There is salt and there is curing salt, I hope to help explain which salt is for which application in this post.
When I started meat curing and had never heard of prague powder, pink curing salt, instacure, and many others. Now, I thought it would be useful for others to know what I have learned.
It makes bacon taste like bacon and look like bacon. However, only certain meat curing projects need pink curing salt or nitrites. It’s an important ingredient to make sure the meat curing project heads along the right track.
If it is needed, it needs to be treated with respect also (and used in small amounts).
Which Salt for Meat Curing?
Certain meat curing does not require nitrate curing salts (‘pink curing salt’). It is very dependent on the recipe and technique.
Generally, if hot smoking, curing salt with sodium nitrite only should be used (like for pastrami or corned meats). Basically for meat curing projects under 30 days.
Advanced salumi dry curing should have pink curing salt with sodium nitrite & nitrate (because the nitrates which breakdown into nitrites over time, for long over 30-day curing/drying).
Primarily curing salt is for, preventing the growth of unwanted bacteria, making the meat less likely to get the bacteria you don’t want.
It also imparts flavors and helps preserve the meat.
Sea Salt vs Curing Salt
Sea Salt – sodium chloride has the preserving effect for cold smoking or dry curing (for inhibiting the meat and reducing the moisture – which in turn lessens the ability for the bad bacteria to spoil the meat). But nitrates are added as an extra level of safety when curing meat for any length of time, I like this extra level of protection. Even though I like to use quality meat, mostly wild or farmed in the right way and handled with care along the way ie. is kept cool and hygienically handled.
If you want to know more about what is dry curing, please find a post here going into detail.
Pink Curing Salt refers to salt with nitrates, dependent on the project, certain curing salts should be used.
Pink Curing Salt No. 1
For short-term meat curing, less than 30 days, which will be cooked ie. dry-cured bacon, pastrami, and corned beef.
Pink Curing Salt No.2
For long term meat curing over 30 days (dry curing salumi or salami). This meat is generally dried and not cooked ie. Prosciutto, Parma Ham, Braesola, Lonza, dry-cured salami
Fermentation vs. Dry Curing / Meat Curing
Dry-cured meat is generally not fermented (unless it’s dry-cured salami, where fermentation is used to change the acidity before drying, not a must – but a more consistent way to make salami).
Meat Curing uses the salt which
This is where salt inhibits the meat, not to be too technical, it stabilizes the meat, and retains some low level of moisture preventing bad bacteria from thriving.
The main reason why the curing salts (1 & 2) are pink in color is so that the curing salts are not to be confused with regular table salt or sugar. Eating curing salts straight without being mixed and diluted, could create health problems.
The pink coloring is to help prevent
Easy and cheap, pink salt makes the meat curing process safer. Basically, throughout history, there were different types of alternative ‘nitrates’ used such as naturally occurring saltpeter for instance.
When you start to understand the basic need and can accurately add the pink salt – you use it as another ingredient to produce beautiful charcuterie, salami or dry-cured cold smoked bacon!
For more info on dry-curing meat at home, I wrote a guide that will help get you going here.
Dry Curing – Main Sea Salt + Pink Curing Salt #2
The basics of dry-curing meat is to get the meat fully cured.
Make sure you use official recipes that have clear instructions on the ingredients when it comes to pink curing salt.
For dry equilibrium curing, you will always have a majority of the sea salt, made up of 2-4% of the total weight of the meat. You will then have 0.25% of pink curing salt of the total weight of the meat.
Pink Salt No.1 – Short Term Meat Curing
- Pink Curing Salt No. 1
- Instacure No. 1
- Prague Powder No. 1
- DQ curing salt No. 1
- Quick Cure No. 1
No. 1 consists of:
- 93.75% table salt
- 6.25% sodium nitrite
How Much to Use
As a guide 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds / 2.27 kg of meat
All recipes I have seen used:
0.25% of the total weight of meat
Since it turns out to be such a small amount, accurate & precise scales that can go to 2 decimal places or at least 1 should be used.
