Traditional art of preserving: dry curing meat with salt, showcasing rolled meat before and after the curing process.

Which Salt for Meat Curing? Quick & Dry Curing or Smoking

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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.

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There is salt, and there is curing salt, I hope to help explain which salt is for which application in this post.

When I started meat curing and had never heard of Prague powder, pink curing salt, instacure, and many others, now, I thought it would be useful for others to know what I have learned.

It makes bacon taste like bacon and look like bacon. However, only certain meat-curing projects need pink-curing salt or nitrites. It’s an important ingredient to make sure the meat-curing project heads along the right track.

If needed, it must also be treated with respect (and used in small amounts).

Meat curing with salt
Meat Curing with Salt – “Lamb”cetta & ‘Tahr’strami

Which Salt for Meat Curing?

Certain meat curing does not require nitrate curing salts (‘pink curing salt’). It is very dependent on the recipe and technique. As you will see, it does depend on personal preference.

Generally, if hot smoking, curing salt with sodium nitrite only should be used (like for pastrami or corned meats). If it is chosen to be used. It’s common in a commercial setting also since it speeds up the curing time.

Basically, for meat curing projects under 30 days.

Advanced salumi dry curing should have pink curing salt with sodium nitrite & nitrate (because the nitrates break down into nitrites over time, for over 30-day curing/drying).

Primarily, curing salt prevents the growth of unwanted bacteria, making the meat less likely to get the bacteria you don’t want.

It also imparts flavors and helps preserve the meat.

Sea Salt vs. Curing Salt

Sea Salt – sodium chloride has the preserving effect for cold smoking or dry curing (for inhibiting the meat and reducing the moisture – which in turn lessens the ability for the bad bacteria to spoil the meat). But nitrates are added as an extra level of safety when curing meat for any length of time, I like this extra level of protection. Even though I like to use quality meat, mostly wild or farmed in the right way and handled with care along the way ie. is kept cool and hygienically handled.

Pink Curing Salt refers to salt with nitrates; depending on the project, certain curing salts should be used.

Pink Curing Salt No. 1

For short-term meat curing, less than 30 days, which will be cooked ie. dry-cured bacon, pastrami, and corned beef.

Pink Curing Salt No.2

For long-term meat curing over 30 days (dry curing salumi or salami). This meat is generally dried and not cooked ie. Prosciutto, Parma Ham, Braesola, Lonza, dry-cured salami

Fermentation vs. Dry Curing / Meat Curing

Salumi charcuterie cured meat 3 large
Homemade Dry Cured Meats

Dry-cured meat is generally not fermented (unless it’s dry-cured salami, where fermentation is used to change the acidity before drying, not a must – but a more consistent way to make salami).

Meat Curing uses the salt that enters the meat and helps prevent bad bacteria from surviving, basically postponing spoilage.

This is where salt inhibits the meat, not to be too technical, it stabilizes the meat and retains some low level of moisture preventing bad bacteria from thriving.

The main reason why the curing salts (1 & 2) are pink in color is so that the curing salts are not to be confused with regular table salt or sugar. Eating curing salts straight without being mixed and diluted, could create health problems.

The pink coloring is to help prevent confusion

Easy and cheap, pink salt makes the meat curing process safer. Basically, throughout history, there were different types of alternative ‘nitrates’ used such as naturally occurring saltpeter for instance.

When you start to understand the basic need and can accurately add the pink salt – you use it as another ingredient to produce beautiful charcuterie, salami or dry-cured cold smoked bacon!

Salami27 1 of 1
Dry-cured meat is done at home, and the olive wood board is from Italy!

For more info on dry-curing meat at home, I wrote a guide that will help get you going here.

Dry Curing – Main Sea Salt + Pink Curing Salt #2

The basics of dry-curing meat is to get the meat fully cured.

Make sure you use official recipes that have clear instructions on the ingredients when it comes to pink curing salt.

For dry equilibrium curing, you will always have a majority of the sea salt, made up of 2-4% of the total weight of the meat. You will then have 0.25% of pink curing salt of the total weight of the meat.

