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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): http://www.leitesculinaria.com/recipe...

      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 sausagemaker.org 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.

            1. After a near-brush with saltpeter at Skenderian's (the guy did NOT look at me like I was crazy, but said that while they normally have it, it got lost in the shuffle during remodeling), I ran out of time and ended up settling for 6.25% sodium nitrate curing salt at Christina's. As predicted, they were out of pink salt. Whether I end up with the pretty pink color remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure it can't do any harm ... right? I'm giving the cure 10 days, so hopefully that's enough time for the nitrates to work their magic!

              Thanks to everyone for their help! And in the future, it seems like Skenderian's is the place to go.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Lorcasaur

                I have to echo that Skenderian's is the place to go - period.

                They are the friendliest, most well-informed folks ever, even though it's mostly a pharmacy.

                I make a special detour to go there instead of the major chain drugstores even though I no longer pass it on even a weekly basis. It doesn't hurt that they are only a block or two from Savenor's, either. They have great hours, are really pet-friendly, and just all around great.

                1. re: rlh

                  Also, the Italian next door at Mona Lisa is one of the best in the city.

                  1. re: Lorcasaur

                    Hi. i am also looking for saltpeter and am wondering which Christina's in Inman Square did you go to? I googled it only to find an ice cream place under that name... oh, and it's good that you did not get the one at Skenderian's: I went there today and they only have a bottle that says "technical grade." Somehow that did not sound right. I'd very much appreciate it if you would point me in the direction of the right Christina! Thank you :-)

                    1. re: anike13

                      Wow, for once a question I can answer. The ice cream people opened a spice store next door several years ago. So just go to Inman—you can't miss it. Note the spice store has much shorter hours than the ice cream place. I believe it closes at 6 p.m.

                      1. re: anike13

                        Christina's spices carries #1 curing salt which contains a standardized amount of sodium nitrite, they do not carry saltpetre/saltpeter (potassium nitrate). They also do not carry cure #2 which you would use for dried or fermented sausages (it contains both sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite). Keep in mind that as noted below you probably have to ask the owner if you want larger amounts of curing salt and convince them you know what you are doing. There are guides for using curing salt in place of saltpetre in older recipes or get a more modern US based recipe for things like bacon/corned beef/etc, but if you need saltpetre for some reason the technical grade is probably what you will have to make do with.

                        1. re: itaunas

                          Missed this thread the first time around; here is an online source for food grade saltpetre (and many other things used in meat curing and the like.)


                    2. We've moved a discussion of curing to the Home Cooking board at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/501638 . Please respond on that thread if you'd like to discuss curing meats. If you have any suggesting on where to find supplies in the Boston area, please respond here. Thanks!

                      1. Any updates on places to find pink salt in the Cambridge/Boston area? Bought a gorgeous flat brisket today and have a craving for pastrami. Thanks in advance!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: smtucker

                          Cristinas has it and will weigh out the quantity you need, just make sure you talk to the owner if you get blank stares from the other help and don't expect them to tell you the right percentage of sodium nitrite, but pink salt is standardized at 6.25%. When they do display its only in 1oz or so packets and they do make sure you know what you are doing before measuring out a larger amount (a good thing) but the price at increments of a lb I think is better.

                          1. re: itaunas

                            itaunus, as usual, you were spot on. The young clerk could not have been nicer, but she really wanted to sell me Himalayan salt. Took me a fair amount of time to convince her that she needed to chat with someone who knew the stock a little better. Once the owner was involved, he told her where to find it in the basement, measured out 8oz [at a discount], received a lecture on storing away from children, and I was off.

                            So, I have pink salt in the house, and the pastrami-to-be is brining happily in the fridge. Thanks!

                        2. I usually order my saltpeter from my local pharmacy, to make my Irish spiced beef for Christmas. Never had any problems.