A quick search and it seems no one has given a straight answer about how to create charcuterie in an unmodified fridge. Definitely can be done, and I do it often. So I hope this helps anyone interested.
Good things take time they say, it is very true if you want to make your own Charcuterie & cured meat! (but not too long, the choice is yours!).
If you love dry-cured meat like prosciutto, pancetta, braesola, lonzo or coppa. This is a great starting point, those classics take months (apart from pancetta may be), so this is a simpler method people can do at home to intensify the flavor and preserve meat for a month or two.
This guide will give you the details about how to
Through some trial and error, I came up with a way. I actually sometimes use the kitchen fridge because for many cured meats it’s easier than my curing chamber.
It’s just simple & more convenient.
The key is to get the right size & weight I have found. Because the drying happens pretty quickly, the whole process can be done in 2 weeks, since the key is drying out the meat enough by hitting the target weight (35% weight loss).
I will go through the method I use and follow with some easy recipes below, but first here is the process summarized.
How to Cure Meat in a Regular Fridge
- Select or cut the appropriate size and weight of meat
- Create the salt cure using the equilibrium method
- Weigh meat & record starting weight
- Hang the meat in the fridge, record date & weight
- Remove once the meat has reached 65% of the starting weight
When I use this technique for a short term curing, it isn’t fermenting it’s preserving with just enough salt so that it can be dried to about 65% of its original weight – that’s really the key. Folks seem to get fermentation and preserving mixed up, so just wanted to clarify.
Once it has reached this target weight you have your own homemade cured salumi! Definitely worth the little effort!
Curing Meat the slowest food, you get the ultimate depth and intense flavorsQuote from me
Understanding the Basics
All the steps are really important to follow, its a craft to cure meat and make dry-cured, yes there is a recipe. But there are also simple guiding principles that need to be followed for quality outcomes.
If you have any questions please leave a comment or ask a question.
Here are the main principles, expanded on below.
- Quality Meat & Size –fresh or frozen but fresh before being frozen
- Equilibrium Curing – to get the right amount of salt for curing
- Nitrates – personal choice (Under 30 days Pink Curing Salt #1 / Over 30 days Pink Curing Salt #2). Trusted good meat, I don’t bother
- Environment – hanging ideally, hygiene basics
- Time & Weighing – recorded before / on completion
- Molds – powdery white good
- Equipment – see below the basics
- Some Easy Starter Projects – see below
Disclaimer – Common sense and using your eyes, mouth, and nose are really important, if it doesn’t smell or look right – it probably isn’t. Through evolution, we have the ability to detect ‘off’ food generally.
With this short term dry curing, you won’t really get the funkiness anyway though, that happens over months of drying curing meat. The drying will intensify flavors though.
Some starter recipes I like are listed at the bottom:
- Pancetta (unsmoked or smoked)
- Braesola style Cured Beef Cut (most red meats farmed or wild work awesome) – spiced with juniper, garlic & oregano (or anything else you conjure up – spice bomb!)
- Lonza style – Pork Cut – Spanish & Hungarian style
If you have some favorite spices/herbs for meat combinations – this is a great way to play around with your own cured meat or to make a special addition to your charcuterie board.
1. Quality & Size of Meat
What has worked really well for me is meat not thicker than 1 inch in size, and less than 7 oz or approx. 200 grams.
TIP – Fat will also dry very slowly and leaner cuts of meat work better.
It goes without saying if you are going to go to the effort of producing delicious cured meats. You want to make sure the source & traceability of the meat you use is of a decent standard.
If you know the passion is behind the meat you use, you know it’s going to be quality -that’s my philosophy.
I am always looking for passion for all types of food.
2. Equilibrium Curing
Traditionally meat was salt-cured by covering it completely and waiting a certain amount of time-based on weight (known as ‘saturation method’ or ‘saltbox’ method. This can make it hard to produce a consistent outcome and nowadays equilibrium salt curing is a great way you get more consistency and precision.
Now the one bit of equipment I recommend for equilibrium curing is – accurate digital scales to 0.1g accuracy most people don’t have a kitchen scale that goes down to 0.xx or 0.x (1 or 2 decimal places), you will generally have accuracy to 0.03 to 0.07 oz or 1 or 2 gram of accuracy (easier to work out curing in grams).