Pink Salt No.1 – Short-Term Meat Curing

Known as:

  • Pink Curing Salt No. 1
  • Instacure No. 1
  • Prague Powder No. 1
  • DQ curing salt No. 1
  • Quick Cure No. 1

No. 1 consists of:

  • 93.75% table salt
  • 6.25% sodium nitrite

How Much to Use

As a guide 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds / 2.27 kg of meat

All recipes I have seen used:

0.25% of the total weight of meat

Since it turns out to be such a small amount, accurate & precise scales that can go to 2 decimal places or at least 1 should be used.

I’ve had my brother write some code to produce a calculator to work this out for either dry curing or wet brining, here is the page link to the calculator – https://eatcuredmeat.com/how-much-curing-salt-per-pound-of-meat-dry-or-wet-curing-tool-calculator/

In essence, the nitrite component keeps the meat safe over a short period of time. It gives pork the pink hue you are familiar with, like in bacon & pastrami!

You will be using it in very small amounts.

What is Pink Curing Salt No.1 Used for?

Meat curing is where the meat is fully cooked or fully hot smoked before eating.

Here are examples of what No.1 is used for:

  • Bacon
  • Jerky (cooked kind)
  • Luncheon type meats
  • Corned beef
  • Ham
  • Pates
  • Pastrami

Where to Buy Curing Salt No. 1

Here are a couple of links to the No. 1’s on Amazon I use ones that have a minimal amount of artificial flavors and propylene glycol which make the curing salt perishable, like these ones. Most labels will indicate about 10 years of shelf life with the below options.

Smaller Size (resealable)

1lb – Pink Curing Salt No. 1

Large Amount – Big Meaty Projects

2lb – Pink Curing Salt No. 1


Pink Salt No. 2 – For Long-Term Meat Curing 

Known as:

  • Pink Curing Salt No. 2
  • Instacure No. 2
  • Prague Powder No. 2
  • DQ curing salt No. 2

No.2 consists of:

No. 2 I use it for long-term dry-cured projects such as Braesola or Coppa, dry-cured hard salami, and meat projects that are in the curing chamber for months (or years). I have wanted to do a 4-year dry-cured Prosciutto, one day!

Wiki explains this well:

The sodium nitrate found in Prague powder #2 gradually breaks down over time into sodium nitrite, and by that time a dry cured sausage is ready to be eaten, no sodium nitrate should be left. For this reason it is recommended for meats that require long (weeks to months) cures, like hard salami and country ham.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curing_salt

How Much To Use

The same amount is used for No. 1

1 teaspoon of pink curing salt per 5 pounds / 2.27 kg of meat (teaspoon measurement is inaccurate, best to use accurate scales instead which go down to 1 or ideally 2 decimal places for a range of options, I put together a page with decent options here).

or 0.25% of the total weight of meat

What is Pink Curing Salt No.2 Used For?

  • Prosciutto & all the dry-cured Salumi
  • Salami
  • Culatello
  • Proscuitto
  • Braesola
  • Coppa
  • Lonza
  • Dry-cured salami 

Basically, salumi or dry curing that won’t be cooked or hot smoked to be eaten.

Where to Buy Curing Salt No. 2

Here are some decent brands I love to use:

Small Amount (will last you a long time)

1lb – Curing Salt No. 2

Large Amount (if you thinking wet brine and like buying in bulk)

2lb – Curing Salt No. 2

Why is Pink Curing Salt Pink?

It’s pink so it doesn’t get confused with ordinary salt or sugar.

It doesn’t matter if it is curing salt no. 1 or 2 they are both pink. You are only going to be using 0.25% of the total weight of the meat ie. 1000 grams = 2.5 grams of pink curing salt.

With children in the house – extra safety should be taken where this is stored.

How Much Does Curing Salt Cost?

The inexpensive nominal cost of pink salt means there isn’t any excuse to not include it. You can order it through a bunch of places. Just make sure you are correctly ordering No. 1 or No. 2 depending on the meaty project.

