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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.

                2. I buy it from an Asian market.

                  1 Reply
                  1. Okay, you're in northern Indiana. How close are you to Fort Wayne? Miller Scales & Food Machines on Mobile Avenue carries Instacure, albeit in gigantic quantities. If it's close enough, I'd suggest popping by and see if, given your interest, they could do a more reasonable quantity.


                    1. In my area, all the sporting goods /outdoor stores carry various pink salts and curing products. Hunters use them all the time. That is where I buy all my sausage making supplies.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: sedimental

                        Thanks. You know, I tried calling our local sports/hunting store, too. No luck. That said,, I'm not always sure that the people I'm talking to really know what they're talking about, either.

                        One of the problems I encounter with products like Instacure (or Morton's Tender Quick) is their aim to simplify the process for consumers my mixing salt and sugar together with the relevant nitrates/nitrites. That means that you cannot use those products directly with any from-the-ground-up recipe, unless you are able to seriously calculate how much sugar and salt to subtract from the recipe.

                        In Morton's Tender Quick, nitrates/nitrites are 1% of the package volume altogether. Plus there Propylene glycol in there for some reason. Meanwhile, Instacure #1 is 6.25 percent sodium nitrite, the rest being salt, but no sugar. So you're obliged with those products to use their recipes, and they're not very forthcoming about what to do if you want a slow rather than quick cure, etc.

                        It's kind of an amped-up version of why I rarely buy spice "seasoning" mixes (apart from Old Bay), because they almost invariably pack mostly salt and maybe sugar into the mix. I'd rather add salt and sugar myself...

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          I have never used those products. I just get pink salt at the sports store. I find it near the smokers and dehydrators.

                          You are correct about the sales people not knowing how to use it (or even what it is). It might actually be there and they told you it wasn't. That would not surprise me. I have found most the sales folk are hired for sports equipment knowledge and not cooking skills. One guy helping me with a question about jerky I had, said he never knew you could make "real" sausage at home. Okay.........

                          1. re: Bada Bing

                            Hi Bada Bing,
                            I'm a little late joining the party...

                            Even though "they almost invariably pack mostly salt", its not the salt that I'd be worried about. Its the nitrate/nitrites which are potentially deadly...

                            You're right, Instacure (#1/#2) is pre-mixed, so you cannot use the sodium nitrite or nitrate straight-up. But, there is some reasoning behind this.
                            Sodium and Potassium nitrite/nitrates are highly toxic. Very small amounts are needed to cure meats (or in the case of saltpetre, kill stumps...) and theres plenty of regulation in limiting their use in commercial applications.
                            It takes less than 1/2 ounce of Instacure to cure 10lbs of meat. Of this 1/2 ounce, 6.25% of it is sodium nitrite (Instacure #1) or 0.031 ounces.
                            Me? I like to measure out 2 teaspoons (1/2oz) rather than try to measure 31 thousandths of an ounce...
                            Even though it is "premixed", Instacures still allow (in my opinion) plenty of room for a "ground-up" recipe

                            As bigreenmatt points out, potassium nitrate is more popular in Europe than here where it is considered somewhat old-fashioned. It was banned in the US in 1975 for use in curing smoked or cooked meat or sausages.

                            As previously mentioned, the nitrate has to break down to nitrite then down to nitric oxide to get the curing done. Using a nitrate (potassium or sodium) for regular curing is generally not done.
                            Nitrates are usually used in long-term curing as in air-dried sausage/hams/etc. A kind of time-released curing.

                        2. Like others have mentioned, I can find stuff in the sporting goods store where the other wild game processing ingredients/equipment is located.
                          I would rather err with regular salt and sugar amounts with the premixed pink stuff, than trying what I found in my garage.

                          1. As mentioned by other folks, pink salt can be found in sporting good stores or Wal-Mart in the sporting good section.

                            In the supermarket, you can find a Morton salt product, Insta-cure (sp?), that contains a blend of salt, sugar and sodium nitrate/nitrite. It's usually a bottom shelf item in the salt/spice aisle.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: dave_c

                              I actually bought but elected not to use Instacure, in part because the Alton Brown recipe that I was using called for saltpeter, but also because Instacure's instructions on the bag suggested extremely short curing times (24 hours with one cup of Instacure in one quart of water).

                              I didn't spend $35+ on a point-cut brisket to do things in a hurry. I wanted to do what I thought might make the best corned beef, regardless of time.

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                I went through a corned beef making phase where I made a corned beef using a dry rub recipe and a brining recipe. I also invited a few of my friends over for a St. Patrick's day tasting.

                                For the dry rub, I just looked it up to be sure. I used "Tender Quick", with a 5 day cure per inch thickness.

                                For the brine, I used Ruhlman's recipe out of "Charcuterie".

                                Both corned beefs turned out delicious. If I had to pick between the two, the morton salt recipe barely edged out Ruhlman's recipe in our tasting. However, both were far superior to the store bought corned beefs.

                                I have not tried Alton's recipe. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.