Because equilibrium curing is about the precise salt to cure and achieve the taste you want the scales make a huge difference getting it right. Trust me I have cured meat with friends and tried to use spoons which is volume-based and it sucks when outcomes aren’t up to scratch.
Reason being the different brands and shapes of salt, for instance, means 1 teaspoon of a certain brand vs anther brand actually is a different weight but the same volume.
Ever wondered why those cups, teaspoons and tablespoon recipes didn’t come out right? This inaccurate approach still happens with most food recipes everywhere.
Anyway more about decent scales below under Equipment.
Let’s say 2-3% – It means xxx weight of salt per xxx weight of the meat.
Using the metric system makes this really simple.
20 grams salt per 1000 grams or if you prefer
2 grams salt per 35.3 oz
In all the books and recipes, 2% is about a minimum, then the meat just needs to be put in a Ziploc bag, vac pack ( or silicon sous-vide pouch (working on this method).
If there is no or minimal air in the bag, the meat can absorb the curing mix much more effectively. Also, you have more flex with leaving it days or a week longer in the fridge whilst curing.
When I was in Montenegro trying there famous smoked prosciutto (Njeguški pršut), they love salt-cured meats and have many Balkan variations of dry-cured meats and salamis. 4-6% is not uncommon. but for me, that is really maxing it out (they use saturation salt methods generally too). Most western folks would find this way too salty (can be offset with fruit or other matches though).
Remembering also that dry-cured meat is often sliced wafer-thin or it really should be, this varies the ‘perceived’ saltiness and chewiness also.
Working on silicon reusable methods (sous vide silicon bags) which are better for the environment than single-use plastic!
The weight of salt varies so choosing a non-iodized sea salt is the way to go.
Suggestions: Fine Trapani Sea Salt / Kosher Salt / fine sea salt
Spice Grinders are also super useful for getting a fine curing/spice mix, more on that later too.
Do you need them with these short term fridge projects? Just about everybody does. For uncooked dry-cured meat which will be eaten within a month, you would use Curing Salt No. 1. Here is a full write up on Nitrates – please read it
I take an expert exert to explain better:
Nitrates & Nitrites are naturally occurring chemicals that our bodies rely on. Green vegetables such as spinach and celery are loaded with them. As much as 95% of the nitrates in our bodies come from vegetables……
What’s rarely noted is that is the powerful impact nitrites have on the flavor of meat. They are why makes bacon taste lick bacon, not spareribs, and what makes ham taste like ham not roast pork……
Indeed, as noted in one study, “Since 93% of ingested nitrite comes from normal metabolic sources, if nitrites caused cancers or was a reproductive toxicant, it would imply that humans have a major design flaw.”Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman
Preservative Sodium Nitrates/Nitrites are in many food, you just don’t know its in there, often on packages, it’s E250 or E249.
For trusted meat, that is fresh and looked after well. I often don’t use it for whole muscle meat curing. But for dry cured salami definitely, it because there is more exposure to the environment when you minced the meat.
You use an incredibly small amount, so ordering a little will last a long time generally
Curing Salt #1 – It’s for short term cured meat projects less than about one month or dry-cured meat that will be cooked.
ie. this fridge project, bacon or pastrami
Curing Salt #2 – Is for long term curing with the meat you will NOT cook – but it will be drying/hanging for over 1 month.
ie. dry-cured meats like lonza, braesola, pancetta, prosciutto (Italian’s dry minimum of 12 months)
Effect of Nitrates/Nitrites – it has a good effect on flavor (which makes ham and bacon taste as it does) and makes it a nice hue of red/pink depending on the red meat for instance. If you don’t use it, the meat is grey.
It’s cheap too!
So a really basic dry-cured meat for the fridge example:
- 1.5- 3.5% Salt (I like the taste around 2.0%)
- 0.25% Curing Salt No.1
- 0 to 1.5% Raw sugar
Quick Summary of Pink Curing Salt – Curing Salt No. 1
- Pink Salt No. 1
- Instacure No. 1
- Prague Powder No. 1
- 6.25% Sodium Nitrite
- 93.75% Sea Salt / Sodium Chloride
Prague Powder #1 (Pink Curing Salt No.1)
One of the most common curing salts. It is also called Insta Cure #1 or Pink curing salt #1. It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% table salt. It is recommended for meats that require short cures and will be cooked and eaten relatively quickly. Sodium nitrite provides the characteristic flavor and color associated with curing.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curing_salt
No. 1 or 2 Curing Salt It is PINK so it is not confused with normal salt. Keep safe and out of reach of all humans & animals.