I’ve had my brother write some code to produce a calculator to work this out for either dry curing or wet brining, here is the page link to the calculator – https://eatcuredmeat.com/how-much-curing-salt-per-pound-of-meat-dry-or-wet-curing-tool-calculator/
In essence, the nitrite component keeps the meat safe over a short period of time. It gives pork the pink hue you are familiar with, like in bacon & pastrami!
You will be using it in very small amounts.
What is Pink Curing Salt No.1 Used for?
Meat curing is where the meat is fully cooked or fully hot smoked before eating.
So examples of what No.1 is used for:
- Jerky (cooked kind)
- Luncheon type meats
- Corned beef
Where to Buy Curing Salt No. 1
Here are a couple of links to the No. 1’s on Amazon I use ones that have a minimal amount of artificial flavors and propylene glycol which make the curing salt perishable, like these ones. Most labels will indicate about 10 years of shelf life with the below options.
Smaller Size (resealable)
Large Amount – Big Meaty Projects
Pink Salt No. 2 – For Long Term Meat Curing
- Pink Curing Salt No. 2
- Instacure No. 2
- Prague Powder No. 2
- DQ curing salt No. 2
No.2 consists of:
No. 2 I use for long-term dry-cured projects such as Braesola or Coppa, dry-cured hard salami and meat projects that are in curing chamber for months (or years). I have wanted to do a 4-year dry-cured Prosciutto, one day!
Wiki explains this well:
The sodium nitrate found in Prague powder #2 gradually breaks down over time into sodium nitrite, and by that time a dry cured sausage is ready to be eaten, no sodium nitrate should be left. For this reason it is recommended for meats that require long (weeks to months) cures, like hard salami and country ham.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curing_salt
How Much To Use
The same amount is used for as No. 1
1 teaspoon of pink curing salt per 5 pounds / 2.27 kg of meat (teaspoon measurement is inaccurate, best to use accurate scales instead which go down to 1 or ideally 2 decimal places for a range of options, I put together a page with decent options here).
or 0.25% of the total weight of meat
What is Pink Curing Salt No.2 Used For?
- Prosciutto & all the dry-cured Salumi
- Dry-cured salami
Basically salumi or dry curing that won’t be cooked or hot smoked to be eaten.
Where to Buy Curing Salt No. 2
Here are some decent brands I love to use from Amazon.
Small Amount (will last you a long time)
Large Amount (if you thinking brines and like buying in bulk)
Why is Pink Curing Salt Pink?
It’s pink so it doesn’t get confused with ordinary salt or sugar.
It doesn’t matter if it is curing salt no. 1 or 2 they are both pink. You are only going to be using 0.25% of the total weight of the meat ie. 1000 grams = 2.5 grams of pink curing salt.
With children in the house – extra safety should be taken where this is stored.
How Much Does Curing Salt Cost?
The inexpensive nominal cost of pink salt means there really isn’t any excuse to not include it. You can order it through a bunch of places. Just make sure you are correctly ordering No. 1 or No. 2 depending on the meaty project.
2-4% of the total weight of Meat – Main Sea Salt + Pink Curing Salt (0.2% of the total weight of meat)
The Big Difference Between No. 1 Curing Salt and No. 2 Curing Salt
No.2 has long-term nitrate added so that it keeps meat safe over a more extended period,
What is the Difference between Curing Salt & Pickling Salt?
Curing salt has nitrites/nitrates.
Pickling salt does not have nitrates/nitrites – it is very fine compared to other salts, so that is can dissolve quickly in a brine solution for…. pickling!
It also doesn’t contact any additives or anti-caking specifically good for canning and curing.
Nitrates are Natural & Everywhere
So, they say a serving of cured meat with pink curing salt no 1 or no. 2 will have fewer nitrates than a serving of fresh spinach. Apparently, there are nitrates in many vegetables and our body actually need nitrates to function correctly.
Botulism is a nasty issue, so to make sure we can make it safe choose the right pink curing salt!
