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Mar 17, 2008 09:47 AM

Corned beef: where to find saltpeter?

Has anyone ever purchased saltpeter in the Boston/Camberville area? (For making corned beef, of course, not smoke bombs -- though apparently it's good for that, too.) All this St. Paddy's corned beef talk has inspired me to make my own, and Alton Brown swears by saltpeter for that pretty pink color.

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  1. Did you call Penzey's yet?

    (How I wish the place link beta included phone numbers!!!)

    Penzeys Spices
    1293 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA

    3 Replies
    1. re: yumyum

      I just called -- and no dice. Thanks for the tip, though! I'd never heard of them.

      1. re: Lorcasaur

        AB also likes their brother-in-law, the Spice House, in Chicago, which you may remember him mentioning a couple times on the show and in the books. Same family. I like the Spice House better, but Penzeys is great, too.

        Can't wait to hear how this turns out.

        1. re: enhF94

          I order from the Spice House pretty exclusively.

    2. Christina's in Inman Square might carry it. Otherwise try (source from Ruhlman & Polcyn's _Charcuterie_):
      butcher and packer DQ curing salt (8oz for $1.50).

      R&P's recipe here (see note at bottom for more brand names which should be google-able):

      Have fun!

      1. In that GOod Eats ep, didn't he suggest going to a pharmacy/apothecary type place?

        5 Replies
        1. re: jgg13

          The only old-school place I could think of was Harnett's in Harvard ... but didn't that close? Maybe I'll hit Inman and try both Skenderian Apothecary and Christina's!

          1. re: Lorcasaur

            Skenderian came to mind when I wrote that for the simple reason that they have "Apothecary" in their name. I've never actually been in there though.

            1. re: jgg13

              BTW, the pink salt is a standardized sodium nitrite formula not saltpeter (6.25% I believe, note you want cure #1 and not #2 which is for meats like salami which won't be cooked later) and in the US sodium nitrite is largely used for meat curing (sometimes along with some sodium nitrate), rather than potassium nitrate. Curing with nitrates takes longer as they need to convert to nitrites and nitrates naturally occur in salt. A lot of ecipes in the US are based on pink salt (as you are going to use salt anyway) and I believe there are some instructions on to convert recipes with saltpeter to pink salt which I think overall would be easier to source and work with -- there are guidelines for the amount to use per-lb of meat.

              Christina's claims to carry pink salt, not saltpeter, but has always been out when I have been there. They do have some other cures based on sodium nitrite, which have other seasonings and I think I might have seen Morton quick tender which can be found in some supermarkets too but you would need to convert amounts too. Penzey's doesn't even carry it in the mail-order department (although they might sell you an exotic pink rock salt...).

              There are two old fashioned Drug stores on Cambridge St: Skendarian right behind the high school and Ciampa in East Cambridge. The CVS at Porter is pretty large and does mix medicines, I thought the perfume pharmacy after Harnett's was still pretty old fashioned.

              1. re: itaunas

                Oddly, you might also check out a place like Eastern Mountain Sports or REI or a camping supply store: sodium nitrite is what folks use to cure beef jerky, and I've seen it for sale in outdoor sports stores near like the camp stoves and stuff like that.

                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                  Wow -- awesome tips. Thanks! My plan is to start with Christina's, which claimed to have what I'm looking for when I called ... but apparently it's more complex than I initially thought. Skenderian is right up the street, so that's next, and I can also try EMS in Harvard. The quest begins tonight!

        2. You could try Karl's Sausage Kitchen. I'm not sure how legal it is to sell these days. Or call a restaurant that does a lot of curing, like the Butcher Shop, and ask for a small amount. You wont need more than a tiny bit for 1 brisket.

          1. Most of the larger Chinese Groceries (i.e. Kam Man, Super 88, & Ming's) will have it in their spice aisles. Ditto the larger Viet Namese & Cambodian places (i.e. Battambang in Lowell). I'm pretty sure the Chinese is "白硝" pronounce bai xiao, and I'm pretty sure the last time I bought it was at Kam Man in a plastic package that had both Chinese & English on the package.