I’ve used, taught, and come across many different techniques on how to cure meat for long-term preservation and storage.
This website is about dry curing and smoking meat, I’ve delved into learning and practicing preserved long-term storage versions in case I didn’t have any refrigeration.
These are simple techniques for salting and curing meat that have been used for preservation all across the world.
When I started reading about how salt fish, beef, or other meats were used on ship voyages to discover the world.
These were crucial techniques used many thousands of years ago. I’ve written specifically about the history of cured meats here.
In the process of cold smoking, a lot of people seem to be confused about the subject. Just take a look all across Europe and there are literally thousands of delicious products that are cold-smoked and consumed regularly.
There are many hobbyists cold smoking at home, as long as you follow the process, do some good research, and maybe read a book to get the basic knowledge, it shouldn’t be scary.
How to Cure Meat for Long-Term Storage? By using a saturation salt or equilibrium curing method, you are killing all the bacteria that can spoil the meat. These techniques lead to salt-cured meat that can be stored long-term in a cool place or refrigerated. Acidity can also be used as well as cold smoke during the drying process.
Here are the commonly known different salt-curing meats. You could literally salt-cured any meat for my understanding. The quality of the meat is the key.
Salt Saturation Method
- Salt Cod
- Salt Fish
- Salt Beef
- Salt Pork (more detail on salt pork)
So here is the summary of the procedure, then I will get into the procedure I use.
How to Cure Meat for Long-Term Storage
- Use Fresh (unfrozen Meat
- Saturate with Sea Salt (No Caking Agents)
- Refrigerate (below 5°C or 41°F)
- Wash Meat with Water
- Protect and Hang in the Sun or dry in the Fridge
- After 1 to 2 weeks Cured Meat is Preserved
- Storage in a Cool Area
- Soak in water for 12-24 hours, before Use
How to Cure Meat for Long-Term Storage
So now I’m going to get into a bit more detail about the methods used for the long-term storage of meat. This type of meat preserving (an article I wrote about all methods of preserving meat) and storing is still to be stored in a cool environment ideally a fridge but in winter seems to work okay as well.
Of course, conditions can vary environmentally, the cooler the better – if you have a cellar or larder of some kind it can be kept long-term there.
The salt works its way into the meat and does a few things. It draws out the moisture since the moisture can lead to spoilage.
It also creates an environment where bad bacteria really don’t like it. These are the bad bacteria that spoil the meat.
What you really want to use is plain simple sea salt, basically, all salt is sea salt. But, there are a lot of kitchen salts that have additives like anti-caking agents added to them. Which can lead to unfavorable outcomes and the flavors might not be quite right.
Pure sea salt, kosher salt, Trapani salt, and any other pure sea salt should be reasonably easy to find. Rocksalt which is larger and more coarse can be used, I like to have a reasonably fine salt so that more salt is covering the surface area to inhibit the meat faster. I use a spice grinder for grinding up the salt I need (Check out a page with some manual and electric grinders I recommend here).
Salt Curing Methods
There are two main methods that I’ve come across, the most common classical traditional way is called the saturation or saltbox method of curing. This is basically covering the meat with salt and then waiting a certain amount of days for the meat to cure.
The more modern type of salt curing is called equilibrium curing or brining. This method was created to use the right amount of salt to get the desired effect and taste. Also to not get that over salty taste in the meat. For long-term storage preservation, there is a level of equilibrium curing (article I wrote about this method) of 10% salt weight to the total meat weight.
For the craft of dry-cured meats for preservation and flavor, which this website is mainly all about.
I generally use 1.75% to 3.5% salt to the weight of the meat. But the key is having a higher humidity environment for meat like braesola, prosciutto, lonza, etc… which works for balancing flavor and preserving for 6 months to 4 years for a pork leg. – whole pork legs or large pork loins are what I am talking about.
Above 5% salt weight to the meat weight, there is enough to kill pretty much most bacteria.
10% salt is what is recommended for long-term salt preservation.
This technique comes down to accurate measurements of salt versus the weight of the meat.
So for example,
10% – 1,000 grams or 1 kilogram = 100 g of salt
10% – For 1 pound of meat = 1.6 ounces of salt
If you want a calculator to work out the ratios, here is a tool my brother put together for me.
Saturation or SaltBox Method
Now if you just wanted to cover the meat completely with salt then that, of course, is another way of doing it.
Often done in a wooden box, which is the right size for the meat. You can layer the salt with the meat.
1. Use Fresh Meat
Whether it’s wild game or farmed meat, I like to use fresh meat (curing wild game article I wrote) because you know it has minimal bacteria on it.
For the salt preserving method I also use frozen meat, but I have frozen the meat fresh myself. And of course, thawed the meat out before salting.
2. Saturate With Sea Salt
Depends on the Thickness of Meat
If you’re using a tiny anchovy or slither of meat you really do not need a lot of salt.
To give you some idea, in most salting projects like this I would use a quarter to half an inch of salt above and below the meat if using a saturation method.
For the equilibrium salt method of 10% salt to the weight, you just need to make sure the meat is tightly surrounded in a bag, so the salt is in maximum contact with the meat.
No Bones is Best
Of course, you can leave the bones in whatever piece of meat your salt cure preserving, and you do find them with fish for instance. Just depends on how you are going to use it. I prefer to remove bones for red meat, just gut whole fish.