Curing Meat Without Nitrates
A lot of hot smoking recipes for fish do not include pink curing salt.
BBQ low & slow smoking doesn’t need nitrates/nitrites since it’s just cooking with smoke flavor over an extended cooking time at a low temperature.
From what I have read in books, in the 1970s there were some pretty loose regulations around nitrate additives. This has all been tidied up across the western world and the regulations have been put in place to minimize its use of it commercially now.
Base Recipe – Salt and Nitrites
So when you are saying, making some dry-cured equilibrium curing style bacon, you will have a base salt amount of say 1.5% – 2.5% of kosher salt or sea salt.
You will then add 0.25% of the meat weight of Pink Curing salt No. 1
In terms of taste, you will want to get the right amount of ‘total’ salt to meet your taste requirements.
Spices can then be added, 0.5-1.0% sugar is quite common in commercial bacon.
Do I Need Curing Salt for Meat Curing?
Some certain cured meat projects do not need pink curing salt/nitrates, like gravlax.
I use curing salt to make sure the meat is safe for longer projects which are over several months. The tiny small chance that bad bacteria could be present is not worth leaving it out.
So do nitrates cause health issues? It seems to come up in misinformed websites quite often, here are some scientific answers:
US National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health Human safety controversies surrounding nitrate and nitrite in the diet.
European Safety & Food Authority EFSA confirm current exposure levels of food nitrites and nitrates are safe
The ‘processed foods’ get bundled together in the misinformed or poorly researched media.
A highly process incredibly cheap hot dog or poor quality deli ham is likely to contain a higher level of nitrates than what the home curer uses = ie 0.25% of the meat weight.
In the mid-1970s there was all this talk about nitrates/nitrites. The National Toxicology Program, is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A multi-year evaluation of the safety of sodium nitrite was completed. They concluded at approved levels, nitrite is safe and also may help counter heart attacks, vascular problems, and sickle cell disease.
So that ticks a lot of boxes for me, with hard evidence there are no issues with using nitrates & nitrites.
It seems the true issue is in bacon when cooked at higher temperatures produces nitrosamines which are really bad for your body. To counter this Vitamin C is added to neutralize the nitrosamines I have read.
But when bacon was fried at 350 °F for 6 minutes (medium well), 400 °F for 4 minutes (medium well), or 400 °F for 10 minutes (burned), some nitrosamines were found. Thus, well-done or burned bacon is potentially more hazardous than less well-done bacon.
Oct 29, 2013
So this is applicable for ‘cooked’ until crispy cured meat, generally, I’m doing dry-cured meat, where the Italian Scientists have studied it, and believe it is even a more easily digestible protein (due to the strict production, Parma Ham does not have nitrates, just Pork, and Salt).
Are Curing Salts Used in Traditional Salumi – Italy?
Yes, they are, there are instances like the famous Parma Ham above, which has been so fine-tuned only salt and pork as used.
Substitutes for Pink Curing Salt?
There is the
Difference Between Himalayan Pink Salt & Pink Curing Salt
Himalayan pink salt contains no sodium nitrate/nitrate, therefore, it is not a curing salt it is normal salt for cooking and seasoning.
It is plain old normal salt (with minerals which give it the color)
How Long Does Pink Curing Salt Last?
It does not have an expiry date. Oxygen will attract microbes, as long as it’s airtight and in a cool area, it will have multiple years of use. A small amount of discoloration may occur over time as oxygen affects it.
What is Pink Salt?
Pink salt is confused often, pink Himalayan salt is a standard cooking and seasoning salt. It is in crystal form with minerals. Pink curing salt is used for making cured meats such as bacon, pastrami & dry-cured salami, it has sodium nitrite or nitrate added to it.
What is Prague Powder?
Invented in Prague, Czech Republic, Prague Powder #1 is sodium chloride (salt) and sodium nitrite is for meat that will be cooked. Prague powder #2 has the addition of sodium nitrate, it is used for long-term cured meats, that will not be cooked.
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