Slicing cured meat wafter thin can be done many different ways. I have experimented with some techniques and gone all-in with specific knives and a decent deli slicer. So I thought I would share some ideas for different cured meats.
The harder or more dry style cured meat like prosciutto or coppa, can be quite a challenge. A sharp knife is just the first thing, and there are a few other options below also. Since the thickness can really change the perceived level of saltiness, doing it accurately makes quite a bit of difference.
Because, I always have some form of cured meat hanging around, I sometimes use a specific knife or if the volume is adequate I will pull out the deli / meat slicer.
How to Thinly Slice Cured Meat
- Chill, freeze or cool the meat to make the meat firm if applicable
- Use the correct sharp knife or meat slicer
- Apply the proper technique for the type of cured meat you are slicing
- Repeat the process consistently
Because of the variations in cured meat, I will try and breakdown what I have learned into the below styles to give you some ideas.
The cured meats I make are:
- Salumi – whole muscle Salami
- Cold Smoked Salmon or Gravlax
- Bacon – Hot & Cold Smoked
- Biltong / Jerky
I will go through the different knives and mistakes I have learned.
Then I will go over a few deli/meat slicers and certain criteria that are needed for that wafter thin-slicing!
Also, will mention at the bottom the deli slicer of my dreams!
Different Types of Cured Meats
1. Salumi – Coppa, Lonza, Prosciutto
Salumi has generally been air-dried for several months or if you have done the short normal fridge method. You will still have a firm dried piece of meat ready to be showcased.
For small or medium sized cured meats like coppa & lonza, the normal vertical slicing works well. Some light pressure may need to be applied depending on how dry the meat it.
It can vary a lot depending on how much fat and what type of meat you are cutting.
Slow even slicing with some backward and forward strokes seems to work very well (Quite different to single stroke sashimi or gravlax slicing)
Here are some examples using the Arcos 10 inch Prosciutto knife (awesome knives I wrote about here).
Leg of Parma Ham or Prosciutto
In certain Italian restaurants, the leg is sliced by hand. A trolley is wheeled to your table presenting glorious prosciutto. A stand is used to hold the leg at a 45° angle and a horizontal cutting motion is used. Quite a sight, for the home kitchen the flexible prosciutto knife is also a great option.
This is where the flexibility of the blade is very important also. Somewhat like a fish filleting knife.
You push down onto the cured meat and a bit of pressure is needed whilst horizontally slicing slithers of meat.
A sharp chef knife can work well, the prosciutto and brisket knife both can produce better results.
This is due to having a very narrow blade that doesn’t taper too much from the edge to the blunt end. The Granton blade has the advantage too, creating the air pockets, so the meat doesn’t stick.
This applies to any stick of salami either dry cured or cooked/hot smoked.
Chilling again will help firm the meat and fat. Dry cured salami which is reasonably dried out will help. Too dry, means intense flavor but of course, it becomes challenging to eat.
Also depending on the salt content and the flavor, you may want to not have super thin slices.
Try out a range of thickness level, I have found this can vary the taste quite considerably. You may want very thin if high in salt content or it is a super spicy style.
Tip – Sometimes you might buy a salami that is too soft or hasn’t dried enough, either leave it hanging in a cool area inside or in the fridge for a few days to dry out more. It just depends on how fresh the salami is.
Cooked salami or hot smoked salami will also be different to slice but the same technique works in my experience.
3. Cold Smoked Salmon or Gravlax
This can definitely be challenging without the right tool, if you want thin slices.
For a 1/4 inch cuts then a sharp Chef knife can do a reasonable job.
How to Thinly Slice Cold Smoked Salmon or Gravalax
- Cut toward the tail end of the fillet
- Angle the knife, on approximately 30 – 45° tilt horizontal angle
- Slice across the white fat lines
- Slowly slice in one stroke through the fillet
The prosciutto knife does an excellent job for cold smoked salmon or gravlax. Having the Granton blade which creates pockets of air to prevent the knife from sticking
Single edge Japanese sushi knife can do a fine job here being a narrow blade.
Tip –Since the salmon is firm it doesn’t take much pressure to slice, the key is to let the knife do the work
Now the Ham knife is the same name used for the brisket knife it seems, so the technique is very similar.
How to Thinly Slice Ham
- Use a ham or brisket knife
- Make sure the knife is very sharp
- Cut against the meat grain for more tender slices
- Apply slight pressure and stroke backward and forward
- Look at the knife to make sure the cut is at the desired angle
Usually, I pull out the deli slicer for ham, I can get the wafer-thin slices or thicker cuts you see at the deli. If you buy whole cured meats or make them regularly, a meat slicer can be a great asset.
If you want some tips on slicers for at home, I talk about a few here
How to thinly slice bacon
- Chill or semi freeze to firm the meat
- Use a long blade knife – ham or brisket knife is ideal
- Cut vertically the desired thickness
The deli slicer can do a fantastic job of even slices at the perfect thickness you prefer. But it’s only really worth looking into if you are regularly curing ham, bacon etc.
