-looking ham is one factor for its use.

Effects of Nitrates and Nitrites

According to the textbook, in meat production of quality meats and sausages (Marianksi &Marianski), adding nitrates will improve flavor, prevent food poisoning, tenderize the meat, and develop the pink color widely known and associated with smoked meats.

Different Names for Pink Curing Salt

Here is a list of pink-curing salt with the same ratio of salt, nitrates & nitrites.

Under 30 Days Pink Curing Salt #1Over 30 Days Pink Curing Salt #2
Pink Curing Salt #1Pink Curing Salt #2
Prague Powder #1Prague Powder #2
Quick Cure #1Quick Cure #2
Instacure #1Instacure #2
Tinted Curing Mix (TCM) #1Tinted Curing Mix (TCM) #2

Here are curing salts with different ratios of nitrates/nitrites – this is due to European Meat Curing standards (many of these have 0.6% of nitrite in the salt vs. 6.25% for curing salt #1) – therefore my calculator is not applicable).

  • Colorazo – Sweden
  • Sel Nitrite – France
  • Peklosol – Poland
  • Nitrited Salt – England

There are Other brands like Tender Quick, I have not used or had experience with these, so I won’t comment here.

TenderQuick—Depending on the product, these all contain different amounts of sugar, nitrites, and nitrates. They are similar to pink curing salt, but it is best to follow the instructions on the packaging. These products are popular in Canada.

Precautions About Pink Curing Salt

Salumi, a meat curing book by Ruhlman and Paulson’s summarizes curing salts like this,

Nitrates and nitrates are naturally occurring chemicals that our bodies rely on. Green vegetables such as spinach and celery are loaded with them. As much as 95% of the nitrates in our bodies comes from vegetables. Our bodies naturally convert nitrates into nitrites which work as a powerful antibacterial agent, particularly and an acidic environment (such as our stomachs).

Nitrates and nitrites provide same antibacterial function and the sausage it’s been cured. Lactobacillus bacteria, feeding on sugars in the sausage, produce acid(that is the tanginess we associate with salami) and the nitrates keep harmful microbes from growing – most importantly, the bacterium that generates the deadly botulism.”

Here is a scientific paper about the health benefits of nitrates/nitrites from fruit and veg – Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits

Pink curing salt is used at very minimal levels when I am doing a few pounds of dry-cured meats. A very small percentage of 1 teaspoon is used as part of the ingredients.

Pink curing salts is something that should be double or even triple-checked to make sure you have the right amount.

In contrast, pink curing salts, when used properly and in the right ratios, add a level of protection to the curing project—this is why I use them.

From the textbook Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages, it states,

Carcinogens can only be formed when products are heated above 266°F or 130°C. This can only happen when cured bacon is fried or cured salamis I grilled. The majority of cured meats never reach such high temperatures.

Page 51, Marianski & Marianski – Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages

What If the Wrong Amount of Pink Curing is Used

If the pink curing salt is used incorrectly, sometimes the meat will have two different shades of color. This is also why equilibrium curing is such a great way to use pink-curing salt at home.

When I have equilibrium cured pieces of meat with the right amount of salt and 0.25% curing salt. Once this meat has been vacuum packed you can put it into the fridge, depending on the size I would normally leave it for 2 to 4 weeks.

However, on occasion, I forgot about it, and even after three or four months, the meat has been sitting in an oxygen-low environment cured and ready for the next step. Removing it and hanging it in my homemade DIY curing chamber.

Useful Links & Resources

Link to USDA Guide on Curing

Useful Meat Curing Book Recommendation Page

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  1. Hi Tom,

    Greetings from İstanbul, Turkey and would like to thank you for this great website👍

    Tons of valuable information and very easy language that even newbees can understand everything..

    All the best,
    Oguz Akalin

      1. Pink salt (Sodium Nitrate) is a poison that is used to kill feral hogs in Texas and the southeast.
        Sodium Nitrate is also carcinogenic ans is related to stomach cancer and colon rectum cancer.
        Salt is all you need to cure meat; 2 to 3.5% by weight. Sugar, black pepper is just for flavor.

        1. Author

          The U.S and Euro Govt scientists say at certain minimal levels it is safe. I am more like you and generally avoid it nowadays, as I say on this site – it’s up to the individual to decide.