Himilyan Pink Curing Salt is not the same. It is pink from minerals but doesn’t have the nitrates that pink curing salt has.
For this regular fridge, example say, cured pork lonza
starting weight = 250 grams (easier in grams)
You would use 2% sea salt (fine/powdered) (250 x 2% = 5.0 grams salt for equilibrium curing)
0.25% Curing Salt No. 1
250 x 0.25% = 0.625 of a gram! (very small quantity, should take up a tiny amount of a teaspoon)
On the calculator it would be 250 X 0.0025 = 0.625 g
So it would be 0.6 g on a kitchen scale to 1 decimal place or 0.63g on a 2 decimal place scale.
80% of your nitrate consumption comes from spinach, radishes and your own saliva! We produce nitrates in our tummy I have read.
Nitrates are found in small amounts in processed meats, and in much larger amounts in healthy foods like vegetables. They are also found in drinking water and produced by our own bodies.https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-nitrates-and-nitrites-harmful#section2https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-nitrates-and-nitrites-harmful#section2
If you haven’t tried making bacon, pink curing no. 1 is also really useful to have in the cupboard.
Here is a list of a few pink curing salt suppliers I use on Amazon:
- Hoosier Hill Farm Prague Powder Curing Salt No. 1, Pink – 1 pound
- Medley Hills Farm Prague Powder Curing Salt – 1 pound
4. The Curing Environment
My kitchen fridge is generally around 40-45°F/4-7° C.
Ideal temp is 52°F/11°C
For this short term curing, since the outside won’t have time to harden, this temp is fine, if you go by the weight/size as mentioned.
Any modern fridge has a bit of air circulation.= which is essential for meat curing also.
My fridge has a humidity of about 25%, this just means small bits of meat and short term (days/weeks not months of meat curing).
The salt curing (Equilibrium Curing) and the drying can be done in your normal fridge for small bits of meat.
The ideal humidity for longer-term meat curing is 65% to 75% humidity. (For months or years). So a meat curing chamber either DIY or purchased can be used.
This is a whole other area of focus, once set up, may options for curing/drying, if you want to learn a bit more about DIY curing chambers, there is quite a bit on that on this site.
Other environments that can work are under houses or in garages, there are many people having great success as well (with a bit of trial and error)!
Remember thousands of years ago the definitely couldn’t control the environment and just did the drying near bodies of water, like lakes/river near Parma, Italy.
5. Time & Weighing Before/After
For my favorite cured meat fridge projects it takes about 1-2 weeks to dry out in the fridge. This is after 4-5 days of curing in a bag beforehand, resting in the fridge.
The most important factor for completion is weight loss at the end once cured and uncovered.
After curing & rinsing (more on this below), you have to get at least 35% loss in weight so that you know it has been fully dry-cured – then it’s slicing time!
For Dry Cured Projects
The curing process 3-5 days
Drying process 3-9 days
It all depends on the weight & fat, once it has lost 35-40% of the moisture, it’s ready for thin slicing and devouring.
6. Happy Mold (for long term projects)
You know that white stuff sometimes on salami? Well, that’s actually happy healthy penicillin! Protecting and naturing the meat.
When the meat is ready to be hung or racked – the curing time is weeks not months so you probably won’t see any of the good white powdery molds. But it’s good to introduce the idea.
When I first saw white salami I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was some kind of seasoning.
It’s penicillin – the good mold! Also widely used in medicine. But this is naturally occurring!
So, when I started all I had was salt, spices & a fridge. That’s really all you need (and accurate scales if you want to equilibrium cure).
Of course, it depends on what you want to make!
- Fridge(or below 50°F/15°C), a cool breezy area can suffice
- Twine/strong string/butchers twine – for hanging the meat
- S hooks or some other hanging method ie. wire, clothes pegs, etc..
