Answering the question, “How is meat preserved?” requires a multi-faceted approach. Cured meat is essentially that which not only has its moisture drawn out, but also which has specific bacteria eliminated. This allows a normal amount of moisture, for meat that you find in the grocery store.
When we think of cured beef, we often think of a brine, which is a completely different process from curing. Italian meats are an example of pork and beef that has been cured to the point where it’s safe to eat when uncooked.
In meat preservation, there’s both short- and long-term options. We’re going to share both sides of the equation, and some of the options that you can use at home. These will allow you to save time and money, and keep your meat safe to eat for longer.
Salt cured meat
Curing salt is very different from regular, Kosher, pink Himalayan and sea salt. It has a specific amount of sodium nitrite added to it. This compound prohibits the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which is a form of bacteria which causes botulism (bacteria-caused food poisoning).
Pink curing salt uses a dye to complement the color of meat. When meat is cleaned and cured with salt, it draws out many of the juices, as well as water content. For this reason, a pink color is added which isn’t to be confused with pink Himalayan salt.
This ingredient is also used in cured sausage. Going back hundreds of years, countries like Italy, France and South Africa have perfected the art of dry curing meat.
Salami is a common example of this. A mixture of meat, most often including pork, is ground up with a specific amount of fat and seasoned with the use of curing salt. Afterward, it’s packaged in sausage casings and left to dry in some form of meat curing chamber.
Salt cured ham is a common example of meat that traditionally uses a wet cure. It has the same purpose of a dry cure, but with higher concentrations of sodium nitrite and mixed with water.
Curing meat at home
Venison meat is a great example of something that you may wish to cure at home. It’s recommended to clean the meat with a mixture of water and regular salt, prior to the actual curing process.
You also have the option of using cure injections. This is simply where you use a long needle to inject your wet cure deep into the center of large cuts of meat to ensure a thorough and consistent cure. This is even more complex than dry curing, especially when using whole cuts of meat, but is often necessary.
We recommend purchasing a curing salt, if you’re a beginner. If creating your own, you must get an exact ratio, depending on your purposes.
- Slow cooking involves a long amount of time at low temperatures. Since meat begins to cultivate bacteria as soon as it reaches room temperature, it should be cured well enough to prevent this. A 1:16 ratio of sodium nitrite and salt is appropriate here.
- It requires less sodium nitrate to increase the shelf life of meat when storing in the refrigerator. When curing pork belly into bacon, for example, a 1:21 ratio of sodium nitrate and salt is appropriate. You could also add sugar, honey or maple syrup for a different flavor, as well as any of your favorite spices.
Meat preservation at home
Cured sausage, as you know, is a result of homesteading and a long history of meat preservation. In modern times, we have even better technology that allows us to make cured sausage with scientific precision. This includes perfect temperature and humidity settings for dry aging and curing meat.
Freeze drying meat is another option. These machines are quite expensive, and aren’t very practical for a family who wants to preserve their meat inexpensively. They’re very effective, however.
A meat dehydrator is relatively inexpensive and very effective. You can remove as much as 95% of your food’s moisture content, which virtually inhibits all bacteria growth for long periods of time.
You can use a food dehumidifier to increase storage capacity and create large supplies of delicious, long-lasting meat!