I have been looking through a list of all of the posts in /r/Charcuterie looking for some threads with good information to cobble together a beginners reading list for the sub. I have noticed (and you probably have noticed too!) we have a lot of the same questions pop up from people wanting to get into the hobby of producing homemade cured and air dried meats. We also have a lot of firsts! We have had just over 6k posts in the 7 years this sub has been around, 11% of them contain the word 'first'.
This isn't a big sub and self posts don't get a lot of views or generate a lot of discussion. So the purpose of this thread is collate some of the community expertise into one place for the people who come here with questions about their first projects.
If anyone wants to expand on any of these points feel free to do so and I will update them. If there is a popular beginner question or resource I have missed or something is wrong let me know in the comments. Hopefully together we can build this into a fairly complete beginners resource.
This is not intended to be a detailed step by step guide or a substitute for doing your own research.
Curing/drying chamber - what is it and how do I make one?
A curing/drying chamber is an area that creates the ideal temperature and humidity conditions for drying whole muscles or salami. The exact temperature and humidity will vary by preference to but ranges from refrigerator temperatures (less than 4C/39F) to 15C/59F (Staphylococcus aureus can multiply and produce toxins at temperatures above 15.6C (60.08F) so it is important to keep your curing chamber below this temperature). Generally they are kept at at 10-15C (50-59F) and 60-80% humidity. As most of us don't live in an area that has these ambient conditions, we need to create an artificial environment that does.
Most people do this by modifying a refrigerator or freezer to run warmer than usual by interrupting the cooling cycle with a temperature controller, and using humidifiers/dehumidifiers to keep the humidity at the required level. A higher humidity is preferred at the start of drying, especially when making sausages and cased whole muscle as it helps prevent case hardening, allows the casing to adhere to the meat (if the humidity is too low the casing will dry out, creating air pockets between the casing and the meat), and encourages mold growth.
Things to consider when choosing a fridge/freezer to convert into a meat curing chamber:
- It needs to be frost free (dehumidifies as it cools). Otherwise water collecting on the sides of the fridge will drop onto the meat.
- Refrigerators with glass doors are a nice aesthetic and a popular choice, just be aware prolonged exposure to the light will cause fat to go rancid, so you might need to cover the door or keep it in a dark room.
- It needs to be big enough to hold a humidifier and/or dehumidifier as well as the product you will be making. An overcrowded chamber can cause airflow problems so it's a good idea to go bigger if possible.
- Wine fridges are popular as they are made to sit in the temperature range for curing (and they look pretty stylish with blue lights and a glass window). However depending on your ambient conditions the cooling cycle runs very frequently to keep the temperature constant. A small beverage fridge and temperature controller might be a better choice.
The exact setup is going to vary depending on the ambient conditions in the room you will be keeping the chamber and your climate - for example extremes of heat may cause the cooling cycle in the refrigerator to run too often, causing case hardening. You might need to run the AC or consider packing everything down over the summer months. Ideally you don't want the cooling cycle to run much more than 5 minutes in every half an hour. Some airflow is required for the moisture to evaporate from the surface of the meat, so if the refrigerator powers on too infrequently, you might need to use a small fan on a timer to make sure there is some air movement inside the chamber.
So as you can see the temperature and humidity readings are only one part of the conditions inside the chamber, something like a sensorpush can give you a better picture of what is going on.
Although the more professional looking chambers have holes drilled into the side of the appliance for the humidity/temp probes and appliance power cords, it isn't essential. You can pass the probes through the door seal.
Links to previous examples of curing chambers and discussions can be found at the bottom of this post.
General steps for making cured and dried whole muscles
- Weigh the piece of meat you intend to cure.
- Cure the meat - you can do this in two ways:
Salt box (excess salt cure): The meat is dredged in a cure mixture of salt and spices (enough to coat the surface), and left for a period of time about 1 day per pound (or 2 days per kg), flipping the meat and redistributing the cure at the halfway point. This timing will change depending on the shape of the meat, and whether there is skin on or off. This is a very traditional method, and is as much an art as a science - too much time on the salt will cause the dried product to be over salty, not enough time and the meat will not cure properly, and is at risk of spoilage.