6. Biltong / Jerky
It depends on if the biltong/jerky is dry or wet. Wet being some moisture left in the middle can be cut thinner
Of course, if it’s fully dry, tearing it with your teeth is the no tools option.
Solid large sharp knives work very well also.
The biltong slicer is the great bit of kit, I use one of these for quick easy chopping.
What is a Granton Blade?
The knife has a row of teardrop concave areas spread across the blade, these are also called hollows.
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Different Knives & Uses
Prosciutto Knife – Flexible Long Blade
- Salumi – bought or homemade
- Salami – thin or thick
- Gravlax Salmon or Cold Smoked Salmon
I primarily use an Arcos Iberian Spanish flexible blade knife, it is 10″ and really incredibly sharp and holds it’s edge when you touch it up.
I have several types of sharpening systems, primarily I can use a sharpening steel to keep this knife very sharp (sharp enough to shave with).
When I use this for wafer thin-slicing it does the best job, without pulling out the deli slicer for large volumes of slicing.
The Granton blade teardrops on the knife, help the meat not get stuck to the knife.
Here is a further review I put together of some recommended knives for this application.
- Boneless roasts
It can make cutting large soft items very easy. The Victorinox 12″ Fibrox is a beast. It keeps incredibly sharp and is the easiest to touch up with a steel.
If you want to read a bit more of a review, find it here.
All-Purpose Chef Knife
Best use: It depends so much on the thickness of blade, angle, and sharpness. Most importantly how it’s used of course, practice does help I have found over the years.
My 8″ chef knife can work ok also. It’s really old, the brand has worn off it. But it’s a classic, it’s a Henckels, it sharpens up easily and gets a lot of use.
Knife recommendations here from some decent chef knives I am familiar with.
If you have a fine angle under 20° on the knife, you can achieve some form of success. But narrow gradients also means more maintenance generally.
Granton / teardrop can help here – see below for more details.
I find doing long strokes or even 1 stroke through the meat instead of a sawing motion helps a lot for softer cured meats like thicker cuts of gravlax.
Also, try to let the knife do the work. Pushing down will not produce good results for softer cured meats.
For harder cured meats, some light pressure may help..
I have been reading about these knives; they seem to have a narrower blade thickness. The angle of the blade is under 15° generally. This knife is on my wishlist because it has the potential to thinly sliced cured meats.
On my shopping list currently, if you have tried it would love to get some feedback.
Deli / Meat Slicer
Since I upgraded to a professional slicer for home use, it’s been a game-changer. Of course, it was an investment – since I do a lot of slicing it just made sense.
There are many home meat slicers in the under $200 range that just can not do wafer-thin slicing. If you want to achieve this, you have to look at the semi-professional slicer. From about $250-$350 you can have a machine that will provide precision.
If you want to read about what to avoid and what I have found it necessary, here is a page I wrote with a full rundown.
You really just can not get translucent wafer-thin prosciutto unless you use a slicing machine. The right knife used with the right technique can work quite well as an alternative. but it takes some time and practice like anything.
Many ”domestic’ meat slicers slice nicely, but they will never achieve the wafer-thin slice. They are more designed for ham or cheese slicing for instance, which is 1/8 inch thick.
They can look a bit intimidating, but once you get your head around the basics and adhere to a bit of safety, you will get those wafer-thin slices happening!
Most important rule, if it isn’t running – turn it off at the power-point switch. It’s a really good habit to get into.
How To Use a Deli or Meat Slicer at Home
- Leave unplugged until ready to slice
- Check device is clean & all screws are tight
- Optional – protective glove
- Set the desired thickness
- Put the meat securely on the guide plate
- Plug in slicer
- Turn the switch on and slowly start slicing
- Reset to starting position
Pushing Hard or Soft
I have found you have to develop a technique depending on what you are slicing. For firm cured meats, it sometimes takes firm pressure to get the desired cut.
For less dense meat, you can use lighter pressure. I have put through some boneless roasts. It’s got messy, but the results were impressive.
Fat Can Smear – Refrigerate if Needed
This has been mentioned above often, have chilled, or par-frozen meat will mean you can slice much easier. Presumably, this is due to the binding that occurs at colder temperatures.
How to Slice Salami Thinly?
The narrow blade which is sharp will give the best results for slicing salami thinly. Granton blade can assist in minimizing the meat sticking to the blade. Certain home semi-professional deli slicers will also work well.
How to Thinly Slice a Ham?
To thinly slice a ham, either a deli slicer or sharp thin-bladed knife is ideal. A semi-professional slicer will allow wafer-thin slicing. Using a ‘ham’ or prosciutto knife with a reasonable length blade can also be effective for thinly slicing ham.
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