2-4% of the total weight of Meat – Main Sea Salt + Pink Curing Salt (0.2% of the total weight of meat)

The Big Difference Between No. 1 Curing Salt and No. 2 Curing Salt

No.2 has long-term nitrate added so that it keeps meat safe over a more extended period,

What is the Difference between Curing Salt and Pickling Salt?

Curing salt has nitrites/nitrates.

Pickling salt does not have nitrates or nitrites—it is very fine compared to other salts, so it can dissolve quickly in a brine solution for pickling!

It also doesn’t contain any additives or anti-caking specifically good for canning and curing.

Nitrates are Natural & Everywhere

So, they say a serving of cured meat with pink curing salt no 1 or no. 2 will have fewer nitrates than a serving of fresh spinach. There are nitrates in many vegetables, and our bodies need them to function correctly.

Botulism is a nasty issue, so to make sure we can make it safe choose the right pink curing salt!

Curing Meat Without Nitrates

A lot of hot-smoking recipes for fish do not include pink-curing salt.

BBQ low & slow smoking doesn’t need nitrates/nitrites since it’s just cooking with smoke flavor over an extended cooking time at a low temperature.

From what I have read in books, in the 1970s there were some pretty loose regulations around nitrate additives. This has all been tidied up across the Western world and the regulations have been put in place to minimize its use of it commercially now.

Base Recipe – Salt and Nitrites

So when you are saying, making some dry-cured equilibrium curing style bacon, you will have a base salt amount of say 1.5% – 2.5% of kosher salt or sea salt.

You will then add 0.25% of the meat weight of Pink Curing salt No. 1

In terms of taste, you will want to get the right amount of ‘total’ salt to meet your taste requirements. 

Spices can then be added, 0.5-1.0% sugar is quite common in commercial bacon.

Do I Need Curing Salt for Meat Curing?

Some certain cured meat projects do not need pink curing salt/nitrates, like gravlax.

I use curing salt to make sure the meat is safe for longer projects that last for several months. The tiny small chance that bad bacteria could be present is not worth leaving it out.

So do nitrates cause health issues? It seems to come up in misinformed websites quite often, here are some scientific answers:

US National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health Human safety controversies surrounding nitrate and nitrite in the diet.

European Safety & Food Authority EFSA confirms current exposure levels of food nitrites and nitrates are safe

The ‘processed foods’ get bundled together in the misinformed or poorly researched media.

A highly process incredibly cheap hot dog or poor quality deli ham is likely to contain a higher level of nitrates than what the home curer uses = ie 0.25% of the meat weight.

In the mid-1970s there was all this talk about nitrates/nitrites. The National Toxicology Program, is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A multi-year evaluation of the safety of sodium nitrite was completed. They concluded at approved levels, nitrite is safe and also may help counter heart attacks, vascular problems, and sickle cell disease.

So that ticks a lot of boxes for me, with hard evidence there are no issues with using nitrates & nitrites.

It seems the true issue is that bacon when cooked at higher temperatures produces nitrosamines which are bad for your body. To counter this Vitamin C is added to neutralize the nitrosamines I have read.

But when bacon was fried at 350 °F for 6 minutes (medium well), 400 °F for 4 minutes (medium well), or 400 °F for 10 minutes (burned), some nitrosamines were found. Thus, well-done or burned bacon is potentially more hazardous than less well-done bacon.

Oct 29, 2013

Source: United States Department of Agriculture

This is applicable for ‘cooked’ until crispy cured meat, generally, I’m doing dry-cured meat, where the Italian Scientists have studied this, and believe it is an even more easily digestible protein (due to the strict production, Parma Ham does not have nitrates, just Pork, and Salt).

https://shop.silvanoromaniparma.com/parma-ham-nutritional-values

It’s amazing what you cure in this way, I’ve even tried using fish for salt dry curing.

Are Curing Salts Used in Traditional Salumi – Italy?

Yes, they are. There are instances like the famous Parma Ham above, which has been so fine-tuned that only salt and pork are used.

Substitutes for Pink Curing Salt?

There is the talk of celery powder and juice, however, I haven’t explored this. So I stick to what works, sodium nitrite & nitrate. 

