Homemade Dry Cured Meat – What is it? (with Pictures)

Salumi plate of homemade braesola & coppa

It’s a fascinating world of cured meat, dry cured meat is rather different to other cured meat. I hope this breakdown maybe raise your interest into a fascinated process and an important craft that has helped us humans along the path of history.

What is Dry Cured Meat? Cured meat that has had had salt used to preserve it. Using a dry salt cure, it removes the moisture out of the meat and in the right humidity & temperature, the meat can be dried to 35% weight loss then consumed. For example, prosciutto or pancetta.

Wonderful beautiful salt, it comes in many forms and I will highlight some of my favourites below for meat curing. It’s probably one of those kitchen ingredients that alot of us don’t think about much. I find with cured meats, you want to focus on this a bit for quality outcomes.

Cured meats has become confused because the process has been mixed with the name of the final product. So when people say proscuitto, parma ham or bacon. They say it’s cured meat. In the stricter since cured meat is meat that has spent time in salt for several reasons.

Homemade Dry Cured Meat Made in my Kitchen Fridge!

So What Happens When Meat is Cured?

So in terms of the effect of a dry salt cured or salt brining a chunk of meat:

  • Salt is used to either hold moisture in or draw it out depending on fully cured meats (dry curing/cold smoking) or partially cured (hot smoking)
  • For some fully cured meats, like dry cured or cold smoked – it prevents breakdown/spoilage by dehydrating the microbes in the meat
    • lowers the acidity (pH) level to stabilize it
    • attaches to the meat proteins, which also prevents the meat from drying out

Now when it comes to say Hot Smoking fish, the goal isn’t preservation it’s more about flavor development so the above salt

But with Salumi or Salumi the above reasons are the absolute most important of the salting process.

There are generally 2 approaches to salt dry curing (ie without adding water to form a brine). 

  1. Salt box method – the traditional method of surrounding the meat in salt for a certain length of time to complete the curing process
  2. Equilibrium Curing – modern approach which involves weighing the meat and adding salt as a percentage of the meat ie. salt used is 3 grams for every 1,000 grams.

Both methods work brilliant. I find the equilibrium method allows me to not micro manage, can’t really over salt the meat and you can record and adjust the salt to your taste preference.

Lots of reasons why it’s better.

I guess this is kinda part of the craft and magic of cured meat.

it takes alot more then just salt to have great outcomes. Using ancient techniques and patience, I find creates beautiful tasty treats!

Not all Salt is the Same.

I learn’t early on that different brands of salt weigh differently compared to the same volume.

This is a big tip, the meat curer’s of the world probably struggle with this at times this is definitely the case when making Salumi & Salami, the longer form of meat curing.

Then there is the shape of the salt and the coarse and fine aspects.

Dry Cured Meat in a Fridge
Dry Cured Meat from my Kitchen Fridge!

Cured Meat – Salt dry Curing

I do this a lot for hot smoking fish and all types of salumi creations. This is mainly salt and also a selection of spices, wine & herbs to elevate flavor.

If you want a guide on hot smoking fish, please find it here. The post also talks about all the options, even without a smoker.

For wild game & beef Braesola for instance, the classics of sweet bayleaf, cinnamon & juniper are added.

For Hot Smoking fish, I find fish more subtle so I stick to simplier styles of salt and maybe sometimes some sweetness.

Wet Brine – cured meat

Using a salt/water solution you can immerse your meat (or veg) so that it has the same effects listed above. 

Example of Some Cured Meats

Parma Ham
MortadellaPepperoniPastramiSmoked Bacon
JerkyKabanosCulatelloHamJamón
PancettaLiverwurstSpeckNdujaProscuitto
LonzinoKatsuobushiCapocolloBolognaSmoked Salmon
BiltongLap CheongBraesolaPaioSaucisson
Smoked BaconChorizoLardoPancettaSoujouk

Of course the list goes on, that was just a brainstorm  – the cured fish meat of the world is an incredible list of hundreds of variations.

Meat Curing In Ancient Times

Some say it goes back to Ice Age- 12,000 years ago.

Records date back to 3,500 BC when fish was preserved with salt. The ancient Mediterranean era  seems to be very active with meat curing – pork, bats and fish. With no fridge, you can see why it was an effective way of storing food for bleaker times.

Related Questions

How do you Cure Meat?

Salt dry cure or wet brining the meat can be used, so salt has a certain effect. Salt is used to either dry the meat by removing moisture or hold moisture in during cooking/smoking.

If you want more to learn more about curing meat, a good place to start is in your own kitchen fridge. I have experiemented with this, and wrote a post here about the successful outcomes.

What is the Difference Between Cured & Uncured Meat?

Uncured meat is fresh meat and will spoil in a short period of time. Cured meat can mean the process of salting & preserving for extend periods of time. Or, salt is used in cured before smoking or hold moisture inside the meat.

Comments

  1. Any idea if fine Himalayan salt can be used in place of sea salt for dry curing a ham into prosciutto?

    1. Author

      Hey Alexandra,
      I have used Himalayan salt for meat curing and haven’t had issues. As long as Himalayan salt is not confused with Pink Curing Salt (ie that has sodium nitrates/nitrites).
      Himalayan salt has a different range of trace minerals, I am not sure whether this would do anything for a long prosciutto project or not.

      Cheers
      Tom

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