- Rod wood/steel same width as fridge shelf (see pic, optional) to make a little meat curing clothesline in your fridge
- Mixing bowl – to make sure all the cure covers the meat
- Ziplock bag, Vac Pac (maybe rightsize Tupperware can work sometimes too)
- Accurate Digital Scales – wrote a page on some decent ones, at reasonable prices here (highly recommended)
- Spice Grinder (also a manual or powdered option I recommend on the same link above) – Mortar & Pestle can work as well.
Spice Grinders do a fantastic job of really making a powder to rub into all parts of the meat. You end up just getting better outcomes.
If you want to use the ‘saltbox’ traditional/ saturation method, you don’t need accurate scales, but very often the meat will be over salted – which hurts when you invest the time to cure your own meat.
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8. Simple Dry Curing Recipes
- Duck Prosciutto
- Pork Lonza / Coppa / Guanciale
- Beef Braesola
Follow the above principles, for all these projects, I use the same process/method.
Meat 2-3.5% Salt (I use 2.0% but it depends on taste and what your curing!)
Spices Ideas – Optional
Equilibrium Cure percentages to the weight of the meat.
For Duck – citrus flavors like orange work well, 0.2% star anise, 0.1% clove (go easy on the aromatic Asian spices)
For Beef/Venison – I love 0.2% rosemary, 0.1% juniper, 0.2% pepper, 0.2% thyme, 0.2% oregano
For beef Braesola variations – 0.2% cinnamon & 0.2% nutmeg of course!
Pork – pepper of various kinds – green, red and black -then there are all the world’s varieties!
Rabbit/Hare/Goat – yet to explore in large detail – although garlic & rosemary with goat for the classic Italian Violin leg style!
The Process to Dry Cure in a Regular Fridge
- Cure the Meat
- Starting weight/hanging and drying
- Check for hitting the target weight
- Slice finely
1. Curing the Meat – Dry Curing
So it always starts by using the right amount of equilibrium salt cure for each project. This means you get to ‘choose’ the salt taste you want to achieve.
2% – 3.5% of the total meat weight is the general consensus for fully curing and getting your salt taste preference.
Ham goes about 3-4 day per 1 pound / 500g. But since you have such a small piece of meat 12 to 24 hours but this also depends on the meat and density of it. I would go longer but, of course, you will probably get a very salty outcome.
Ok the rest of this rundown will be based on my preferred Eq Curing Method.
Cut the chunks of meat up to be less than 1 inch thick or under 7oz / 200 grams.
Equilibrium Curing Method
Here is the cure mix for a Hungarian salami style cured pork loin (experimenting with flavor, using Hungarian paprika from Hungry of course, will be back there soon to get some more)
Place in a ziplock bag, squeeze as much air out as possible.
Make sure you get the cure into all the gaps and cover the entire meat, rub in a bit. Do this in a bowl so that you can really make sure all the cure mix goes into the meat.
5 days in the fridge, I put some weight on top to force the cure in some more if its in a bag (7 or 8 days is fine). Obviously can’t do this if you’re using airtight Tupperware.
Some Recipe Ideas to get you thinking!
A lean small bit of steak meat is a great starting point.
- Pork, Beef, Lamb Loin – types of Coppa style cured meats
- Pork Belly – Pancetta style
- Beef Eye Round – Braesola style / nice and lean
- Dry Cured Duck Proscuitto – used a farmed fat quality breast
- Cured Chunk of Pork Butt
- Remember in the fridge you don’t want to go over about 1-inch thick & 200g to avoid excessive case hardening (tough on the outside)
- When you are curing the meat, I like to use a rightsized mixing bowl, this means you can really make sure the salt (& spice) that you have carefully measured out with the equilibrium curing method will be infused.
- Best is Vacuum Packed but Ziplock bags are what I use, it’s an easy option (but I kinda prefer containers) -single-use plastic, I feel is a waste. But works really well (if you can get compostable Ziploc bags, that would work well)
- Make sure the cure is inside every crevice or of meat
- Accurate scales of 0.1 decimal place does help a lot with measuring precisely – link here to my digital scale recommendation page under dependable gear.
