Dry Cured Meat in a Fridge

How to Dry Cure Meat at Home and PDF Guide

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.

(Last Updated On: February 5, 2024)

Curing meat at home can be done in 2 main ways. After learning these techniques for 25 years, I will share the most helpful and comprehensive method. This isn’t the same as following a cooking recipe since you use preservation techniques.

It is more than just following a recipe.

Please be aware that dry curing meat is an involved process. This article is comprehensive and detailed because of this. I’ve also included videos and links to many of the articles I’ve written that relate to this.

I wanted to create a useful resource for someone new to the glorious world of meat curing and give a decent overview of all the ways you can approach curing meat at home.

Most of this website is dedicated to the techniques below.

You Will Learn in This Article

(click links to sections of the article)

The main topic is dry-cured meats, which I have extensively learned and taught others how to perform, whether in a cellar, regular kitchen fridge, professional drying chamber, or DIY curing chamber.

Defining cured meat for me falls into three categories, cold smoking, hot smoking, wet/brine curing, and dry salt curing.

Specifically, I am talking about dry-curing meat known in Italy as Salumi & in modern terms, sometimes referred to as charcuterie (charcuterie is a French term for rillettes, pates, salami, whole, muscle dry-cured meats, and porky bits – many other French smallgoods strictly speaking).

(Salt) Dry Curing is a method of bringing out the incredible flavor and preserving it.

Reducing moisture in the meat to a point where the meat flavor is amplified and preserved, since unwanted bacteria that spoil meat don’t have moisture to thrive on.

Dry Curing is like those classics such as – Parma Prosciutto, Braesola, or Pancetta.

Sometimes, cold smoking is involved in dry-curing meat. In essence, cold smoking is ‘drying’ the meat to a point where it is preserved, just like dry curing. The smoke has beneficial functions like antibacterial/fungal, so I have read.

35% weight loss is the dry curing weight loss goal when you know it has been stabilized and has reached a finished state of preservation.

(sometimes it’s dried more than this, like types of biltong or salt fish)

Also, it’s good to note that most meats are around 70% water, 20% protein, and other stuff.

Regarding animal fat, like pork fat, it’s lower in water content then the main muscle meat.

When making cured meats at home, less weight is lost. An example is salt-cured Lardo, which is pure fat, dry salt-cured.

This guide is focused on dry-cured meat.

This guide will also provide some specifics on how to cure meat in a regular fridge also.

Curing Meat at Home

Dry Cured Meat made in a Normal Fridge
My Dry Cured Meat made in a regular fridge; more on this technique below

Dry curing meat is about following one of two methods: saturation/salt box or equilibrium curing.

There is a traditional way (saturation/salt box) that isn’t about consistency and a precise method (equilibrium curing).

The most consistent technique (equilibrium curing link to detailed article) that leads to often more consistent outcomes than the saturation or saltbox method, which will also be covered.

Process of Dry Curing at Home

Dry Curing Meat at Home

  1. Use the salt box method or equilibrium curing method
  2. Accurately calculate the required pink-curing salt (optional)
  3. Mix salt, spices & cure, and apply to meat
  4. Cure in a fridge or cool area
  5. Once fully cured, remove from fridge & rinse thoroughly
  6. Weigh and calculate 65% weight, of the finished weight minimum
  7. Optional Casing
  8. Hang the meat in a suitable environment

Important Aspects

Drying cured meat can be done in many different areas and scenarios.

You want a slightly humid (65-75%) environment and foolish (50-60°F/10-15°C) – with air exchange or airflow not essential, it does help. (technically one m/s)

So the meat dries out inside, and if the humidity is too high, the outside goes hard.

(case hardening it’s called often)

For short-term dry curing like regular fridge curing (done in 4 weeks or less), this doesn’t matter as much).

A curing chamber is not essential, and I have written about what you need to build your own with an old fridge or wine fridge. If you want to read more about this, you can also get the guide in my charcuterie course.

Or you can try some dry-curing in your existing regular fridge. It’s probably the best thing to start with, and if you become interested, you can explore the dedicated curing chamber.

If you have a protected area that has a temperature of around 11-15°C/50-60°F most of the time, this can also be used for some short-term projects. It really just depends on the humidity.

You can buy a hygrometer gauge (measure moisture/water in the air) to determine your level at home.

Steps for Curing Meat At Home

1. Using the Salt Box Method or Equilibrium Cure

If you don’t have the accurate digital scales mentioned above, you’ll want to use the ” Saltbox ” method. You can get away with level teaspoons if you trust their 2.5-gram approximation because it will depend on the salt!

My preference is always to use equilibrium curing if I can.

Especially if you are starting with projects in your regular kitchen fridge, you get more precision and, therefore, better outcomes. The salt box method can always be a bit hit-and-miss. Due to the variations in the meat cuts and how much you roll around the meat in the salt.

Salt Box Method – Curing

So all you do is have a pan or tray with salt, curing salt, and spices.

Then, you coat the meat and roll it around in the mixture. Then, you place it in a Ziploc bag in a ‘box’ to be cured in the fridge or a place with a fridge-like temperature.

The salt box method covers the whole meat with salt and leaves it for a certain number of days, based on its weight.

Sometimes pressure is applied to help squeeze in the cure (technically, diffusion and water-binding = curing).

I also apply pressure with regular fridge equilibrium curing to speed up the curing if you wish.

Equilibrium Curing Method

The way it works is a percentage of salt to the total weight of the meat.

An example, 20 grams of salt per 1,000 grams of fresh meat – 2%

Depending on salt taste preferences, most recipes will tend to be between 2% to 3%.

My preference for whole muscle meat curing, based on my preferred saltiness, is often 2-2.5%.

This percentage of salt includes (pink)curing salt.

Regular Fridge Project – LINK to Article

For regular fridge curing projects with an unmodified regular fridge, you want to use under 200 g of weight. Also, you don’t want too much fat on the piece of meat because that takes much longer to dry out.

IMG 0727
Getting the right size for curing in my regular kitchen fridge

I experienced this when I tried to have a nice pork loin with a decent fat streak, and I tried to cure it in my regular kitchen fridge with some other cured recipes I was doing, including a Hungarian smoked paprika pork loin, Spanish Chorizo style, and Beef, Juniper. Garlic & Thyme as I had done before.

I had to start up the big DIY dry curing chamber, and to my surprise, it took an extra three weeks. The other beef and pork cuts were ready in 6-10 days in the regular kitchen fridge.

Charcuterie Salumi Dry Cured Meat Picture
Charcuterie Salumi Dry Cured Meat – from my standard kitchen fridge
2. Accurately Calculate the Required Pink Curing Salt
meat curing spice large

I think this is a step in itself because when using sodium nitrates and nitrites, you should be careful.

The option is if you want to use this product, it has different names in Europe with different ratios.

The American version is approximately 90% salt; this needs to be calculated as part of the total salt.

For example, the target salt totals 2.5%, so 2.25% is sea salt, and 0.25% is pink curing salt.

Pink Curing Salt Number 1 is for under 30 days of meat curing projects from start to finish.

Pink Curing Salt number 2 is for over 30 days of meat curing projects from start to finish.

For more on pink-curing salt I wrote an article about it here

For a calculator I created on this site for equilibrium curing, please see here (it is also linked a the top of every page)

3. Mix Cure and Apply to Meat
Equilibrium Curing in a Bowl large

It’s really important to ensure all the cure is put onto the meat when it comes to equilibrium curing. I do this in a little mixing bowl or a Ziploc bag.

When using the salt box method, you must ensure the pink curing salt is evenly mixed into the salt box before using it.

Vacuum Packed Bags for Curing

I don’t think this is necessary for regular fridge equilibrium curing. However, it does allow you to leave the meat in the cure for a week or two extra with no adverse effects.

Whole Pig Butchery Italian Style After large
Visualising dry curing a well fed pig -from front – Guanciale/Jowl, Coppa/Upper Neck, 4x 10 pd bacon/pancetta from belly, Lonza/Lomo from Loin, on right 22 pd hind leg to be prosciutto in 2 years.

Some guys I found on social media like using a vacuum pack for curing. If you leave it in the fridge for longer periods, this can mean it doesn’t matter if you forget about it for a week or two longer.

4. Put in Bag & Cure the Meat

A simple step: I like to put some weight on my regular fridge projects to help shape and get the salt to penetrate through the meat.

Zip Lock Bags

When you use a Ziploc bag, I find the best technique is to squeeze all the air out and leave one part of the Ziploc open so that pretty much all that air gets squeezed out before zipping shut.

Salt Curing Meat in a Fridge large
Getting squashed with some cans at the bottom of the fridge.

How Long to Cure For?

Saltbox Method – Duration in Cure

It varies depending on the resource. The approximate ratio is 1/2 pd to 1 pd per day. Larger cuts that are 5″ or thicker will be toward the 1 pd per day.

Regular Fridge Project – LINK to Article

If you were using the salt box method for regular fridge curing, you could leave the meat in a salt cure for 24 hours, but in my experience, you may find the final product too salty. Duck prosciutto is used for 24-hour salt-curing, for instance.

For equilibrium curing, I have found that less than 200 g of weight will work best in a regular fridge. It should only take about 4 to 6 days, and the meat will be fully cured.

5. Remove from Bag and Rinse Meat

Once the curing process is complete, whether it’s a saltbox method for equilibrium curing, then you rinse off the cure and can rinse off most of the spices too.

If you want to get a bit fancy, some recipes from Ruhlman’s Salumi suggest rinsing off with wine. I have yet to try this; I prefer my wine consumed orally.

Adding Aromatic Spices before Dry Curing

Now would be the time to add another layer of flavor on the outside; you can do this by making a spice blend.

Black pepper crushed at this point also can help the antibacterial side of it because it has antibacterial properties.

6. Weigh and Calculate 65% Target Weight

Regular Fridge Project – LINK to Article

Once you get the current weight just multiply this by 0.65 to get the target weight. You won’t want to eat it until this target weight has been hit and it’s dry enough to eat (preserved per se, and dried enough for wafer thin-slicing!

So, 65% = 130 grams for a 200-gram piece – once this is reached, it’s ready!

Now, I use a little cut piece of cardboard, but you can use a label printer or anything that you put a hole through. Then record what it is and the finished weight (the date is optional). If you are wrapping it, you tie this on over the muslin just for reference.

7. Optional Casing

Regular Fridge Project – LINK to Article

So I put this in as an optional step because it does depend on the project. Most of the time, I do a regular fridge dry-cure project; I use muslin.

I have found that the pork and beef come out much better if I wrap the meat. It seems to help hold in the moisture and prevent it from drying out as much.

I like to use butcher’s twine to squeeze the cured meat, which can help the drying process a bit more. If you tie it uniformly, it is also quite aesthetically pleasing.

There are also many types of casings and bungs, which are intestines or stomachs of animals that work as well.

8. Hang Meat in a Suitable Environment

Regular Fridge Project – LINK to Article

In your regular fridge, you can’t adjust the humidity at all. But the temperature is cool enough to prevent bad bacteria, so you can create short-term dry-cured meat.

Here is a technique for a hanging system at the back of the fridge.

It’s a piece of wood measured to fit into the shelf holders and some hooks. I can then hang the meat at the back of the fridge so that it doesn’t touch anything.