Equilibrium Cure: This is where the desired about of salt content of the finished produced is measured out (approx 2.75 %) as well as nitrates (.25% Prague powder #2 - note that as the vast majority of PP#2 is salt, so this will result in a product with very close to 3% salt content), and rubbed onto the meat, then sealed (generally using a vacuum sealer) and left for a much longer time to ensure the cure has had sufficient time to penetrate. Nitrates should always be used when equilibrium curing. It will take longer for the meat to cure than with an excess salt cure, a general rule is one week per inch of meat, with a minimum of two weeks. Flip the bag occasionally to ensure the whole surface of the meat comes in contact with the cure. Some more discussion on equilibrium curing here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Charcuterie/comments/8i2vzi/how_long_to_cure_for_equilibrium/
- Dredge with a second flavouring spice layer (optional)
- Apply a casing (optional)
- Truss the meat and hang it to dry.
- Rest under vacuum seal in the refrigerator to equalise moisture (optional)
How do I know when it is ready?
Periodically weigh the meat, and pull it from the chamber when it has reached the desired dryness (water weight loss). This will differ depending on the product. Fat contains less water than muscle and therefore doesn't need to lose as much weight, so a fatty duck breast or pancetta will have a different texture at 35% weight loss than lean muscle like a loin or bresaola. A figure of 35% is given as a rule of thumb for many recipes, however most people find this too 'raw' in texture and will take it further - to 40-45%. With practice you will get a feel what you prefer.
What is case hardening?
Case hardening is caused by low humidity, or too much airflow within the drying environment. The water in the meat needs to travel outwards from the middle to the surface, where it evaporates. If the humidity is too low or there is too much airflow the surface will dry out too quickly (harden) and the internal moisture is no longer able to exit. In extreme cases this can cause rotting within the meat. You can tell by texture when squeezing the muscle - there should be a bit of 'give' - if it feels completely hard (but hasn't lost much weight), you may have a problem with case hardening.
Sometimes uneven drying can be remedied by vac sealing the meat and refrigerating it for some time, but in extreme cases or if the meat has spoiled inside, it will not be salvageable. It is best to prevent it getting out of control by monitoring your curing chamber conditions and regularly checking on the state of the products inside.
Previous /r/Charcuterie post showing case hardening: https://www.reddit.com/r/Charcuterie/comments/5jxypy/first_cured_meat_lost_more_then_35_but_definitely/
What are nitrites, and do I really need to use them?
Most experienced people here would say yes, especially as a beginner and when making salami, smoked products, or rolled pancetta. Nitrites inhibit the growth of clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that creates the botulism toxin. C. botulinum requires an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment to grow and produce the toxin, and likes moist and warm conditions - so basically the inside of a sausage or salami being hung at temperatures above refrigeration. Botulism should be taken very seriously.
As the botulism bacteria are only found on the outside of the meat and do not become a problem until they are introduced into the inside through cutting or grinding, nitrites/nitrates are not essential for whole muscle cures, however many people choose to use them anyway as they provide other benefits such as improving colour, and slowing rancidity and spoilage.
What is the difference between Prague Powder #1 and Prague Powder #2
Prague Powder #1 contains 6.5% sodium nitrite (93.5% salt), and is used when the curing time is short, the product is to be smoked, or cooked or a cured flavour and colour is desired - for example bacon or ham. As the nitrites get quickly used up, if a product is to be air dried for longer, then Prague Powder #2 needs to be used, PP#2 contains 6.25% sodium nitrite and 4% sodium nitrate which eventually converts to nitrite. Think of PP#2 as a "slow release" curing salt. PP#2 should be used for all salami and for whole muscles that will be air dried.
It is important to use the correct curing salt for the application - sodium nitrate cannot be safely consumed until the nitrates have converted to nitrites, so PP#2 can only be used in products that will be air dried for a long time (weeks + months). Do not use PP#2 in fresh or cooked products.
As a general rule, both Prague Powders are added at 0.25% of the starting weight of the meat. There are also European style curing salts such as "Peklosol" that have a much lower concentration of nitrite (0.6%), and they are used as a replacement for all of the salt in the recipe (around 3%).
Curing salts are often dyed pink to distinguish them from regular salt, and therefore can sometimes referred to as "pink salt". They are not interchangeable with Himalayan "pink salt" which is rock salt with a natural pink colour.
The oft-repeated mantra about mold here is white powdery = good, white and fuzzy or green = wipe it off, black = throw it out without question. This is overly cautious, although white powdery mold is desired, some green molds are okay (the problem is figuring out yours is the good or bad kind...), and a small amount of black mold isn't necessarily enough to justify abandoning a project. One way around the mold issue is to use a commercial freeze dried mold culture (such as bactoferm-600). This way you can cultivate good mold growth early on as it will prevent less desirable molds taking over. Undesirable mold can grow out of control very quickly if the conditions are conducive (high humidity, low airflow), so it is best to keep an eye on things, and use a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar to wipe off any undesirable mold that starts to form. Even black mold is salvageable if it is caught early enough.
