It gets a little bit confusing with the cured meats and raw meats since the definition of cured meats does have a lot of variations across the globe.
I’ve been lucky enough to have tasted and experienced, as well as made, many of the variations of cured meats in the traditional and modern context.
I will try to give a simple answer to start with. However, just to inform you, it isnt straightforward!
Some cured meats can be eaten raw, some need cooking, and some cured meats cannot, let’s get into a bit of detail about it.
Is Cured Meat Raw?
Certain cured meats are not raw because it has generally gone through a process of salt curing to minimize unwanted bacteria, it is then then dried to also reduce more chance of spoilage by bacteria and provide preservation. Other cured meats are cooked also as the final step before being ready to eat. Raw meat does not have the addition of salt.
I use the definition of cured meats with the addition of salt and in the recipe.
Although, some definitions online will consider salt as well as the addition of nitrates/nitrites as part of the salt curing process. A salt cure can be without nitrites/nitrates at home or commercially.
Uncured meat, for most of the world is considered meat without salt curing.
Often fresh or raw.
However, in America, due to some poor regulatory changes. Uncured meat, is salt cured meat that has a natural form of nitrates/nitrites such as celery or beetroot powder.
We also create our own nitrite inside our bodies, as well as, get a lot from dark green vegetables;
but that’s getting into a different topic!
Raw Meat vs. Cured Meat
Raw meat has no other ingredient: an animal is killed, then the meat is butchered from it, which then creates raw meat.
To preserve raw meat salt curing and drying were used over the last few thousand years.
Cured meat had salt added as a preservative – to inhabit and slow the unwanted bacteria which leads to food spoilage.
Dry cured meat has also evolved which means, meat that has been fully cured for preservation, and either needs to be cooked as the final step or as a cooked ready-to-eat product.
I will add some examples of cured meats in these different categories below to help explain this further.
Not All Cured Meat is Preserved
If you take something, such as pastrami or dry cured cold smoked bacon.
Pastrami is salt brined (pickled some would say) and cured, often with some form of acidity which also carries preserving properties. Pickling is a form of curing which often includes vinegar and salt.
It is then steam cooked or hot smoked\cooked until the internal temperature has reached a fully cooked threshold.
Therefore, pastrami as a slightly cured but not preserved cured level of salt inhibition will last slightly longer than most meat once it’s cooked but isn’t made to be preserved.
It is a ready-to-eat cooked cured product, with maybe 1 to 2 weeks of shelf life.
Dry cured cold smoked bacon has been salt cured and then dried slightly as well as cold smoked.
This is a slightly dried, slightly raw, slightly cured product. Isn’t that confusing!
(Not everything in this world is black or white!)
This is the type of cured meat that needs to be cooked, not all bacon is like this from Western supermarkets I’ve been to. But I’ll ask you this question, would you buy a packet of bacon from your supermarket and eat it without cooking?
Probably not, because its salted, smoked a bit – but needs the sterilization of cooking before it can be consumed.
However! Some bacon from supermarkets is hot smoked until a cooked internal temperature, then packaged. You then are re-cooking it to make it crispy.
Many homemade bacon recipes, where the ‘smoking’ which is also during the cooking process, is about reaching an internal temperature of about 150°F/63°C.
Otherwise the bacon will probably be the slightly raw, dried, cold smoked type.
As you can see this is where variations create different outcomes to cured and raw meat products!
Different Types of Cured Meat
Here is a table of different common types of cured meats:
|Ready to Eat||Dried Preserved||Cured Needs Cooking|
|Pastrami||Prosciutto||Dry-cured cold smoked bacon|
|Smoked Ham||Coppa||Salt Pork|
|Bologna||Pepperoni (dry cured/hot smoked)||Hot Smoked Bacon (ready to eat too)|
Is Cured Meat Fully Cooked?
As you can see in the above table the ready-to-eat cured meats are examples of fully cooked to an internal safe temperature cured products.
Sometimes, like commercial pepperoni – it’s often not dried but the factory will just use salt, preservatives and acidic reactions to ‘preserve’ it quickly, it only takes a few days. Rather than the real dry cured salami, which takes months until its ready!
Cooked vs Uncooked vs Dried Cured Meat
In a way, you can put uncooked cured and dried / cured meat in the same category, and then you have cooked cured meat as a separate category. The difference is whether the uncooked cured meat has been fully dried on or not.
Cooked Cured Meat
When I make things like
Hotdogs, Hot Smoked Ham, Certain Hot Smoked Salami Sausages, Hot Smoked Bacon or Pastrami.
I use less salt than the below dry cured meat recipes.
Since, you are only curing for seasoning mainly and sometimes to hold the moisture in the meat, less salt needs to be in the meat.
Another factor is cooked/ready to eat cured meat can be eaten in thicker slices, whilst thinly sliced dry cured meats should be wafer-thin sliced, since it often contains more salt.
The thickness of the dry cured meat cut will vary the perception of salt.
I’ve realized this after a few decades of slicing my own home-made cured meats.
Dried Cured Meat
When I make dry cured meat, often the percentage of salt to the weight of the meat will be more then 2 percent.
This is basically the level at which you can get a preserving effect to be effective.
2% of salt to the weight of the meat to fully inhabit the meat. In metric terms, this is 20 grams per 1000 grams of meat (if equalized in a bag or container to make sure the meat is fully penetrated to the core).
This is why I use a process called equilibrium curing, which forces the cure and flavor of the spices into the meat. It can be done with a wet or dry curing also; I have a calculator on this site that’s very popular for that!
Uncooked Cured Meat
Here is an example of dry-cured cold smoked bacon, as opposed to losing 35% weight for dry cured preserved meats I make.
This has lost 15-20% of the weight and has some water/moisture left. I will fry it up/cook it before eating it!
Hopefully, this gives you an insight into the subtle and not so subtle variations of cured meats!
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for decades.
I Hunt, Fish, Forage, Buy, Butcher (Wannabe Norcini), Make, Savor (I’m not a Saviour), and love curing and smoking meat.
Learning and consuming in a circular fashion, I am always interested in what is happening around the curing and smoking world
Seeking the passionate behind the passion.