Curing meat at home can be easy, here is a breakdown of the different costs and ideas you can use to cure meat at home for smallgoods like salami, whole muscle cured meats, or charcuterie.
I started curing meat a few decades ago, from my experiences, I hope that this quick rundown could give you an indication of what’s possible and maybe some inspiration to give it a go!
I have found many ways to cure meats and you can use many different options, you may already have the right tools lying around.
Different cultures have slightly different techniques which have been fascinating to study across the world, and I keep learning (most recently smoked prosciutto of Montenegro! – Njeguški pršut.
Of course, it all depends on what type of cured meat you want to make.
Many years ago I started my salumi journey (whole muscle classic salt dry cured meats) and tried different ways. Through a bunch of online communities & checking out what others have done. – here is the short answer.
How Much Does a Curing Chamber Cost? A normal fridge can be used for certain meat curing projects or building a curing chamber costs $100-300 USD. The main costs are fridge, controller & humidifier. Lastly, you can purchase a professional curing chamber.
A full list of options is below. Hey if you don’t want to build or buy something use your existing fridge.
The other ‘no investment’ method I have seen is just hanging it in a cellar, attic, or basement. As you can imagine, the results can vary considerably!
I’ve seen a ton of different equipment, so hopefully, I can give some direction about what is worthwhile spending some money, time, and effort on.
Homemade cured meat can be sublime and there are many ways of doing it.
For me this is the slowest of slow foods, in a time where life happens very fast – it’s therapeutic and tasty!
Hope this helps some of you budding meat curers / Norcini (Italian Salumi butchers) who want to cure meat.
If you are starting off meat curing, you can just use your normal kitchen fridge without modifying it. It’s an easy way to start experimenting, I wrote a full post on it, check it out here.
Then lastly, let’s see some dream team high-end salumi/charcuterie beast mode commercial curing chamber options (if you are interested, I can get you a deal on one of these).
Break Down of Options & Costs
From starter to full-blown professional curing options.
- Normal Fridge – $0 outlay – great for starting experimenting with your own fridge or cool area, like a basement
- Biltong box /Dehydrator (for biltong/jerky)
- Make your DIY curing chamber with a fridge
- DIY wine fridge conversion
- Purchase a built profession curing chamber ($3K+ USD)
Your Normal Fridge
Probably $0, if you have a normal fridge (some string is needed a measured piece of wood to slip in behind helps too)
Superb – if you just want to have a go at some curing projects, I have found under 7 oz / 200 grams meat curing works best in my fridge.
You also don’t want much fat on the meat, fat takes longer to dry out.
They say pancetta is the easiest meat-curing project and its versatility in the kitchen is amazing, but with the fat, it will get a bit hard on the outside if you are using the fridge.
Real carbonara fettuccine – enhances so many dishes – you can make some in as little 2-3 weeks and it can be semi-dried not fully weight loss of 35% the golden number.
Here it is again, a bit of a rundown on how to dry-cure meat in your own fridge.
It all starts with a normal fridge, which is a ‘curing chamber’, but it will generally run at a lower moisture level. At 25-45% humidity, it can’t handle meat curing projects beyond about 5 days to about 2 weeks before the cured meat will get hard on the outside.
A fridge temperature of 37-42°F / 3-5°C works well since there is a bit of air circulation happening as well.
50-5°F / 11-13°C is ideal, but that’s for long-term months or years. Trust me, the normal fridge does work.
Perfect humidity is generally 60%-75% humidity depending on the project which is for the long-term meat curing projects.
Bear in mind, fridges do vary a bit, get a humidity temperature device, like a hygrometer to check it if you want. I was surprised by how cheap they are actually, here is one on Amazon that has a wire to stick in the fridge.
Use it to check other places around the home which could work for charcuterie dry-curing meat. You would be surprised what you can get away with, in terms of temperatures/moisture – this is a craft, not science for sure.
Hanging it Around the House
If you use the above testing method, you may be able to find a suitable location heading into fall or the colder months are generally the way to go in most temperate environments.
Some folks like to hang the meat outside during winter, you could also google your climate and see how it varies across the year in moisture and temperature.
Biltong Box /Dehydrator (for biltong/jerky)
$10 USD – $ 300 USD
Dries meat or if you have a dehydrator dries fruit/vege etc..
It is a meat curing chamber technically but you aren’t doing dry-cured meat (well technically it is dry-cured, but it’s drying it out very fast).
This is an awesome way to get preserved protein snacks for camping, work or just to munch on.
To create a healthy nutritious snack to eat anywhere or you can add the biltong/jerky to various salad dishes.
You can also just use an oven on low to make jerky/biltong (some people like to leave the oven door open so it doesn’t heat up too much).
This type of dried meat is perfect for outdoor adventure – hiking or trekking. Protein fills you up and this doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge.
Jerky and Biltong – because you are using salt, vinegar, spices & maybe sugar. The meat is being cured and supposedly ‘cooked’ with vinegar. If you think of this like South American ‘ceviche‘ in citrus lemon or lime juice, the acidity has a similar effect.
Making jerky/biltong is very easy. I wrote a post on different methods – check it out here.
$200 – $1,000 USD – depending on size & ambition
So many uses! I haven’t strictly used my curing chamber for meat curing.
I have also done a few other things in it. I have gone inside it when it’s been wintry cold days (seriously) and set the chamber temperature to over 86°F / 30°C, it was very cozy.
All salumi & salami can be done in this type of setup.
I’ve done a lot of variations of farmed & wild styles of braesola, lonza, smoky bacon pancetta, biltong, growing oyster mushrooms, fermenting beer/wine, dry aging meats, drying spices & fruits.
Drying certain spices & vegetables is only possible because I put a decent heating source in the curing chamber (flat panel heater at the back). Also, the heat source allows me to increase the temperature for fermenting dry-cured salami.
If you can get the environmental chamber balanced and control the environment effectively – this will bring a means to create a plethora of meat curing wonders & other creations.
My main issue with this one was dry air from the rather large compressor on top, I ended up putting a few layers of muslin over the vent – improved it quite a bit.
Instead of a dedicated input fan for fresh air, the air comes in from the compressors, but I also offset a ‘gasket’ lid and used HEPA filters. Because this is close to the main fan in the compressor it ‘pulls’ air in.
This isn’t needed in more normal conversions but just a bit of tinkering to get this beast working well.
Main Equipment Costs:
- Controller – either for 1 input or 2 (temp & humidity)
- Heat Source (for salami fermentation or cool areas)
It’s worth investing in this kit and having reliable equipment of course.
After spending weeks, months or years patiently waiting for a salumi project -you don’t want it to go bad because of a faulty bit of kit that was 10% cheaper.
For my curing chamber, I went for the full hard wiring of the meat curing chamber in a controller box rather than the easy plug-in option which is now very common. I had to get an electrical engineering friend to help out with the hard-wired control box.
Since then, I have helped many others inspired to get into the salumi dry curing game. The plugin type of controllers is probably the best if you are not an electrician or electrically minded.
I’m lucky enough to have electrical engineering brother, who has got me on the right track many times!
The actual components like a plug and play temperature and humidity controller are quite reasonable.
Here is a link to a post I wrote about building your own curing chamber that goes into some more depth.
Top Tips – DIY Building a Curing Chamber
- 2nd hand fridge is the way to go here, don’t bother buying a new one since you will modify it with holes.
- You will want to be hanging things, so thinking about the racks at the top of the fridge.
- Some people only use a humidifier, you may get into trouble if you don’t have one – the compressor will have some dehumidifying effect. But, when you have 10 salamis hanging it may create too much moisture, so a dehumidifier is advisable.
- Think about how the airflow will go in and out, the fridge may be drawing enough air when it is cycling on and off.
- The tank for the humidifier will vary and you might get 1-4 days depending on the setup, maybe good to invest in a large capacity tank if you have space.
- Tools, food-grade sealant etc will be needed.
DIY Wine Fridge Conversion
These may have similar temperature and humidity settings to what is needed for curing meat, and sometimes it just takes minor tweaks to get that 70% humidity / and around that 52/°F 11°C that could suit a controlled environment.
From one charcuterie lady I have met, she used this method – opening the door and allowing airflow was needed on a regular basis which seems a bit high maintenance but it worked!
Professional Curing Chamber – Beast Mode
It’s an environmental control chamber, so anything goes salumi or dry aging meats.
Plug and play – you can start immediately for any meat curing
To be honest the DIY options above will do exactly the same as this option.
However, if money isn’t an issue. This is where you have things like presets, so the computer in the curing chamber knows exactly the right conditions for certain projects.
Other aspects like anti-bacterial materials and high-grade steel etc. are used. In Roman times when they made prosciutto/parma ham, they didn’t have these devices obviously, the natural environment just made it easier.
But, since we have scientifically worked out how to cure meat to perfection with no case hardening and used modern techniques such as equilibrium curing so we don’t over salt or under salt the food.
We can create the perfect environment either through a professional curing chamber or DIY option.
If you just want to try curing some meat and seeing the wonders of what you can create, check out the how-to cure meat in an unmodified fridge.
If you want the how-to guide to curing meat at home, which took ages to right but covers the process of dry curing, check out the post.
If you have any questions, woud love to hear from you.
What is the Most Important Factor for a Meat Curing Chamber?
Humidity, temperature, airflow & good bacteria (penicillin). Once these factors are controlled accurately, any meat curing project can be performed.
It’s not hard to get this setup, and when it comes to longer-term meat curing. Once you have the basics down, it just takes a bit of monitoring here and there.
If you want some more info on other meat curing equipment, I wrote a post here.
How Long Can you Cure Meat For?
Depending on the curing chamber, If you have control over the main environmental factors for an effective curing chamber (temp, humidity, airflow). You can store meat for years. Certain Classic Italian Prosciutto is sold after 4 years of air curing. Intense!
What Do You Need to Cure Meat?
Salt is the most important aspect, either by salt dry curing or brining. Then you need a cool moist (70% approx) area to allow the meat to cure. Depending on the project whether the final outcome will be cooked or not, Nitrates may be necessary.