I was thinking the other day about the best tips I could give for meat curing to a beginner. Dry-cured meats and cold smoking has been my passion for a few decades, it’s quite the obsession!
Recently, I came back from a very long overseas trip across Italy (3 months, 5 months in other places) I had all my chattels/gear in storage. But I wanted to do some dry curing and cold smoking to make a little bit of bacon as a gift for a friend.
So, this set my brain off, about the beginners guide if they want to give this a crack.
Off the top of my head, I can whack up some dry-cured cold-smoked bacon. This info will be around the method of equilibrium cured bacon with a bit of cold smoke – no worries.
Below are tips and hacks – I was thinking of whilst making this batch(cure, dry, smoke basically) As well as the simplest method to create something delicious and hopefully appreciated.
The goal is to give anyone who is getting into meat curing a few shortcuts.
Tips for Meat Curing
I kind of want to start with just the process overview and then cover off each of these steps and things that I can think of that might be useful to you.
My fav process is equilibrium curing or bring, by using accurate scales you can ‘choose’ the salt level of the cure and take the guess work out.
Other traditional methods are excess, salt-box and saturation curing. This is either rubbing or placing the meat in salt directly or submerging in a salt brine.
Quick Meat Curing Tips
- Hygiene and cool temps are really important
- Use Equilibrium Curing or Brining is efficient
- Use an accurate digital scale to work out cure based on the weight of the meat for equilibrium curing
- Start off with well-proven reliable recipes/methods
- Test your drying area for humidity and temperature
- Hanging Meat leads to better outcomes when dry curing
- Start off with smaller pieces of whole muscle meat like pork belly for pancetta or beef cuts for braesola
- Use sea salt with no additives
- Finer salt that is blitzed or crushed is easier to apply for Equilibrium Curing
Goes without saying, if you are going to cure meat, you need to be clean, tidy and ideally keep everything at fridge temperature or up to say 60°F or 16°C approximately. Curing at Fridge Temperature 37-41°F/3-5°C and hanging for drying around 52°F/11°C.
The reason is, you are doing the best job of keeping bacterial activity under control.
Meat Curing Steps
Using quality sustainable meat is obviously the first step whether it’s decent wild meat or local farmed – these factors are important for me anyway (a decision we make now, creates the future -yes that’s pretty deep).
Using accurate calculations for the basics of salt, spices and nitrates.
For this consistent and accurate results of Equilbrium curing, you need to have scales that are accurate to minimum of 1 decimal place, ideally 2.
If you want more info check this page on scales and spice grinders I wrote.
Having a decent accurate recipe is of course crucial. But the essence of meat curing, in terms of dry curing
The Marianski brothers do an excellent book that gives basic recipes for many different dry-cured and smoked products, I’ll put a link to buying this down the bottom. They actually have a ton of books out.
Many guys in the community, have a suitable location around the house for hanging in drying the meat. This depends on temperature and humidity. I’ll get into that more later on testing locations.
Having a Curing chamber really does create better outcomes and these are ideal since you create the right environment for your dry curing = humidity, controlled environment for good bacteria (penicillin, the white powdery stuff you see on salami) and temperature.
I’m actually going to be bringing out a full detailed booklet on designs, setup, easy/minimalist options, and all the ins and outs. See below, no spam just quality info:
Meat Curing Tip in a Normal Fridge
I sometimes have a sneaky spot underneath the vegetable compartment inside my kitchen fridge. For certain projects where you want a little bit of weight on top to flatten it out, like pancetta – this works great.
This completely depends on your fridge.
The extra weight when you apply, and I used an antique clothes iron recently. It helps the salt and cure penetrate into the meat. This is, of course, using the equilibrium curing method.
But also you can have a go at curing meat in your regular kitchen fridge, the size of the meat is key – figured this out. I wrote a full guide here.
If you haven’t checked it out, here is a link to the equilibrium curing calculator I created.
Single-Use plastic vs. Reusable Silicon
For many years I felt kind of guilty using single-use plastic. Quite often with the Ziploc bags where you squeeze the air out and then zip it up at the end. Or a vacuum-packed bag for curing the meat.
But then I came across these,
It is an amazing and useful invention which allows you to cook, marinade, boil or cure in a bag. It can be cleaned and reused or even cleaned in a dishwasher.
But the key is to have a large type of vacuum-packed bag on the outside. And they silicon reusable bag on the inside.
Here is a YouTube video very short that shows you how it’s done.
I’m going to be doing a full Guide on how to do all this in the upcoming charcuterie course.
Tips About Removing the Cure
If I’m just using basic sea salt and maybe sugar for something like bacon I don’t even worry about washing off the cure. Most of the time if I’m using between 2.25% to 3.5% total salt. I don’t think there’s a need to wash off anything.
If you’re using a lot more salt or your packing it heavily with spices then sometimes you do need to wash it off.
