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Build a meat curing box

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sheriff Sep 18, 2009 12:32 PM

I'm interested in building a small meat curing box to make salumis, bacon, etc. I've done some research and there are some pretty elaborate contraptions that people have concoted using old freezerless fridges. It appears that the most viable option for me (I live in an apartment) is to use a small wine fridge. Has anyone had any luck with this. What about using one of those small beverage fridges that we all had in college? Any ideas or website links would be very much appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. c
    celeryroot RE: sheriff Sep 18, 2009 12:40 PM

    remember you need good airflow so need a fan inside. Also, need to control humidity and temperature.

    1. Robert Lauriston RE: sheriff Sep 18, 2009 12:42 PM

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/502952

      1. m
        ML8000 RE: sheriff Sep 18, 2009 12:47 PM

        I've seen some dry aging mini frig set-up using the tiny dorm frigs. I think it was linked to a thread on CH. Basically the person took a small frig and put a PC power supply with fan on it for circulation. Not sure what you'd need for curing but here's something:

        http://www.instructables.com/id/Make_...

        1. Zeldog RE: sheriff Sep 18, 2009 02:36 PM

          A wine fridge will maintain the temperature you want, but humidity control might be difficult. I made a curing box from a mini-fridge and a temperature controller bought from a brewing supply store, and none of the cheap humidity control tricks worked very well (salt, silica gel, antifreeze). But you live in the Bay Area, right? Mid fall through early summer is perfect salumi weather. In fact, even with the recent hot spell I had no trouble making a couple of slabs of pancetta (although I wouldn't try making something that required a long drying time, like salami, under those conditions). You can hang salumi in the kitchen (or any other room for that matter), away from direct sunlight or heat sources.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Zeldog
            Robert Lauriston RE: Zeldog Sep 18, 2009 02:38 PM

            Some wine coolers have humidity control.

          2. b
            brianl999 RE: sheriff Sep 20, 2009 10:17 AM

            I'm just about to start my first experiment using a wine cooler to hang soppressata. I've got two containers, one with an Oasis sponge, the other with the same type of water absorbing bead used to keep humidors at 70% humidity. Each has been soaked in a solution of 50% distilled water, 50% propylene glycol. The propylene glycol is supposed to keep the humidity at 70%, the sponges and crystals just help by absorbing copious amounts of the solution.

            The soppressata is ready to be stuffed, I'm going to stuff it tonight, hang at 85F for 12 hours, then into the cooler it goes. Running dry, the cooler does stay at about 70% humidity (it sometimes peaks at 74% before the compressor kicks in), but it slowly drops down to 50% when the compressor is running, then recovers over about 20 minutes.

            We shall see, apparently it takes 2 to 3 weeks, so I'll post my results then (or sooner!).

            Thanks,

            Brian

            5 Replies
            1. re: brianl999
              s
              sheriff RE: brianl999 Sep 21, 2009 06:48 AM

              Great, I'm excited to hear how it turns out. Did you get your ideas from a website or a book?

              1. re: sheriff
                b
                brianl999 RE: sheriff Sep 22, 2009 06:14 AM

                Mostly websites, and cigar ones at that (I don't smoke cigars...). It seems the conditions desired for cigar storage are similar to the ones for hanging cured sausages. Many of them also utilize wine coolers. If the sponge/bead combo doesn't work out, I'll try one of the small humidifiers used for the cigar humidors.

                Humidity does seem to be topping out at 70%, but I'm concerned that the drop to 50% when the compressor turns on may still cause case hardening. Time will tell.

                I'll keep everyone posted,

                Thanks

                Brian

                1. re: brianl999
                  b
                  brianl999 RE: brianl999 Oct 6, 2009 02:18 PM

                  Update

                  I was home on the weekend and had a look at the soppressata. A few issues.

                  There were some mould spots on one of the sausages. Tiny white ones, but they were somewhat fuzzy. Just to be safe, I wiped them down with some vinegar.

                  The second issue seemed a bit more serious, and I had noticed it earlier. Two of the sausages (there were a total of six) had some spots on them that were kind of grey and soft (looked and felt raw - very distinctly different from the rest). It was the meat under the casing, my best guess is that I didn't mix it enough, and the cure didn't make it to all of the meat. I don't believe this had anything to do with the wine cooler, I'm pretty sure I didn't mix it enough.