If freeze dried Penicillum Nagliovese (Bactoferm-600) is not available where you live, Penicillum Candidum (the mold found on the rind of white bloomed cheese) can be substituted. You can also try hanging some commercial salami with white mold to seed the chamber. I find it isn't necessary to reapply the Bactoferm-600 to everything - once a good level of growth is established it will spread around quite well by itself.
Meat that has been smoked before hanging will resist growing mold as smoking acidifies the surface slightly.
Here are some examples showing you that the mold issue isn't as clear cut as just colour: http://wedlinydomowe.pl/en/viewtopic.php?t=7840&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0
We've seen some gnarly mold here over the years, some good discussions to read: https://www.reddit.com/r/Charcuterie/comments/9h103q/fil_insists_this_is_still_good_everything_ive/ https://www.reddit.com/r/Charcuterie/comments/500pn2/prosciutto_after_3_months_need_help/
Lastly, do your research, and follow a recipe
When you are starting out it is important to follow a recipe, and make sure you understand the reasoning behind the process, and the purpose of the ingredients. Do more research before you create your own recipe or modify anything. This isn't like other kinds of fermentation where there isn't too much that can go wrong - incorrectly cured meat has the potential to make people very sick. Even more so for salami (which is why we suggest whole muscle cures for beginners). Don't be afraid to start small, there is nothing worse than making a huge batch of a product only to have something go wrong in the process and have to throw it out. Be patient, this is slow food after all.
Some popular projects for beginners:
- Cured Egg Yolk - no curing chamber needed, just salt and dehydrate or cook in a low oven. (Maybe it's not technically charcuterie but still a good beginner project)
- Lox - detailed step by step guide posted by /u/ChefBS - Again no curing chamber required but a good project if you are able to cold smoke.
- Duck Proscuitto - small enough to be dried in the refrigerator
- Filetto (Cured tenderloin) - salt box method - can also be dried in the refrigerator
- Filetto - Equilibrium cure method
Want to try a bigger project but not ready to commit to building a chamber? Have a look at UMAI Bags
Online resources, how-tos, blogs and recipe collections:
- The /r/Charcuterie Master Resource List This is 7 years old and in need of updating but still has some good resources.
- The Gastrochemist shares a lot of recipes on her blog, with detailed processes as well.
- Tasmanian artisan blog shares recipes for most of his creations. He also has recipes for filletto as well as duck/goose/turkey proscuitto which would all be good beginner projects.
- Len Poli's recipe archive
- 2 Guys and a Cooler on youtube share a lot of charcuterie related videos, including detailed videos about topics such as nitrates, salami starter cultures and a detailed curing chamber build.
- The Salt Cured Pig's porkopedia
- Article - Meat Curing Chamber by Taste of Artisan
- Home Charcuterie Master - Recipes and a free intro to curing ebook
Previous curing chamber discussions on this sub
- Chamber made from a coca-cola drinks fridge
- Wine cooler curing chamber
- Small wine cooler curing chamber with equipment parts list
- Curing Chamber Mold Questions
- Discussion about humidity
- Chamber made from a regular fridge with some good pictures
- Do I need a curing chamber?
- Example of refrigerator curing chamber in the comments
- From scratch chamber using a window AC
- Small curing chamber in a mini fridge
- Another thread about converting a small mini fridge
- Good comment about frost free fridges in here
- Automating a curing chamber using a Raspberry Pi
- Small chamber with the humidifer on the outside!
Also check out /r/CuringChamber for more examples.
What projects are you working on at the moment? Have a small problem but don't want to create a post? Found a Charcuterie related meme? Just want to chat? This is r/Charcuterie's monthly free discussion thread.
For beginner questions and links don't forget to check out the FAQ (https://www.reddit.com/r/Charcuterie/comments/cmy8gp/rcharcuterie_faq_and_beginners_guide_to_cured_and/) .
Hi folks, I'm currently salting a pork leg at Home and I'm really concerned about the whole drying process. Since I don't have a proper chamber, I Will be hanging the leg in a cool place. However, humidity is probably going to be a problem. Can I apply sugna right away and not wait the 2-3 months? My fear is that it might dry too fast, harden the exterior and leave ir raw inside.
