Dry Curing of Meat


Dry curing is the oldest way of curing meats.  Meat curing is the incorporation of salt, sugar, nitrate and/or nitrite to impart unique properties to the product. In the dry curing method, the curing ingredients are simply rubbed directly on the surface of the meat to be cured.  The dry curing process is utilized to make specialty European items such as Prosciutto, Iberico ham and Serrano ham.  The Italian item Bresola is made from beef round.  American Country ham and Jinhua ham in China are dry cured products.  

To dry cure, you mix the salt, sugar, nitrate and spices, coat the meat, and store it in a temperature and humidity-controlled space.  Dry curing is slow.  Simple American style bacon (made from pork belly) can take a week and large meats like hams can take months.  Length of time is dependent on the thickness of the cut and dryness desired.  The disadvantage of dry curing is that it requires a lot of space to hold the meat and ties up inventory for far longer than most businesses like. The energy costs can also be burdensome.  Furthermore, in dry curing, it is extremely important to control humidity, temperature and salt otherwise bacteria and mold can develop.




A simple and time-tested dry-curing formula is as follows: • 8 pounds (3.6 kg) salt • 3 pounds Sugar (1.3 kg) • 2 ounces (56 grams) sodium nitrate • 1 / 2-ounce (14 grams) sodium nitrite. Spices and seasonings are added depending on the type of product.




Dry Curing (Application)

The time is seven days per inch of thickness. For example, if a pork ham is 5 inches thick through the thickest part, this ham should be cured 5 x 7 = 35 days. A pork belly two-inches thick should cure in 14 days. During curing the product should be stored at temperatures between 0 to 4 degrees C.  Keep in mind, the temperature range should be high enough for the meat to cure properly and dry, but low enough so bad bacteria and mold do not grow.  The meat should be covered to protect it from the air.


The product is washed in cold water to remove the solid salt, sugar and cure on the surface.

Cure Equalization

After the salt and cure is removed by washing, the cured product should be stored in a 3 to 5 degrees C environment for approximately 14 days to permit the cure to be distributed evenly throughout the product.


This step is optional depending on the product.

The smoke should be a “cool,” smoldering type that produces dense smoke. Keep the temperature of the smokehouse below 90° F (32-degree C). Meat should be smoked until they become the desired color.


The drying room is 12 to 14 degrees C and 60 to 80 % relative humidity.  Additionally, gentle air movement makes for a very consistent and evenly dried product. 


This period is the time when the characteristic flavor is developed. Mature for 45 to 180 days (length of time is dependent on the product) at 20 degrees C with a relative humidity of 55 to 65 percent.  Air circulation is needed - particularly during the first 7 to 10 days of maturing - to dry the surface of the product surface.


Here are some important tips to keep in mind:


·        Rotate or re-pile the meat during the first step (cure application) in the process to aid in even cure distribution

·        Sanitation is important during the drying and maturing steps because of the higher temperatures


In conclusion, dry curing is a slow process that takes up much space but results in products that are unique and therefore can command higher prices and profits.


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