                  When I was grinding the pork, I ground it into the bowl from our 6qt Kitchenaid mixer. I then put the bowl into the freezer, cleaned up the grinder, changed the die and then ground the fat on top of the pork. I initially tried adding the seasoning (and cure) while the mixer was running, but this turned out to be a bit difficult, so after adding about half, I shut off the mixer and dumped the rest in. I turned the mixer back on, but I'm thinking I didn't let it run long enough. I was afraid of smearing the fat into the meat, so I think I turned it off a bit prematurely. Next time I will grind into a separate bowl, then transfer the meat to the mixer bowl about a pound at a time, adding some seasoning/cure as I add each pound of meat.

                  I ended up cutting off the questionable parts and tossing them. When looking at the centers of the sausages I had to cut, it appears that they are progressing OK, it was a pretty uniform colour through to the centre, but not quite firm enough yet (they had been in the cooler for 12 days when I looked at them).

                  Also, the fan was at the side of the cooler, and the sausage with the mould was furthest away from the fan, so I moved the fan to the center of the cooler. It's a PC case fan, and it's spinning very slowly, so I may add another fan for the next batch to ensure adequate airflow.

                  So, so far, not a total loss, I'm guessing I threw out about 1/4 of the meat, I was pretty aggressive about trimming them. I'll do things a little differently next time, but, for the most part, I think the cooler is doing it's job well enough. This coming weekend will be three weeks that they've been in there, so they should be done. Unfortunately, now that I've chopped a bunch off, I can't really measure by weight anymore (although I can make a reasonable guess).

                  Again, I'll keep everyone posted,

                  Thanks,

                  Brian

              2. re: brianl999
                Zeldog RE: brianl999 Sep 22, 2009 08:06 PM

                Brian,

                Based on my not too extensive experience, if you can keep the humidity between roughly 50 to 70% you should be ok. When you put the sausage in the humidity range will likely go up a bit compared to your empty cooler test, so case hardening may not be an issue. But don't go by time. Weigh the sausage before you put it in the cooler. Most of the recipes I've seen say the sausage is cured when it has lost about 30% of it's original weight.

                1. re: Zeldog
                  b
                  brianl999 RE: Zeldog Sep 29, 2009 12:21 PM

                  Thanks Zeldog

                  I weighed them on Sunday (after being in the cooler for a week), and they had lost about a pound of weight. I'm away until the weekend, so I'll weigh them again on Sunday to see how they are coming. So far so good (seemingly, anyways), no mould, anyways.

                  I'll let everyone know of the progress on Sunday. Ruhlman's book says two to three weeks, it's stuffed into hog casings, so perhaps it will be ready this weekend.

                  Thanks,

                  Brian

              3. ted RE: sheriff Sep 21, 2009 08:16 AM

                Just FWIW, but you'd only really need it for dried cured stuff like soppressata and salami. For bacon, you're only curing briefly (a week or so if dry cured), and you could do that in a standard fridge (even bagged). Mostly out of haste, but I've done bacon brined and like that approach b/c it only takes about 3 days to cure. Jibes well with my lack of planning skills.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ted
                  Zeldog RE: ted Sep 22, 2009 08:15 PM

                  Indeed. Bacon is so easy, even if you don't smoke it (the only hard part is finding pork belly). A good place to start for all you wannabe charcutieres out there.

                2. f
                  FurloughFridaySausageMaker RE: sheriff Dec 29, 2009 07:48 PM

                  I just purchased a brand new 7 cu. ft. chest freezer for 214.00 from Lowes. I replaced the thermostat with an Auber Instruments Scientific Thermostat and probe. The temp is set at 45 degrees F. I started my first batch of salami and pepperoni on Dec. 9th. I have a humidity probe and can't seem to get the humidity down below 85-90%. Chest freezer has no fan although I'm not sure that would effect the humidity. I am trying to figure out how to lower my humidity to say 75-80%. Any ideas? The pepperoni has gotten very moldy, some nice white mold as expected but now some black, brown and yellow...I'm thinking this might be caused by the high humidity? I was actually thinking about installing an ultraviolet lighting system in the box to kill any bacteria, spore, molds etc that might form on the outside of the casing. This sound crazy to you? They use uv light to sterilize water, toothbrushes, etc...