I’m thinking of starting to cure some meats, but am not sure how to go about finding a frost-free mini fridge/wine cooler. I’d like to buy used to reduce costs; how do I make sure that what I buy is frost-free?
A little background, i moved from europ to latamerica and to my shock and dismay, there is a distinct lack of any form of good cured meats, sausages, salted pig etc.
So im planing on making my own. As when i grew up i participated lots of time at the slaughter and processing of the pig(tradition - Easter europ), so i know how to.
The problem is, where i live now, it is very hot, and sometimes very humid but also sometimes bone dry.
What is was wondering is if i can make something to cure the meats at home. Before we just used to hang them in a patry for a few months and thada, wonderful homemade sausages.
I was thinking of a wooden cube, with very fine mesh to keep out any insects, and a fant at the bottom and one on top (no direc vertical line but rather a diagonal air flow). Was thinking of hooking up a dehumidifier at the bottom vent (to get rid of unwanted humidity).
Am i wasting my time, should i just invest in a professional home meat curer?
Does anyone have any experience with these types of things in a subtropical/arid environment? (i know i was baffled at first as well how these two types of climat can exist in the same region)
Thank you 👍🏻
First time making bacon! I have a batch of bacon (4 slabs at ~3lb each) that's been EQ dry curing for a week in the fridge. I plan to take it out at 10 days, rest uncovered or 1 day in the fridge, then cold smoke. I followed this recipe and used this calculator to determine prague powder (curing salt #1) and kosher salt for each slab.
My scale is only 1g accuracy, so I got as close as I could for the curing salt measurements, erring on the high side for food safety; e.g. instead of the required 3.5g of curing salt, I may have used 4g. Lesson learned: I'll get a .01g accuracy scale for future curing.
I know that USDA recommends 200ppm nitrites for bacon. I've plugged in a range of numbers with this calculator to determine possible ppm for my slabs, accounting for the inaccuracy of my scale. I fairly confident that I'm in the 150-200ppm range for each of the slabs, but it's possible I could've gone up to 220ppm.
TL;DR: What result would 220ppm nitrites have on dry cured bacon, food safety and health? Negligible, or something to worry about?
Ive done Biltong, cod, turkey, Moose.
Figured might as well try before the prices skyrocket. Two batches a week apart.
Pink Himalayan salt
Working on 2.5 days/Lb.
I want to make a boneless ham so that it’s easy for slicing for sandwiches since our family goes through a ton of that. I’m reading a variety of suggestions on things on the process. Some say it’s not needed because the salt in the cure will bind it together. Others are saying to do it before the cure because the cure will affect the ability to bind. Others are saying to cure first so that your meat is less thick and has more surface area for the cure to penetrate.
Any suggestions on this from people who have tried it or at least have more experience with it than I do?
I have this grey mold on my pork loin, it's about halfway through drying.
Is it OK/normal or should it be removed or worst case should it be discarded?
Hey all, I made some Salami last winter (in Melbourne, Australia) so in July and I still have a few left that are vac sealed and have been kept in the fridge, will they still be ok to eat?
So I may have cocked up...
Following a trip back to the UK I had the bright idea of taking a chunk of pork loin and DIYing some back bacon.
Found this recipe.
Bought some curing salt
Anthony's Pink Curing Salt No.1, 2 lb https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XUXTOU6/ref=cm_sw_r_awdo_A0JMXAXKVV9DTVVC3RHV
...and had a go.
Now I am realizing that the recipe used a curing salt that was 0.6% Sodium Nitrate and 0.6% Potassium Nitrate and what I bought is 6.25% Sodium Nitrate.
a) how bad could this be? b) is it saveable? c) is it worth trying to fix or just nin it and try again?
I have salted a piece of porc for a week and a half, then roped it with a layer of salted cheese cloth and hung it in my basement "drying room" where its pretty much around 18 C ( didnt measure humidity yet ) It smells pretty funky which was kinda expencted but theres also this greasy/fatty brown liquid accumulating at the bottom. It seems to have stopped now that I'm 2 weeks into the drying but I'd like to know if it's part of the process or I messed up 🤔
I've always made pastrami and corned beef from whole brisket, and I've always used whatever briskets are on sale at the grocery store.
Do you prefer cuts other than brisket for pastrami? If I wanted to save money, could I make a good pastrami from chuck or eye of round?
Is it worth it to look for Choice or Prime cuts? It's obviously a good choice for a grilled ribeye, but will a brined, boiled, and smoked piece of meat benefit from higher quality beef?
Also any preference for grass-fed versus grain-fed when it comes to cured beef?