Some Meats are Denser Than Others
Different meats have different densities I find, when you compare beef or pork I think some of the densest meat. And on the other side of the scale, you have fish.
So as common sense prevails, if you are using the saturating method, probably want to leave red meat like beef or pork in the salt longer compared to the fish.
3. Refrigerate (below 5°C or 41°F)
I like to use metal non-reactive kitchen trays for the salt saturation method, just be careful using certain types of plastic containers which are definitely food-grade material.
As you can imagine some moisture will people out of the meat, using some form of the dish is definitely the way to go.
The saturation of the saltbox method that has been used for hundreds of years is always based on the rough guide below,
Per 2 Pounds of Meat = 1 day of Curing
Per 1 kilogram of Meat = 1 day of Curing
Per 0.5 lb/1kg I like to go a week, for something large like 10lb/5kg I would leave 20-30 days.
For 10% Equilibrium Curing, you can leave the meat longer in a bag in the fridge. I have found up to 5-7 days longer is okay, but it still can get funky inside if you forget about it.
(vacpac bags or reusable sous vide bags also work -since you suck out all the air and it forces contact of the salt onto the meat)
4. Wash Meat with Water
Basically, just rinse the meat off with fresh normal water for a few minutes, and then you are ready for the drying phase.
5. Protect and Hang in the Sun or Fridge
(In the Fridge overnight, then repeat)
When I’m doing Italian Salumi or salami in terms of the dry-cured meat aspect. Once the meat has been salt dry-cured, you are waiting until the meat is dried out for a minimum of 35% weight loss.
But you can dry the meat out much more than this for long-term storage. Depends on the meat that 50 or 60% weight loss would probably be a minimum similar to storing long-term, depending on the meat, but you want to get not quite cardboard, but pretty firm.
Haning is best, a rack can be used also.
The next step is to get all the remaining moisture out to create that inhospitable environment for bad bacteria. It’s done differently across different cultures around the world. In many Asian countries, they use a sun drying technique which is basically just hanging meat in the sun covered with something like a muslin cloth sometimes.
Then normally in the evening, the meat is still put back into a fridge (or a nice cool place), to be put out some again the next day.
It can also be successfully done in a refrigerator uncovered ideally hanging but also should be in a nonreactive rack.
With classic meat curing, you have a problem you’re trying to avoid called case hardening. This is when the outside of the meat dries out before the inside has had a chance to dry out which can spoil the meat.
This is why ideally I like to use thinner meat cut for a long-term meat curing project, like half an inch to an inch.
Using your senses squeezing the meat can give an idea of how dry it is. If any moisture is still coming out of the meat, it needs more drying.
But also you don’t have to get completely solid hard as rock-type meat, but when it has reached this level of tried preservation lasts a long time.
6. After 1 to 2 weeks Cured Meat is Preserved
Either you can weigh it or use your senses. This is basically just like dehydrating meat (like jerky).
65%+ weight loss should be expected generally.
7. Storage in a Cool Area
Once this process is complete and fully preserved salt-cured meat. It’s the same preserved meat as the ancient voyages used to discover the world. Or during military campaigns ‘salt pork’ was common or soldiers since it lasted such a long time.
Salt, of course, is the major preservative in this regard, but also cold smoking can be used to add another layer of protection. Cold smoke has an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal aspect to it. The easiest device I’ve come across for cold smoking would be a pellet tube, but generally, you’ll be using woodchips or wood for this (I like to mix the 2 up, but I’m sure other cuts of wood can work.
If you want more info on how a pellet tube works ( for cold smoking or boosting hot BBQ smoking), I wrote a short post here on them.
Of course, there are many different types of cold smoking (full article I wrote on cold smoking) setups, you can use a smokehouse with a pellet tube. Funnily enough, recently bought some salt-preserved /cold smoke herrings in Italy. The process with this was to boil it for 10 minutes, then it can be used to cooking (cheap and made a nice chili fish dish!).
8. Soak in Water for 12-24 hours, Before Use
Soaking or boiling will draw out the salt and then you are able to eat it.
Especially if you are this long-term salting of at least 10% (for equilibrium curing) or saturation method.
It’s not edible unless you do this.
What Effect Does Smoke Have on Preserving
Cold Smoke is also applied for another layer of preservation and flavor. Cold Smoking is pretty simple really, the tendency is to use too much smoke and therefore have a bitter flavor. So the old saying less is more for this aspect.
How to Fix the ‘Too Salty’ Problem
Equilibrium Curing & Brining
The 10% salt ratio to the weight of meat can be applied at higher or lower amounts depending on what you want to achieve, for flavor rather than preservation.
If you want a calculator tool my brother put together for easy calculations of equilibrium curing or brining, check it out here.
If you’re looking for a guide on building a DIY curing chamber for dry-cured meat or you are interested in a charcuterie course – check out more info on this page.
Preserving South African or Italian Meat Strips
If you want to know a simple technique for preserving I make this (I use wild red meat generally). Please see my post on biltong and jerky here.
Further Resources Beyond My Own Experiences When Researching this Topic
Salted Meats and Discovering the World – Elaborate Research – Salt – 7000 years of meat-curing