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Mar 21, 2008 09:44 AM

Curing meats at home

[We've moved this subthred from this thread on the Boston board -- THE CHOWHOUND TEAM ]

I think saltpeter (sodium Nitrite) is difficult to get because of its toxicity. This as well as the relatively small amounts needed for curing prompted the making of "instacure" or "prague powder" which is sodium nitrate diluted to 6.25% with salt (they color it pink so you can tell it apart from regular salt
)I live in the Montreal area and have had a hard time getting the stuff as well. When I do find it, the markets charge a ridiculous amount.
I contacted the SausageMaker out of Buffalo ( or 888-490-8528) and purchased a pound of pink salt (instacure #1) for $9. I went throught the 1lb rather quickly making bacon, hams, and corned beef. Just recently bought a 5lb pail for $18. It should last awhile.
And yes, the curing will result in that great color.

Maybe post a picture of your final result?


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  1. Ha! Yes, I'll post a picture -- and if it isn't pretty, I'll just have to order the real stuff online and try again! In fact, maybe I should do so regardless just to compare.

    AB's cure smelled amazing. I can't wait!

    1. Please, let's all get this right:

      Saltpeter is Potasium Nitrate - the oldest cure (besides salt) and not used much these days because of inconsistency.

      Sodium Nitrite 6.25% = Tinted Cure Mix (TCM), Insta Cure #1, DQ Curing Salt or pink salt. Nitrite is the active curing agent for preventing botulism - should be used for all hams, corned beefs, bacon, etc.

      Sodium Nitrate = Insta Cure #2, DQ Curing Salt #2. Should be considered a time-release form of Sodium Nitrite, as it turns into nitrite over time. Use in longer cure items such as uncooked salamis that are dried for weeks.

      Here is my source for everything but saltpeter (which is just not used much):

      I cannot repeat enough how great a source the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn is for all information regarding curing meats.

      Also, the two pages alone (173, 174) of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking give you a wonderful breakdown of how salt, the nitrites and nitrates, (and how nitric oxide retards the bonding of the iron in myoglobin to retard oxidation), as well as how salt alone works and turns the meat pink (it's a different pink) for prosciuttos and serranos... anyway - it's very worthwhile explanation, without taking a chemistry course.

      13 Replies
      1. re: applehome

        I can get saltpetre from a Rexall drug store but the other products are not nearby. If this is still used widely in Europe, why would applehome, Ruhlman and Polcyn say it is inconsistent? It seems to work well, and I only go a block to get some.

        1. re: jayt90

          I'll admit that I've only used pink salt (sodium nitrite) and sodium nitrate, and have never used potassium nitrate, so I don't know from personal experience. Since it is a naturally occurring product, it's possible that the inconsistency comes from different places of origin, where someone getting theirs from different sources would find that they had to use different quantities to achieve the same result. 6.25% sodium nitrite pink salt would probably offer a more consistent product.

          McGee says that once it was discovered that nitrite did the work, people quit using saltpeter because you could get the same effect from using much smaller amounts of sodium nitrite. I'm sure this is especially true with commercial concerns for cost reasons, but the question is why would it matter at home? As I read these sources, what I get is that nitrate is only really beneficial when long curing periods are desired - where the long curing utilizes forms of bacterial action that are otherwise beneficial for taste reasons. I use nitrates in summer sausages, which I smoke lightly and hang to dry for a week or more before freezing or eating - but even then, I mix in some pink salt. I use only pink salt for corned beef/pastrami, which I put in brine for 2-3 days.

          1. re: applehome

            Well, I hope I am on the right track. I started a ham, hand rubbed with salt, saltpetre, and brown sugar in January. It is stiff and has a nice unique, deep scent.
            Last week I started a pork shoulder, also with skin removed, in the Spanish style.
            I'll do the smoking in May or June, when they are stiff and have a good
            aroma without any apparent problems.
            My mix formula came from U. of Missouri Ag. Extension.
            The saltpetre is $5.69 for 125 ml., about 2.5 oz.

          2. re: jayt90

            Check to make sure this is FOOD grade product.

            1. re: Uncle Bob

              I have been using this product, from Winnipeg, for two years.

              1. re: jayt90

                Where in Winnipeg did you order your curing product from? I am trying to make the Icelandic cured meat "Rhula Pilsa" and havn't been able to find Morton's Quick Tender and it sounds like pink salt would be a good substitute.

                1. re: Petit Chou

                  I have had success with Morton's Tender Quick. After much internet searching, numerous calls to chemical manufacturing companies and viewing many sausage resources it turned out to be the least complicated choice. With a little experimentation I have found it to be quite versatile. It also comes with a Hechsher (kosher symbol) on the bag and is kosher certified by the Orthodox Union ( "circle" U). Believe it or not, I purchase it at my local Safeway supermarket (45th & Cambie) at the Oakridge Mall in Vancouver, B.C.

          3. re: applehome

            I agree, the book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn is great, but I'm confused... their recipe calls for 5 teaspoons of pink salt for a 5# slab, whereas the sausage call for 1 teaspoon per 5#... Any comments???

            Thanks in advance... :)

            1. re: n9723x

              I haven't done any sausages in a while and don't have any of my books and notes in front of me at this time, so I can't remember specifics. But I did follow the Charcuterie recipes pretty closely with good results.

              1. re: n9723x

                If you are going to cure meat, you really should be weighing the ingredients. Measuring by volume just isn't accurate enough.

                1. re: n9723x

                  Could you link to the page at that states this? I am new at this, but if it's fresh sausage it shouldn't require any pink salt. The longer something is going to cure the more pink salt it may need.


                  1. re: JuniorBalloon

                    My apologies... I was referring to their recipe for corned beef, which uses the pink salt.
                    Here is the link to pink salt...


                    btw, I bought it at Christina's for 5.99 a pound. The first thing they asked me when I requested 1# was "What restaurant do you work for?" When I told them it was for my own use, the "were out of stock". Once I mentioned that I would take the small package to get me by for today & order the larger quantity online, they "found" some... Again, I think they just want to make sure that the person knows what they are getting, and its effect...

                    1. re: n9723x

                      I see what you're refering to. I just checked the Ruhlman book and he does call for 5 teaspoons or 25 grams. As others have said it's better to use weight than volume with these things. I'm going to post this question to Ruhlman.


                      We'll see what he says. Personally I'd go with Ruhlman.