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Mar 16, 2013 12:31 PM

Finding Saltpeter for Corning Beef or whatever

This is a tangent from a thread that I started when looking into how to corn my own beef:

Recipes calling for potassium nitrate (saltpeter) and/or sodium nitrite present a geuine retail challenge. I wonder if this stuff isn't used in meth labs or the like, to justify how hard it is to get, and how frankly suspicious some people seem that you're asking for it at all.

Supermarkets won't have it. I found a local meat-curing butcher who uses it but refuses to sell it retail, because he says things can go way wrong if it's misused. Apparently, saltpeter is part of smoke bombs, fireworks, certain fertilizers, black powder gunpowder, etc. I saw online recommendations that you can sometimes get it at compounding pharmacies. Another said that garden stores sometimes stock it. When I called a garden store and asked if they stocked potassium nitrate, lo and behold, they do, in the form a product used for killing tree stumps! (You drill a whole in the stump, dissolve potassium nitrate in the whole, and weeks later the stump is falling apart dead.) The garden store said they obviously couldn't take responsibility for uses in food preparation.

Turns out I actually had this product in my garage, after all that wasted driving around! Checked a govt. website, and indeed it is 100% potassium nitrate:

So I'm going for it. If you hear nothing from me in a few weeks time, then think twice about using stump remover in your cuisine.

Also, while I can only speak from internet browsing, I'm gathering that what happens to potassium nitrate during the brining is that it combines with meat proteins and the like and converts into sodium nitrite. The conversion process, says one writer, lengthens the time as compared to just starting with sodium nitrite, but the added time makes for better flavor.

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  1. F'n Hilarius. Hope all goes well.

    1. Good thing Instacure and pink salts are cheap and easy to find.

      4 Replies
      1. re: biggreenmatt

        Where, exactly (apart from online)? Is it your intention to trivialize the amount or quality of searching I did on this score?

        1. re: Bada Bing

          Oh. Sorry, I honestly thought you were kidding. Saltpetre, as I understand it, is common in European curing and charcuterie, but a little obsolete in North America, where the Instacures are more usual. That's why I thought you were kidding.

          I live in Toronto and here, Instacure is literally impossible to find at retail sources. I went down to one of the bigger public markets downtown (St. Lawrence) and spoke to one of the sausage specialty guys and asked them for the contact of the local sausage supply shops. They were nice enough to pass the info along, I showed up and happily bought a kilogram of #1 and #2, along with other sausage stuff.

          The impression I was left with was that home-cooks who make sausage at home are few and far-between; an uncommon art. Once you show interest, people in the biz tend to be pretty helpful.

          1. re: biggreenmatt

            Sorry that I did not recognize your ironical intention.

          2. re: Bada Bing

            I've never had a hard time finding it, I have some in my cupboard right now. They carry it at the local hardware store and the sporting good stores. It's readily available on Amazon although I've never had to bother getting it there.

        2. ebay>>>>>>>

          I get a 10% finders fee send to my paypal addy

          Is that food grade stump remover in your garage///|||||????

          5 Replies
          1. re: lastZZ

            Both the Govt. website (cited above) and the manufacturer's website declare that this specific product is 100% potassium nitrate. Here's a link to the Q&A portion of the company website:


            So, while I admit it's pretty odd, which is why I wrote this thread, the question is like asking if something is food-grade salt. It simply is what it is.

            Food-grade containers and the like are another matter, of course, because they could imbue your foods with things that are not for ingestion. I figure since the granules are dry, the container here is an insignificant issue.

            1. re: Bada Bing

              No kidding I have a stump that I need to rot in place. I have poured some fertilizer into a hole dug into it. Can you lend me some of your stump remover?

              1. re: lastZZ

                I'll get you my leftover brine, okay?

              2. re: Bada Bing

                If you are looking at the MSDS, the 100% refers to the active ingredient, Potassium Nitrate.It does not refer to the chemical purity of that Nitrate. It is NOT food grade nor would it be reagent grade due to trace impurities. It is great for stumps, may be good for making black powder and fireworks, but it is not a food additive.

                1. re: NVJims

                  You make a sound point, except I need to say that, in this instance, it was indeed a food additive.

                  But I get your point and will investigate before using it again.

            2. You are too late to be corning beef for St Patrick's day. Four days ago I got this Cattleman's Ranch corn beef flat at Aldis. Best I have had in a while. Needed proper cooking of course. Ate some cold today after 24 hours refrigeration, in a sandwich with dijon mustard, and it was better than the hot with cabbage, potatoes etc which I really like anyway

              1. they have saltpeter at the pharmacy.

                2 Replies
                1. re: magiesmom

                  Not the one I use locally! I swear--I looked hard.

                  Though maybe it was an on the shelf item and the person I spoke to behind the counter was unaware.

                  1. re: Bada Bing

                    It's an off-the-counter-and-behind-the-desk thing, like cola syrup. And if they don't have it, they can usually order it for you.