Ready to eat salami is found all over the world, there are some variations that I thought need to be clarified. It seems a few marketing/packaging people have confused quite a few people including myself at times!
I have been making and buying salami for decades and I thought it would be helpful to breakdown the confusion around ‘ready to eat’.
To start off with, let just summarize the answer then break it down into the facts and then talk about confusing labeling.
Is Salami Ready to Eat?
All salami sold in stores is ready to eat and do not require any cooking. It is either ‘dry cured’ which is dried enough until it is safe to be consumed. Or cooked salami which is ready to eat also, this includes hot smoked salamis which are ready to eat but not preserved.
So that’s the short version, there are a bunch of confusing product labels that I will go over below. Probably the most confusing being ‘Uncured” salami.
All salami sold is ready to eat including Genoa, Beef or ‘Uncured’ Salami
What is Salami?
Minced meat stuffed into a casing (natural or synthetic). But what about the different types there are? Either cooked via a water bath, cooked by hot smoking or dry cured (and sometimes cold smoked as well). The below is dry cured salami we just stuffed and will hang to ferment, then dry and cold smoke for 4 weeks.
Type A – Dry Cured Salami
The power of salt is used for curing the meat, the salt inhibits the meat and makes a hostile environment for spoilage bacteria to grow. Low amounts of nitrates are often used to help make the meat become safer, eliminating Botiulsim bacteria.
Lactic acid is either already in natural meat or it can be produced using starter cultures of bacteria (what most people do, you just buy the stuff). This acidic environment makes it hard for bacteria that spoil meat to grow.
Temperature is higher, depending on the acidic culture to ferment before drying.
Then the dry cured salami is hung in a humid cool environment to dry out, once it reaches at least 65% of it’s starting weight. The removal of the moisture means funky bacteria can’t spoil the meat very easily also. The cool environment say around 86°F/11°C allows drying but minimizes external contaminants. This is why we build DIY curing chamber for this, check out a post here on them.
Sometimes the dry cured salami is then cold smoked (smoked under 86°F/30°C) to impart other flavor angles, this can be sessions of hours or days – depending on the salami style.
Type B – Cooked/Hot Smoked Salami
I have made ‘cotto’ salami before, it’s basically a sausage (meat, spices & casing) that has been cooked. I used hot smoking to cook my ‘cotto’ salami.
Some bier sticks you buy will also be hot smoked, so they aren’t preserved like a dry cured salami.
What is the White Stuff on Some Salami?
When making salami, it can be beneficial during the drying phase to have good bacteria on the outside of the salami.
This is actually good penicillin, yes the same stuff as you find in the hospital. As a home meat curer (try hard Norcini), I have built a curing chamber that is used for making dry cured salami & salumi (whole muscle dry-cured meat ie. prosciutto – check out what salumi is here).
Once my DIY curing chamber has had some tasty meaty goods in it, the curing chamber has ‘invisible’ penicillin living in there. So when I put cured meat in to dry/preserve it starts to protect and grow on the meat. When I see bacteria that I don’t want, I use vinegar to wipe it off.
This is how is has been done in Italy for thousands of years (without the controlled curing chamber). You will find that salumi cured meat across Italy is produce near rivers or land – since the higher humidity helps keeping the exterior of the meat from drying out (know, as case hardening).
The less the meat is messed around with, the more beneficial bacteria the meat generally has they say. In a world where hormones etc.. are injected into meat. A theory is that this influences the meats ‘good’ bacteria levels.
Difference between Raw Sausage & Salami
Raw sausage needs cooking, it is just raw meat stuffed into a casing. Salami is usually dried until it can be consumed (like jerky). Or cooked (cotta) salami is ready to consume since the process involved cooking. Hot smoking is basically cooking with smoke which is also ready to eat.
Does ‘Uncured’ Salami Need to be Cooked?
Uncured salami does not need to be cooked. Curing is the process of using salt to help dry and preserve the meat. Labeling has become confusing since curing is referring to nitrates which these manufacturers are trying to avoid.
Uncured salami is sold in stores, but really it is cured because they used salt to preserve the meat.
In the US, as I write this, the USDA regulatory body consider ‘cured’ as using synthetic chemical nitrates. So ‘uncured’ is used when natural nitrates are used like celery powder.
Every week there is a new scare about what food is good for you and what isn’t. Most nitrates are produced in your body, and when I used the minimal amount in my dry cured meat. Recent research shows, more nitrates would easily be consumed from eating a cup of green spinach.
But hey, those marketers love to sell on a bit of fear! Hence, ‘nitrate’ free and ‘uncured’ products on packaging.
Since Roman times ‘nitrates’ were added in the form of saltpeter or depending where you like saltpetre.
List of Uncured ‘Labelled’ Products that are Ready to Eat
- Genoa Uncured Salami – Ready to Eat
- Uncured Pastrami – Ready to Eat (in effect Hot Smoked meanging cooked with smoke)
- Beef Salami – Ready to Eat
- Chicken Salami – Ready to Eat
Yes, it is actually cured, there is confusion with the wording/labeling guidelines.
The Packaging Loop Hole – Uncured
Supposedly when companies don’t use sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite, they can say the meat is ‘uncured’. But in effect, you will generally find another form of nitrate such as:
- Celery Powder
- Celery Juice
- Beetroot Powder
Is Salami Cooked or Raw?
Salami can be cooked, Italian’s call this ‘cotto’. The other version of salami is dry cured, which begins being raw and is then dried until safe to consume, it is also preserved at this point.
Does Uncured Salami Need to be Cooked?
Uncured is a labeling discrepancy since salami is always salt cured. Uncured cooked / ‘cotto’ salami or dry cured salami which is uncooked can be eaten without cooking.
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