- Kosher salt / Trapani sea salt is my go-to salts – there are others and remember salt does vary considerably with weight, so grinding to a fine powder and weighing accurately is the best practice.
Water, wine or beer – take your pick. Just a light rinsing with water, on the odd occasion it might be red wine if you so desire.
I like to just wash with tap water generally, then maybe a spice bomb coating over the meat, when its wet from rinsing you can load some fine ground spices.
For venison or beef – some juniper berries, toasted pepper & dry rosemary goes nicely, only need a few juniper berries they are powerful!
Spice Grind your ‘coating’- then just dust/sprinkle/rub the meat after rinsing so it sticks.
Here is the meat after rinsing,
Some bits I choose to butcher twine tie, for shape and squeeze together for shape. Wrapped & tight tying can help the drying and I think prevents case hardening as well. There is a technique for this!
3. Starting Weight / Hanging & Dry
The starting weight is really important, I just use a tiny bit of cardboard/stiff paper and record starting date, starting weight & target weight.
Basically XXX weight X 0.65 = xxx finish weight!
Hanging in a fridge takes a little bit of creativity. But once you have a rod across the back of the fridge or another hook method. You just create a loop at the top and hang that meat! Using string tied across the back could work too (you’ll figure it out, as long as it’s hanging and not touching things).
Paperclips or little S hooks can make sure it’s easier to take the meat off and check the weight down the track I reckon.
If the climate suits and it’s under 60°F/15°C, you can potentially hang it in an outdoor place with some airflow.
Muslin-wrapped around the meat is advisable so that no bugs can get to it. Of course, you don’t have these issues in the fridge with quick drying.
Tip – Make sure meat isn’t touching anything whilst it is hanging
4. Check for Target Weight – End Weight Reached
Take the meat out and check if it has reached that 65% of starting weight (lost 35% weight). If it has, congrats, you just made dry-cured meat!
Once it has hit that 65% of the starting weight, you can consume the pleasurable fridge cured salumi!
I find it will easily last 1-3 weeks longer after 65%.
It just gets harder and drier on the outside.
If you are going camping or on an outdoor adventure. You can take and slice up when you want. In effect, you have preserved the meat and dried it out enough to prevent spoilage. As long as you keep it in a coolish area say fridge temperature to about 59/°15°C, it may tolerate higher temps
When I slice it and put it on my charcuterie board for a bunch of people – this is where your own charcuterie can be the highlight!
I like to use my senses, feel and look at the meat to see how it’s doing.
You might get that white powdery mold on the outside, good natural penicillin. But with this type of short dry curing probably not.
When you cold smoke meat, it tends to not get much white penicillin also, if you want an overview of the craft cold smoking meat, here is a post I wrote.
TIP Cracked or Powdered pepper also works as a bit of an anti-bacterial coating and helps the preservation.
5. Slicing Finely
This is actually really important, it has quite an impact on the flavor and perceived level of saltiness. This is a reason why prosciutto is always super thin sliced from the deli.
When I started curing meat, I did some pretty chunky slicing. There are specific knives that really work well for cutting wafer-thin slices, but it also takes practice like most things in life.
Tried to breakdown different ways of getting wafer thin-slicing here if you’re interested.
Being able to finely slice wafer-thin and translucent meat makes a huge difference.
A sharp knife, thin blade either santoku or a quality chef knife can work as long as it’s really really sharp, but it takes practice like anything!
Want to learn more?
It summarizes dozens of my blog posts.
What is the Best Temperature To Cure Meat?
For dry curing meat, 11° Celsius or 52° Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature. Humidity is an important factor for cured meats also. Salumi salt-cured meat can be done in a refrigerated area of 3°- 7° Celsius or 35° -50° Fahrenheit.
How to Use the Salt Box Method for Meat Curing
You encase the whole meat in salt (and spices possible) for a set amount of days. Once the meat is fully cured, you then move on to dry curing or smoking the meat.
Personally, I don’t like this method because it often comes out too salty.
How Long Does Cured Meat Last in the Fridge?
For fully dry-cured meat such as prosciutto, it will last approximately 2 to 5 weeks. As the meat dries out due to the low humidity the outside layer will harden. It is best to consume the meat before this case hardening on the outside occurs.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom