Grill Smoking Pork Ham Hot Smoked Bacon

How to Cure Meat Before Hot Smoking (Dry & Wet Curing)

Most of the time when you hot smoke meat you want to cure it first to get teh most out it. It’s easy and doesn’t take much effort.

Curing the meat before will mean you can hold more moisture and get more flavor from the smoke.

This is what I call ‘fast’ hot smoking, low & slow BBQ smoking is more about using a rub with sugar to create bark often, or just using salt to help keep moisture at the surface of the meat.

When I first learned about hot smoking fish, I didn’t even realize what the salt and sugar were for when I sprinkled it on the trout. I thought was just for flavor. Then 20 years later and I definitely can see the difference why I had first used it.

It doesn’t matter if it’s bought or wild game meat, it all generally get some help from curing at the start.

So here is the basic process and then I’ll break down each step afterward to give you hopefully just a simple guide.

Before the process, will do a quick overview on nitrates and curing.

How to Cure Meat before Hot Smoking

  1. Use a salt dry cure or a wet brine
  2. Refrigerate or keep in cool area
  3. Wash cure off
  4. Place back in the fridge uncovered to form the pellicle
  5. Hot smoke the meat

The way I think about smoking especially hot smoking, I break it down into two groups the first style is fast hot smoking and the second is low & slow smoking.

Fast hot smoking is used in a direct heat way, I use this for quick smoking using a portable smoker for instance.

Barbecue low and slow smoking is in direct heat over an extended period of time.

When I do low & slow smoking, sometimes I will use the curing process overnight but mainly I will be applying a dry rub form the bark and add new angles of flavor.

When you put the meat in a salt brine it holds in the moisture , helping alot during the smoking process.

The other reason for curing the for hot smoking is to help form a pellicle on the surface of the meat. If you do this, the pellicle helps the smoke flavor adhere and flavor the meat. I’ve tried smoking different types of meat (red meat and fish) with no pellicle, it really does make a big difference in smoke flavor

Process – How to Cure Meat Before Smoking

Using Nitrites

I use pink curing salt number 1 for longer curing that will be for 1-4 weeks.

For hot smoking fish or salmon, I don’t use pink curing salt no. 1, since the brine curing take a short amount of time and its in the fridge. It then goes straight into the hot smoker.

When I do use pink curing salt it is 0.25% of the meat weight.

If you want more info, please find a post with links to authority sites here.

1. Use a Salt Dry Cure or a Wet Brine

For any curing always use sea salt that doesn’t have any extras, like anti caking agents or other additive. Just plains old sea salt or kosher salt.

Additives can give off flavors to the meat, not something you want to experience.

Wet Brining

Brine Table for a Simple Reference on Brine Time for Meat

MeatSizeApprox Time
Fish Fillets ie. trout, salmon etc.1/2 inch thick2-4 hours
Chicken PiecesWings/Drums1-3 hours
Pork Chops or Beef Steak or Red Meat1 inch thick4-8 hours
Seafood Crusticans (mussel, scallops etc)whole30-90 mins

When I started catching and smoking trout I would always use the salt dry cured method. Actually, I didn’t know about wet brining/salt brining since I was kids that just wanted to catch fish!

My brother actually prefers smoking trout with no curing, if it’s quality trout he goes for the subtle flavor. He finds the light smoke flavor to his personal preference and he wants to taste the trout.

If you’re new to smoking meat, might be better to just use a simple 5% salt brine. Which is 50 grams to /1 quart/1000ml/1L, you can vary it depending on how much meat you are brining.

Heat the salt if need be in a pot until dissolved, then wait until its cooled to room temperature before putting meat in.

The easiest way to cure before hot smoking is to make this super simple brine I find.

For fish fillets, because it’s a weak brine you can leave the fish in the brine overnight if you want (at cooler temperatures the brine slows down also).

Quick Dry Salt Curing

For the most basic of quick cure you can use

1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) = 1 pounds / 1/2 kg of meat

This is a chef trick for curing meat, the salt will get drawn into the meat in 15-30 minutes. You can then do a quick pellicle drying for an hour and smoke the meat.

The meat can sit in a bowl, you shouldn’t get any liquid coming out of the meat.

I will use this method when I am in a rush and want to do some fast smoking often using a direct heat method, like the portable smoker.

Doing this step in a bowl will help you get all the salt onto the meat

Dry Curing Overnight

If you have some time, then for all the meats in the above table, having some decent scales you can use the ‘equilibrium method’ that is used for dry curing meats.

Basically, you use between say 1-2.5% salt weight to the total weight of the meat. The great part of Equilibrium Method, is that you won’t over salt the meat.

Using a bowel for this method also helps.

Need to get every bit of cure on the meat.

Put the meat in a Ziploc bag, and carefully remove as much air as possible before putting it in the fridge.

For the curing below, I put some pork loin I was going to hot smoke in a Tupperware container that was just big enough, you can see some liquid has been drawn out.

The other curing I did in the Ziploc bags.

2. Refrigerate the Meat & Brine

If you’re using red meat which is a lot denser, what I do is put it in the salt brine overnight. And then give it at least half day to dry out after that before hot smoking.

I am generally talking about meat that’s not more than 1 inch thick.

As mentioned, cool temperature do slow down the brine effect.

3. Wash Cure off

For the Dry Curing above, you don’t need to wash the meat.

After wet brining, giving the meat a thorough wash under the tap will get most of the surface salty this off it. This is a pretty simple process you should find that the meat has become slightly firmer when it has cured.

4. Meat in the Fridge Uncovered to Form the Pellicle

For some reason, a lot of smoking recipes I’ve seen online don’t include this step, this is standard practice for commercial smoking.

It’s really simple but you don’t want to form the pellicle for more than about 24 hours. I’ve done this a few times and you get a leathery exterior to the meat on my smoked chicken breasts!

Fillets of fish that are half an inch thick, it can take as little as 30 to 60 minutes to form the pellicle. I think it’s best to do it in a fridge but I have also done it in a protected area from bugs outside in the winter.

5. Remove and Hot Smoke Meat

And that’s about it, get your smoker up to the target temperature and you’re ready to smoke.

It seems a lot of people think hot smoking is different to cooking. But really it’s the same thing, it’s just that when you are hot smoking your cooking and smoking at the same time.

Related Questions

Do you Have to Cure Meat before Smoking?

You definitely don’t have to cure meat before hot smoking it’s an optional step. Although if you are using wild game, it would definitely be advisable to use a salt wet brine to retain the moisture. Since the meat will have a minimal amount of fat.

Unless I am hot smoking plain sausages, I will always use a salt dry cure or salt wet brine cure.

However, when it comes to cold smoking you definitely have to fully cure the meat. Cold smoking is a form of preserving through drying the meat. So during the curing process certain level of moisture is removed to minimize the likelihood of bad bacteria.

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