One big tip if you want to getting fancy is use some wine.
For bresaola, it’s very common in the classic Italian style, to wash off the beef dry-cured bresaola with certain red wines. It subtly comes through in the flavor.
Hanging / Drying Tips
The little S hooks are great for hanging meat, whether it’s in your shed, garage or curing chamber. Because you can take off the meat to check and weigh easily.
But I also quite often use pieces of strings through the top of the meat and then going through the grill of a shelf (in my curing chamber). Then a chopstick on top holding a place like this.
With dry curing you’re always going to be weighing the meat quite often. Hopefully also inspecting it to make sure it’s just got good healthy white penicillin (or good green on white more on this later). Because of this you need to take the meat out easily and put it back in.
If you want to have a crack at meat curing of the regular kitchen fridge I’m, I wrote a whole post on here.
Here is a picture of the piece of wood with some picture hooks screwed in. This works really great for small charcuterie dry-cured projects, that only take a few weeks to make. I just hange this at the back of my regular kitchen fridge.
Equipment Tips for Dry Curing
Curing Chamber Tips
Frost free fridge is the best to use, wine fridges have certain temperature ranges that can be conducive to meet curing as well.
Thinking about the size and I mention is kind of important, since you’ll be wanting to do certain types of projects and fitting so many types of salamis or slabs support belly inside.
Here is something I wrote on how to build a curing chamber, the full guide and designs will come out soon.
Checking Temperature & Humidity Tips
Getting the right humidity and temperature is kind of really important more in the earliest stages of meat curing.
When I did a long trip through Italy recently. I visited many Parma factories across the Emilio Reggiano area.
It was interesting to find out only the first 3 months of hanging/drying were done in various controlled environments. For the minimum remaining 9 months, the tens of thousands of Parma prosciutto were hung in a basic room (http://www.slega.it/).
The process was – if it was raining they kept the windows shut if it wasn’t raining you left them open.
Around this area there are large bodies of water, so the rivers may also help in terms of having a 60 to 80% humidity more often than not.
Good Mold Tips
Here is a picture of some Njuda, which is classic Calabrian Italian dry-cured meat. At a place called Livasi, which a friend talked highly of, another small commercial operator in the Southern end of Italy.
It’s actually a spreadable salami which is basically Italian Calabrian chili, pork fat, and pork meat.
You can see a green mold growing on these natural casings. Alot of people think that the good powdery white mold is the only good mold. But this green type of mold actually grows on the culture of the white penicillin mold.
I was actually quite surprised this mold was growing, since the Njuda is cold smoked at the start of the process. Quite often with cold smoking, find there is a minimal amount of mold growth. It’s all good because the cold smoke also has a form of antibacterial and antifungal effect.
Equipment Tips for Cold Smoking
I got down to some pretty redneck basics the other day, I ended up just using a piece of pork belly which was nicely cured with simple salt and sugar (Equilibrium Dry Cured to the weight of the meat), I dropped some grapevine cuttings and Applewood chips around the portable smoker I used on the ground. I put it underneath my cheap kettle grill and wrapped tinfoil around the outside.
I got the chips going and smouldering with 1 piece of charcoal, used a butane torch to light it.
I was preparing a small batch of pork belly for a friend as a thank you. So I only really wanted six hours of cold smoking, he prefers subtle bacon.
Of course, I had to do some sampling and with just 2.5% sea salt and 1.25% sugar. It was completely and utterly delicious!
So you can see the point I’m trying to make is cold smoking can be done so easily.
If you want a simple bit of equipment a hot tip would be getting a pellet tube smoker, definitely an upgrade from a piece of charcoal.
Pellet Tube Smokers – can be used for many different projects, and it offers a 4 to 6-hour smoking with a 12″ tube – reliable and effective. (But mine is in storage right now).
Here is a full rundown I wrote on using a pellet tube smoker.
Cold Smoking Tips
Humidity is often forgotten when it comes to cold smoking, for the location environment I live in, I do my cold smoking at nighttime, which allows me to get 70% humidity or thereabouts. And normally between 15 to 25°C or 66-77°F.
I just let it smoke and die out overnight. The next morning I put in a container or wrap it up. Store in the fridge for the next session, if I want to do another one smoking the next night.
As long as the meat is fully cured cold smoking is really quite straightforward and an ancient and effective way of preserving and enhancing the flavor.
If you want more information on cold smoking I write a complete guide on it, check it out here.
Links – buy through these links doesn’t cost any more to you, it does support the website – appreciated, Tom.
Pellet Tube Smoker – My Fav Here
(Flat edge so it sites firm, good value, easy to use)
Awesome Complete Guide to Meat Curing and Smoking
200 recipes and a text book on curing!
The authors provide some serious content, it’s technical long and a bit dry to read. But, it really covers
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