Is Cured Meat Cooked? (Some Examples and Explanations)

Cured meat is delicious! But is this so called cured meat cooked? Well cured meat covers a MASSIVE fluid category. But lets cover the basics.

Through the charcuterie fad that stems from a centuries-old tradition to the need for protein that will last on a long backpacking adventure, cured meat continues to rise in popularity all over the world.

I’ve been curing meat for nearly 20 years, and I’ve research many cultures so here is a short little answer and then a little more detail.

Is Cured Meat Cooked? Curing meat can be cooked but is often not. Curing meat is often about preserving through the salt curing and enhancing flavor. Cured meat can be dry-cured salami, cooked salami, salt pork, dry-cured salumi and many other variations.

These distinguishing differences can be a bit confusing for some, which is why it is so important to check for the particular meat that you plan to consume.

Examples (I’ll elaborate on):

Mortadella (or Bologna) = cooked emulsified Salami Style

Prosciutto = salt dry cured pork leg

Pastrami = Cured but cooked meat, ready to eat

Bacon = can be hot smoked therefore cooked, or cold smoked and dried (ready to be cooked)

I’ve made all the above (apart from mortadella, it’s on the list though). Curing meat can take SO many different forms.

Since curing meat does not imply that the meat is inherently cooked, it is important to check for the preparatory steps needed before you plan on chowing down without cooking your cured meat.

So here is a little more detail,

Categories of Cured Meats

Cold Smoked Dry Cured or not cold smoked – all of these have lost 35%, when you make cured meats at home. You want to lose that weight to make sure it’s preserved and safe to eat. Salt has inhibited the meat and it has reach ‘preserved’ state (and tasty too!)

There are a few main categories that you will find cured meat falling into. Knowing what each of these is (as well as a few common meats that are included in each category) can help you to more clearly understand the broad generalizations and practices with cooking or not cooking cured meats.

Without further ado, let’s more closely examine a few popular categories of cured meats that you will find:

Cooked Cured Meats

‘Cured first’ and ready to be cooked and smoked at a low heat = hot smoked salmon!

Some meats are cured and then cooked- either through the process of smoking, cooking directly, or using moist heat to cook them. This would imply that the meat is both cured and cooked, so it is obviously safe to eat. 

Mortadella (Emulsified)

Mortadella is an emulsified meat which means that it is a meat that has been finely ground and sealed and either been hot smoked or cooked thoroughly with moist heat.

Higher quality mortadella meat will have been made without chemicals as it will be a leaner meat that can absorb the remaining water.

Otherwise, chemical agents will be added to the meat to help with water retention. Since mortadella is a pork-based meat, it will be midrange in quality compared to similar beef-based meats.

Mortadella is finely ground pork that is a lighter pink in color. It resembles the ever-popular bologna (which we will discuss below), but it has pork fat incorporated into it. This provides a rich, savory flavor, and can also be visibly seen as white specks throughout the meat. 

Since mortadella is cooked, it will not require additional cooking once it is being served to you. Although, you should be sure to follow appropriate storage recommendations for this type of meat once it has been cut into. 

Bologna (Emulsified)

Bologna is another emulsified pork-based meat meaning that it has been finely ground and sealed and then cooked through the process of moist heat, smoking, or another means. Since the meat is both cured and cooked, you can eat it upon breaking into its packaging.

This meat is quite popular on sandwiches, though it can be served on a charcuterie board if you take the time to present it well.

With an Italian history, this meat has grown popular throughout the world as a savory selection that can be elevated from a common dish to a delicacy.

Unlike mortadella, bologna does not have finely ground pieces of pork fat in it per the regulations made by the USDA preventing the visibility of pork fat in this type of meat.

However, it is still savory and not quite as lean as red meats (beef), so you will still get the delight of its flavor profile.

Interestingly, some producers of bologna meat choose to include bits of ground-up beef, but this is not as common for this type of meat.

Either way, the meat will have been cured and then cooked (emulsified), so it will be safe to consume.

Hot Smoked Bacon (Recooked)

Hot smoked bacon is another cured meat that is cooked (and more technically recooked).

Bacon generally falls into two different categories when it comes to smoking. It can be hot smoked or cold smoked- both options with their own unique pros and cons.

With hot smoked bacon, though, you will be sure that the meat has been rid of any harmful bacteria that were not prevented during the curing process considering the heat at which the meat will be exposed to during the hot smoking process.

Hot smoking bacon has become popular for a few reasons, but the main ones being its smoky and cooked. It does not offer quite the same smokey flavor that cold smoking will for this type of meat, but it is still comparable and definitely enjoyable.

To enjoy hot smoked bacon, the procedure is pretty simple (at least on paper). The meat will be cut, cured, dried, hot smoked, dried, cooked (aka recooked), and permitted to rest before serving. You can enjoy this meat in many capacities including on your favorite sandwich, alongside your morning breakfast, or as a topping to a savory dinner.

Uncooked or Dry-Cured Meats

Salumi Charcuterie Cured Meat
Dry cured meat done at home, olive wood board from Italy!

Another category of cured meats is uncooked or dry-cured meats. The dry-curing process on many of these will render the meats ready to be consumed without the need for additional cooking. But, if you are concerned, it is best to check the particular meat you are planning to enjoy before biting in.

Parma Ham & Prosciutto (Dry-Cured Pork Legs)

Parma ham and prosciutto are sweeter meats that add a delightful delicacy to any charcuterie board (or another type of plated offering). These meats come from the rear of the pork, primarily from the pork legs. 

Interestingly, Parma ham and prosciutto are dry-cured – a process by which the meats have been cured with salt to considerably reduce unwanted bacteria that would otherwise make them unsafe to eat. 

During this process, the meat is dried with a salt cure that reduces the moisture content in the meat. 

After the parma ham and prosciutto have been prepped and cured, they are served safe to eat without having to cook them first. So, even though they look like raw meat, since they have been dry-cured, they will be safe to consume (the amino acid protein is actually easier to digest).

Lonza, Bresaola, Pancetta (Whole Muscle Dry-Cured Meat)

Lonza, bresaola, and pancetta are delightful meats that are often included in many savory dishes as their delicious addition will elevate the flavor profile of any dish. These meats are dry-cured similar to the above prosciutto.

But, since they are dry-cured, they can be consumed upon being served. However, some people do use these types of meat incorporated into other dishes, so you may find that they have been cooked alongside another ingredient which is still ok (Pancetta and Carbonara pasta is a classic)

Lonza, bresaola, and pancetta all come from whole muscles. These delicious meats can be enjoyed on a charcuterie board, or you can add these proteins on top of a piece of bread for an afternoon snack.

Cold Smoked Dry-Cured Bacon

Cold smoked dry-cured bacon is the counterpart to hot smoked dry-cured bacon, and though it differs in preparation, it shares many of the same delights. Through the cold smoking process, the dry-cured bacon is exposed to the right airflow, temperature, and humidity which propels the meat in its savory consumption.

In the cold smoked process (as compared to the hot smoked process) of dry-cured bacon, the bacon will have to rest for quite a bit longer as it dries to a weight loss (from its original weight) between 30-40%. 

Regardless, once this meat has been prepared through the cold smoking process, it will be ready to consume. 

You can use it in the same way as any other bacon, but be sure to choose an option that will allow you to enjoy the rich flavor that will have come from this more technical, worth-the-wait smoking process.

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