Hanging Cured Meat in Kitchen Fridge large

Of course, there are many ways of creating this hanging system

A expandable shower/closest rack, is a unique technique I invented also:

Rod Extension Holder Rack Curing Chamber large

Where to Hang Dry Cured Meats at Home

Cellar, Shed, Wine Cellar

If you have a cold enough winter and around 11-15°C /50-60°F, then you can use this environment to try dry-curing some meat. I would recommend that you check out the humidity so you know roughly what it does.

Don’t expect every project to go perfectly in an open area or cellar; there are so many more factors that can be at play if you are hanging in an exposed area. Wrapping with muslin cloth is important if you are going to roll the dice with this method.

Bought or DIY curing chamber

For this environment generally, you’ll be working around 70% humidity and 11°C/50°F. This is usually the accepted whole muscle Salumi or dry-cured setting temperature setting. But sometimes this needs to be varied depending on the project.

DIY Built Dry Curing Chamber

Most of the time, once dry-cured meat projects have been done, the curing chamber starts growing a culture of good penicillin white powdery bacteria.

It starts invisible, and you don’t see it, but it’s there, and it helps with all the projects.

May Parma prosciutto factories I have visited have a controlled environment for the first 90 days. Then, if its raining they close the windows. If it’s not raining, the windows are open.

Do note that the Po River, Emilia-Romagna region, Italy, does help create a slightly moist environment.

Tools, Equipment & Ingredients

Key Aspects:

  1. Salt
  2. Pink Curing Salt
  3. Quality Meat (recipes below)
  4. Accurate Scales (Important for Equilibrium Curing)
  5. Casing & Muslin Cloth
  6. Butchers Twine / Jute String
  7. Mortar & Pestle or Spice Grinder
  8. Natural Pennilicin
  9. Butcher Twine or Jute (not essential)

1. Salt – Size & Type

Salt is the cornerstone of all food curing.

When I learned about Parma Ham, which many consider the ultimate dry-cured meat, I found out that it only uses two ingredients: a specific well-fed breed of quality pork and sea salt.

(other ingredients = time, patience, craftsmanship & a minimum of 12 months of humidity & temperature that has a favorable environment)

They have some kind of special approval based on strict guidelines and do not use any nitrates. Possibly, there are natural nitrates and other minerals already in the sea salt that have been used for hundreds of years, too.

The key to dry-cured meat is to use sea salt that is free of additives, anti-caking agents, or iodine.

So that means sea salt or kosher salt works really well. Trapani salt is very popular in dry-curing communities as a go-to salt.

There are so many different brands and shapes of salt because different salt shapes & brands have different volumes.

So a tablespoon of one brand of kosher salt may weigh differently from a tablespoon of another brand of kosher salt.

It can create significant variations when following a recipe.

Using accurate kitchen scales that go to 1 or 2 decimal places to measure exact quantities is essential compared to using measuring spoons or the salt box method, which I shall discuss below.

Accurate scales that can measure (0.X) 1 decimal place (ideally 2 decimal places (0.XX)

If you use the equilibrium curing method, accurate scales are probably the most important equipment because you will be dealing with very small amounts of salt, spices, and nitrates.

2. Pink Curing Salt

Pink curing salts, Prague powder, instant cure – it’s all the same

(Tenderquick is different – it has sugar/salt/nitrates/nitrites – from what I heard, not used it)

The difference is with No. 1 & No. 2 Curing Salt

No. 1 is for cured meat that will be fully cooked, a ‘short term’ under 30 days project like dry-cured bacon or pastrami,

No. 1 is:

  • 93.75% salt
  • 6.25% sodium nitrite

Pink Curing Salt No. 2 for long-term cured meats, prosciutto, Lonza, dry-cured salami, etc.

The nitrates slowly break down over time into nitrites, so by the time (weeks or months) the transition has occurred, there aren’t any nitrates left in the meat. Simple!

No.2 is:

Click here if you want to read more about pink-curing salt. I’ve often decided to leave pink curing salt out, like dry cured bacon, if I cook dry cured pink curing salt added meat at high temperatures. Do your own research, please.

In Summary,

over 30 days of drying = Pink Curing Salt No. 2

under 30 days of drying = Pink Curing Salt No. 1

When doing equilibrium curing, pink curing salt is always added at a ratio of 0.25% to the total weight of the meat. Some instructions/directions go down to 0.2%.

This is a very small amount, so this is why accurate scales pay dividends.

For example, if the meat weighs 1000 g, I would add 2.5 g of curing salt. If this was pancetta, I would also use, for example, 2.5% sea salt for equilibrium curing to suit my taste preference (2% salt min for fully curing is my rule).

Pink curing salt 2. is to be used to prevent the growth of bad bacteria like botulism.

3. Quality Fresh Meat

Fresh, well-looked-after animals lead to superior flavor outcomes, I think. Ideally, the meat you can source or trace back the origin should be used for meat curing. You get a better flavor out of something that’s been looked after with some passion.

The quality and freshness of the meat are very important to start with. Aged beef is not advisable for dry-curing meat since there may already be a level of undesirable bacteria present.

It’s also about an ethical choice, in my perspective.

4. Accurate Digital Scales (Important For Eq Curing)

As mentioned, accurate scales are important to get the correct amount of curing salt, and if you are using the equilibrium method, it can work out the salt content to cure effectively and also to get the right match of saltiness to your taste buds. But the saltbox method is also fine.

So this is where the accurate kitchen scales that go to 0.X or 0.XX really becomes handy.

If you want a few suggestions on kitchen scales, I suggested a few on this page that is decent, check them out here.

5. Casings & Muslin Cloth

What can be used as a ‘barrier’, to prevent/regulate drying of cured meat:

  • skin from the animal (like prosciutto)
  • collagen sheets
  • muslin cloth
  • salt Preserved animal bungs (intestines)

Casing isn’t often necessary for regular kitchen fridge projects, which take less than a month.

For dry-cured meat projects that I put in my regular kitchen fridge, I have found that wrapping these can help to slow the drying out on the outside of the meat before hitting the target final weight.

Most regular fridges run at about 30-50% humidity, compared to a DIY curing chamber, which will be set at 60-70% humidity most of the time.

Muslin helps when you wrap it around the meat to hold some of the moisture and stop the outside from going hard. The term used is case hardening, and when this starts to happen, you may have meat that is dried on the outside but still moist on the inside.

Many dry-curing enthusiasts have this ‘case hardening’ issue. The easiest way to fix it is to vacuum pack the meat after it has hit the target weight. The moisture in the meat will equalize inside the vacuum-packed environment; just put it in the fridge for a week or two.

For regular fridge dry curing, you generally won’t get to the stage of case hardening; it will have to reach the target weight and hopefully be consumed way before it happens!

I prefer unbleached and natural products. Muslin cloth can be thicker it thinner, I’ve found thinner better for this application.

6. Mortar & Pestle / Spice Grinder

To get a proper even coating and make the curing process as easy as possible, I use a simple spice grinder (the same thing as a small coffee grinder).

The salt and spices become a kind of powder that works well with equilibrium curing.

Or if you want to use some arm work, a mortar and pestle work, you have to grind it up.

For a few grinding tools, I wrote a page (near the bottom) about the ones I like here.

7. Happy Good Mold = Penicillin

So here is a picture of good white penicillin mold, which will prosper when you get the right conditions. You’ve probably seen it on the outside of certain dry-cured salamis (DIY Curing Chamber).

Here are many varieties of good mold on my cured meats.

Good Molds Large

Trust Your Nose

Like any type of cooking, when it comes to dry-cured meats and curing meats, you have to use your senses and some common sense to understand what’s going on.

There is a certain type of pleasant smell you get from the penicillin or powdery white mold that is on cured meats. This is a good sign, it protects the meat from foreign bodies.

Although this won’t be something you come across with short-term curing in a regular fridge, it takes a few weeks.

But it comes down to trusting your nose because it was designed to tell you when things are edible or not edible, I think.

8. Butcher Twine or Jute (not essential)

You are mainly hanging dry-cured meat so that they don’t get in contact with anything. This minimizes bad bacteria contact with the meat.

You always want to avoid air pockets inside the meat, but when starting off with dry-cured meat, you stick with whole pieces of muscle, which means you don’t have these challenges.

For rolled pancetta, you need more technique to get the meat tight.

Tying can be pretty fancy for presentation, and it does add a lot to visual appeal. Tying is really useful if you’re using muslin to protect the meat.

Here is a link to the butchers’ twine I buy – 500 ft lasts a long time!

Easy Meat Curing Recipe Ideas

Duck / Pork / Beef Prosciutto Style Regular Fridge Project

Duck prosciutto is probably the easiest type of dry-cured product you can do. However, I think simple pancetta which is also easily done in a regular fridge is super straightforward.

I have used different types of wild duck which haven’t been as successful as farmed varieties but I guess it just depends on your tastes. Wild venison has worked great.

The weight of the duck prosciutto or small pieces of pork belly suits a regular fridge-curing process. However, I’ve also used beef steak or under 200 g pork loins. All of these came out amazing and have become regulars in my repertoire.

Here is a breakdown of the recipe:

  • 200g / 7 oz of meat
  • 2-3% sea salt for equilibrium curing
  • 0.25% pink curing salt no. 1
  • Optional Spices for Duck- 1 clove, 1/3 cinnamon stick, orange zest, 0.5% pepper
  • Option Spices for Beef 1% garlic, 1% sweet bay leaf, 0.5% juniper berry
  • Optional Spices for Pork 0.5% pepper, 0.5% juniper, 0.5% nutmeg

Pork Pancetta Flavor for Regular Fridge

With an extended spice mix, it can be helpful to make the spices fine; that’s where a spice grinder can be super useful.

  • 2.5% sea salt
  • 2% black pepper
  • 1 medium-sized garlic clove
  • 0.2% nutmeg
  • 0.2% dry thyme
  • 1% brown sugar
  • 0.5% juniper berries

Beef or Game Meat Braesola Style Regular Fridge

The classic bresaola has many spices, and the main flavor is cinnamon and nutmeg. I use this spice mix with great success using my harvested wild game or any other type of red meat.

Here’s a breakdown of the percentage of spices that I use for this bresaola-style dry-cured meat. Don’t get too hung up on the spices; if you are missing a few, it will still taste awesome!

Recipe Breakdown

  • 2.5% sea salt
  • 0.2% juniper
  • 0.4% pepper
  • 0.2% dry thyme
  • 2 dry bay leaf leaves
  • 0.1% clove
  • 0.1% cinnamon

How Long Does the Cured Meat Last?

Regarding dry-cured meat, as long as the outside has not hardened, it will last weeks. If the meat is fully dry-cured, as long as you keep it in the condition it prefers, i.e., 70-80% humidity or 11°C/50°F, it has the potential for many months of storage.

However, it will dry out more. More fat in the meat will slow this process since it contains much less moisture.

Vacpac and put it in your fridge; it can last years and get better with flavor! Just take it out and slice up whenever you crave it.

I’ve had 3-4 years for lamb and pork dry cured meats, vacuum packed in a regular kitchen frige. As long as all mold is removed and its dried before vac pack storing.

Thinly Slicing Dry Cured Meat

An accurate deli slicer is ideal! However, it’s not worth buying anything lost cost; it won’t slice accurately after thin.

I wrote a post on slicing; it can make a huge difference. I tried quite a few knives, and this guide goes over a lot about wafer thin-slicing! Please find that post here.

Additional Resources and Video Tutorial

Here is a video I made going over curing and drying at home.

Additional Resources:

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.