  2. Hi Tom!
    Does the brine salinity change depending on the size of the cut?
    For example, I made a brine for a 5lb corned beef recipe by using 1 gallon of water, 2 cups of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, 1/2 Cup of Brown Sugar, and 5 teaspoons of Prague Powder #1, to brine in the fridge for 5-7 days.
    However, I didn’t realize til after I made the brine that my cut of beef was actually only 2.5 lbs. I still submerged the meat in the full 1 gallon of brine.
    Will this be okay to eat after 7 days of curing? Or should I have cut the amount of brine in half?

    1. Author

      Heya, it’s more about it, it takes longer to get inside – variations like fat embedded in muscle and around the outside can make a difference too.
      Doesnt sounds like your using equilibrium brining, so time in the brine is key. Your cooking it, so the brine is more about the flavor from the sounds of it. When you need full brine/sale penetration for cured hams where you are not cooking it, it’s different.
      You can always leave it in for whatever days you want, then take a slice off and cook it, if its too salty. Soak it in water to draw/equalize out some of the salt.

  3. Thanks for the info! So, I am wanting to make venison sweet bologna which is made from 80% venison and 20% pork shoulder. The seasoning I bought came with pink cure #1. I sent the meat through the grinder twice and I added the seasoning and cure in between grinds. I found a company that makes the best sweet bologna and they smoke it for 4 days! Can I cold smoke this sausage and it be safe (50-70degrees)? Or do I need to hit a higher temp? If so, what temp? Thanks in advance!

    1. Author

      Hey, always hard to comment on other processes..
      If it was me, I would cold smoke 30-40F/0-5C to keep at a basic fridge temp. Often people will say 4 days of cold smoke, but really that’s possible 8 hours a day with rests in between in the fridge – I am guessing though!
      Since your goal is an emulsified sausage that is cooked/reaches a safe internal temp – you may want to follow the recipe to start off with.
      There is also a classic Eastern European approach called ‘warm smoking’ – since I haven’t done much for it I won’t comment, but potentially they might do that too. Ring them!

  4. I purchase a 10 pound raw ham.
    I also purchased a package of 5280 culinary brine mix 16 oz.
    It doesn’t say on the package that Prague power #1 is one of the ingredients.
    Are you familiar with the mix?
    And is curing powder usually included or not?

    1. Author

      Lots of pork! No, I am not familiar with that mix, never bought any mix. Always made my own.

  5. Tom: I mix my own Brisket Rub. I would like to incorporate a curing salt (Prague #1) in the mix, to provide a smoke ring to my oven-cooked brisket.
    My question: What percent of curing salt should I add to my rub mixture?

    1. Author

      None, I wouldn’t use it, not designed for smoke rings. Its for curing not rubs – cheers Tom

  6. I would like to know how to use # 1 curing salts on a rack of ribs personnel preference. thank you.

    1. Author

      I dont cure ribs, just use seasoning/rub. I presume your cooking/smoking them. So I wouldnt use it. Cheers T

  7. I have a child that is allergic to food dye. Struggling to figure out an alternative cure for the meet sticks we want to make. Any suggestions?

    1. Author

      if you still want to use nitrites, maybe celery powder? not sure if they contain dye. Here is some more info I just read on it –

  8. Interested in curing a small batch of cevapi (a caseless Slovak style sausage). How long would you cure a mixture of ground meats (beef,veal,pork,lamb) for a style of sausage like this?

    1. Author

      From cevapi I have had, they are not cured, just salt seasoned. My partner is Slovak, I’ll ask her. Also, the cevapi we had were in Montenegro, they were raw meat mixed with salt, pepper, garlic and ready for grilling/cooking.
      All the best,

  9. I feel like most are not but my family gets some from a place in Astoria, Queens NY and I swear they have to be using a pink salt cure cause the meat has that pinkish hue when cooked. I made a batch the other week just using salt and spices and the flavor was great but the meat obviously had that well done look to it. Any other info on them would be great and I know that they are made different all over the Slovak countries. Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated

    1. Author

      Yes that’s one reasons the meat industry loves it, easier to sell pink ham or bacon. Rather then grey ham.
      Some salts have naturally occurring trace minerals, and I sometimes get pink – without pink curing salts! Many Thanks Tom

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