                   
                   
                   
                  5 Replies
                  1. re: FurloughFridaySausageMaker
                    b
                    brianl999 RE: FurloughFridaySausageMaker Dec 30, 2009 07:00 AM

                    I would put some sort of fan to circulate the air, but you are correct, it won't help with the humidity. I'm no expert by any stretch, but with humidity in that range, you'll have a hard time drying the sausages out even if you can control the mold. You could try a 50/50 mixture of propylene glycol and distilled water. The propylene glycol is supposed to absorb moisture when the humidity is over 70%, and release it when below 70%. It wasn't quite so exact when I used it, but I don't think I saw humidity over 75%. However, this was in a self-defrosting wine cooler, which would knock the humidity down to 50% or so, then it would slowly recover. I didn't really have any mold problems.

                    Propylene glycol is available at pharmacies, you'll have a easier time finding at one that does compounding. I also used an Oasis floral sponge, which absorbed quite a bit of the PG/distilled water solution.

                    Hope that helps,

                    Thanks,

                    Brian

                    1. re: brianl999
                      f
                      FurloughFridaySausageMaker RE: brianl999 Jan 14, 2010 06:19 PM

                      Okay, I surrender. So I went out and bought a brand new 18 cu foot refrigerator/freezer. I even bought a brand new humidifies with a humidistat because I have read that it is difficult to keep humidity at high enough levels in a fridge. But I continue to have humidity problems. Everyone else appears to be having problems keeping their humidity level up. I on the other hand can't seem to get it low enough! My humidistat is reading 78-80% all the time. How am I going to solve my problems? I am at wits end and have 15 pounds of sausage that I might lose if I can't get this thing under control.

                      1. re: FurloughFridaySausageMaker
                        ted RE: FurloughFridaySausageMaker Jan 15, 2010 08:08 AM

                        Maybe you need some sort of desiccant and then let the two fight it out. As long as you keep the water supply in your humidifier up and the desiccant recharged, it should work. Also, if your ambient air is drier, just periodic venting might do the trick. A computer cooling fan on a timer or the like to introduce fresh, dry air. Wouldn't work here in the summer, but will for a few more months.

                        1. re: FurloughFridaySausageMaker
                          Zeldog RE: FurloughFridaySausageMaker Jan 15, 2010 07:34 PM

                          You may have wasted your money on the humidifier, but fan is a good idea if you can find a way to set one up. Moving air holds more moisture, and it will keep the humidity even throughout the box, but it probably won't fix the problem completely.

                          I've had problems with mold even in relatively good conditions, so whenever I dry cure anything I cold-smoke it for about 1/2 to 1 hour (depending on the thickness of the item) before hanging to dry . It's not enough smoke to drastically effect the taste (although often it adds a pleasant smoky note to the meat), but it's just enough to make the surface hostile to mold.

                          My cold smoke rig consists of a $10 hot plate, small pie pan (about the same diameter as the heating coil), and the shell of a barrel type smoker like this one:

                          http://www.google.com/products/catalo...

                          These things are designed for hot smoking, so remove the bowls that are supposed to hold charcoal and water. Put the hot plate and pan with hardwood sawdust or wood chips on a couple of bricks, and put the smoker on top of it. Set the hot plate on high. You might need to dump ashes and add more wood once, but not more.

                          As for your immediate problem, check your indoor temp and humidity and if it looks better than what's in the fridge, just turn off the fridge an open the door.

                          ps - Coarse sawdust works better than chips in the rig I described. For apple and other hardwood sawdust try butcherpacker.com

                          pps - I tried propylene glycol. Didn't work for me.

                        2. re: brianl999
                          scubadoo97 RE: brianl999 Jan 15, 2010 04:09 PM

                          Brian I just replaced my comperssor type wine cooler for a thermoelectric wine cooler for my cigars. The thermoelectric is so much more stable. No beads or Oasis foam and it stays near rock solid at where I want it for that purpose. I have my old compressor cooler and was thinking of using it as a meat cooler as well. I still think the swings in humidity and temprature may be an issue. My old cooler was outfitted with multiple computrer fans to keep air moving which would help bring back the RH after the compressor kicked off.

                          You may want to look at this thread at egullet http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/...

                          Let us know hoow it's going

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