Related Questions

Difference Between Himalayan Pink Salt & Pink Curing Salt

Himalayan pink salt contains no sodium nitrate/nitrate, therefore, it is not a curing salt it is a normal salt for cooking and seasoning.

It is plain old normal salt (with minerals which give it the color)

How Long Does Pink Curing Salt Last?

It does not have an expiry date. Oxygen will attract microbes, as long as it’s airtight and in a cool area, it will have multiple years of use. A small amount of discoloration may occur over time as oxygen affects it.

What is Pink Salt?

Pink salt is often confused, but pink Himalayan salt is a standard cooking and seasoning salt. It is in crystal form with minerals. Pink curing salt is used for making cured meats such as bacon, pastrami & dry-cured salami, it has sodium nitrite or nitrate added to it.

What is Prague Powder?

Invented in Prague, Czech Republic, Prague Powder #1 is sodium chloride (salt) and sodium nitrite is for meat that will be cooked. Prague powder #2 has the addition of sodium nitrate, it is used for long-term cured meats, that will not be cooked.

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.


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Comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, great information, many thanks.
    I am a small scale, organic, free running, pig breeder in Wales.
    Just looking for different methods and recipes to produce at home.

    1. Author

      Hey Chrissie, thanks for the feedback!

      I can imagine you have quality meat! Are you interested in building a curing chamber and/or a charcuterie course I’m putting together? I can add you in.
      Cheers
      Tom

  2. I am drying beef for a pemmican recipe. The beef will be sliced thin, dehydrated and ground into a course powder. Pemmican should last 5 to 10 years and I’ve heard of some recipes lasting even longer.
    I need to use salt in the dehydrating process, which salt would you recommend for this?

    1. Author

      I havent tried pemmican, interested in the results.
      Plain sea salt for with no additives or caking agents
      Cheers
      Tom

  3. I love Himalayan pink salt and use it in BBQ rubs, also when I make beef jerky. I use a pellet grill for the jerky. it has a minimum temp. of 160 F. Is Himalayan salt good for curing or should I get sea salt?

    1. Author

      Cool Dale, my preference is sea salt brands without additives, since it doesn’t have unknowns. Himalayan pink salt seems to have all sorts of different minerals, i do not know know the effects of these ‘other’ minerals. Personally, I stick to sea salt for consistency. Remember Himalayan pink salt and pink curing salt are very different too.
      I make biltong, which uses sea salt, vinegar, coriander to acidity and cure then dry. I don’t cook it. But I realize you are cooking the jerky, different styles!

  4. We avoid artificial coloring in our foods. I would like to make pastrami at home. What can I use instead of artificially died curing salt: Does anyone make a curing salt without artificial dyes?

    1. Author

      Hi Susan,
      I can only give you an indication of what I do.
      Pink Curing salt reacts with myoglobins in meat, changing the color. Using pink curing salt is a personal choice, for certain whole muscle projects I don’t use pink curing salt. For dry cured salami I do. That choice is yours, for me it comes down to having a solid process and recipe – and most importantly quality meat where you know its origin and traceability. All the alternatives like celery powder etc… have nitrate/nitrates (depending on no1 or no2) – therefore will react with the myoglobins.
      All the best, Tom

  5. Hi Tom, I have a pork shoulder I want to dry cure but only have pink curing salt #1. Seeing as people successfully cure meat all the time with just Kosher/table salt, I feel like I should just go for it instead of waiting 2 weeks for Pink #2 to arrive from Amazon. Bad idea?

    1. Author

      Up to you Todd. Do you trust the meat and how it has been handled?
      When I harvest meat, I cool it and know where its been etc.. So using sea salt for ‘whole muscle’ I am happy with.
      Idea of No. 1 is under 30 days, so most of it is gone. Idea of No.2 is breakdown slower hence why its used for over 30 days.
      Table salt = might have additives / Kosher generally better.
      End of the day I am sharing my adventures, but you have to make the call sir!

  6. Pingback: How To Preserve Meat With Salt In The Wild - 4 Simple Steps | My Blog

  7. Hi Tom,

    Interesting read, thanks for the information. I see you haven’t mentioned wet cures, I’m intending on doing a wet cure bacon, would you recommend Prague/Pink Salt #1 for this?

