If you’ve never worked in a kitchen but you love charcuterie, there might be a lot of culinary information that you find confusing. Don’t let that stop you from curing at home! Here we’ve assembled a “curing for idiots” to guide you through which salts and cures to use and why.
Salt Salt is probably the oldest way to cure meats. It is used because it keeps bacteria from growing by drawing water out. A basic outline of salt curing is just to add dry salt directly to a cut of meat (dry salting), or you can add salt to a brine to soak the meat. The brine typically consists of water, sugar and any flavors the chef wants to include. Brine cured meat usually produces a less salty flavor than dry salting. Nitrate/Nitrite There are some spores that can survive salt curing, which is why nitrates and nitrites are added. The addition of nitrate/nitrite can inhibit the growth of Clostridium, E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacters. Nitrates are also known as saltpeter and react with meat tissue to form nitrites. . Nitrites keep the fat in meat fresh and prevent it from spoiling, and they also contribute to the sharp, cured flavor of preserved meats and the characteristic red color. A high salt level in the cure leads to the dull gray color you may have seen in your own meats. Try nitrate for a redder hue.
Miscellaneous There are many combination cures, most all of which include salt, sugar and some level of nitrates. Popular mixes include Prague powder and Insta Cure.