  8. I am going to make country hams. I need to be sure I am doing things properly. 1. Some recepes call for salt peter. If I use #2 cure what is the conversion. Teaspoon for teaspoon? #2 What is a good salt to use. Edwards Hams used a flake salt. Do you have a recommendation. Thanks

  9. Hi Tom, I want to dry cure a small portion of beef loin (200-300g). I have #2 curing salt, but what if my meat loses 35% of its weight before the 30 days? Is it okay to eat before then? Thank you!

  10. Hi Tom, I butchered a wild boar and set the rear leg aside to salt cure into prosciutto. I had kosher salt, so I mortar and pestled it and patted it into all the exposed meat surfaces (weighing 9lbs. 11oz.). After 2 days it dropped to 5lbs. 9oz.
    Have I wrecked it? Should I abandon the idea of prosciutto and just cook this hunk of meat? I’ve never cured meat before, and am worried about botulism..

  11. Hi there, the 9lbs was just after I shot and hung the boar. It dripped out well over 6 cups of water/liquid into the bin that I placed below it. At first I thought it was an issue with my scale, but the leg seems to have shrunk 3 inches in length and feels so light. Maybe I should have aged the meat longer prior to curing it with salt, I just got impatient. I also had a fan on it for the last couple days.

  12. Hi Tom, I saw in an old comment in 2020 that you were putting together a charcuterie course and/or building a curing chamber. I am interested in finding more about both please. Since retirement, my dad has been curing meats and making his own sausages. This would be a fantastic gift for him.
    Kind regards
    Lesley

  13. If I’m curing my coppa in salt and then rinsing it with wine do I add the curing salt 2 with the regular salt or when I coat the coppa with spices?

  14. I’m making air dry cured sausages with ground venison. Since it is ground meat and is not to be cooked I used Prague Powder #2. However sausages dried in 10-14 days. After the drying process I usually vacuum pack them and put them in the freezer for later consumption (take few out as needed and keep them in the fridge until consumed) Questions:
    1. Are sausages safe to eat now, immediately after they dried (14 days)?
    2. Are they safe to eat after being in the freezer for extended period of time : months to a year?
    3. Will the Nitrate continue to break down in while sausages are in the freezer? If not, should I vac pac the dried sausages and keep them in the fridge for a month before I move them to the freezer?
    4. Should I use Prague Powder #1 in my case. My confusion is that my drying period is about or even less than 2 weeks but I’m not cooking the meat.

    1. Author

      No idea, don’t know recipes or how you have dealt with meat, did you lose 30% weight? No.1 is used for under 30 days. You aren’t really defining what your ver. of ‘dried’ is.
      Regards Tom

      1. Yes, they lost 30% of their weight. The way I handle the meat is after I harvest the deer I debonair the meat and keep it in a cooler with ice to drain as much of the blood as I can. Then if the weather is still warm outside I freeze it until outside temperatures fall below 40F for 2 weeks. Then I thaw the meat cut in smaller pieces mix it with the spices and cure, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Then I grind the meat, and stuff it in natural beef casings. I hang the sausages on rods outside during the day and move them in the garage during the night to protect them from animals. I’ve always checked if the dry enough by pressing to see how soft they are. I know it is not scientific but it has been good enough so far. No I would like to improve my methods. In the past I have used just salt and this year is the first year I’m using cure. So, to the questions above I would like to add what do youbuse to check for moisture content. I hope this will give you enough information to answer my original questions. Thanks in advance.

        1. Author

          I can’t give you definite answers without seeing, smelling and look at them. This guides most of my decision.
          If they were thin casings maybe 22mm or under, a fast drying like this could occur I presume. beef casing is larger from my experiences.
          I dont freeze dry cured meat, I vacpac it generally, I’ve had a friend freeze Italian prosciutto. He brought this hunting it was fine to eat we found!
          If you do use prague powder, yes under 30 days for no.1 for completing projects, no.2 for over 30 days.
          Not sure about freezing fresh meat, then drying then freezing again, never done this.

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