Ultimate guide to curing salts

Jason Webster
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The history of curing meats

Curing started before the days of refrigeration and was the only way to preserve meats before the era of modern food preservation practices. It was primarily used in Central Europe and Northern Asia to wrap and smoke this meat.

In the 19th century, this process was used to cure meats before shipping them. The process used sodium nitrite, a potentially poisonous chemical as a preservative that prevents the growth of bacteria. The meat would be cured, and when ready to eat, it would be cooked to eliminate the sodium nitrite.

This process was performed out of necessity, but has since been phased out due to the potential dangers of the chemical involved.

What is in Curing Salts?

Curing salts are packaged in a salt/sugar solution that is used to cure whole muscle cuts and preserve them. When added to pork, it’s called Mason’s Cure.

Curing salts are composed of 6% sodium nitrite, 91% salt, and 3% sodium nitrate.

Mason’s cure, on the other hand, is composed of 3% sodium nitrite, 6% sodium nitrate, and 90% salt.

Curing salts are commonly used in the preserving of ham, bacon, corned beef (corned beef is dried, salted beef), and pastrami. Curing salts are also used by chefs to season charcuterie and other dishes that use fermentation to develop flavor and texture.

Pork belly is arguably the most popular cut for bacon. The curing of pork belly is called bacon salt after the salt and sodium nitrate’s role in the curing process.

The curing process takes 7 days. There are two ways to apply curing salts—as a brine or as a dry rub. You will find that most recipes will say brine.

A brine is composed of 3 parts water to 1 part curing salt by weight. A dry rub is composed of 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar by weight.

Curing salts are readily available.

Curing Salts – What are the Dangers?

Curing salts are typically used to preserve and flavor meat. They also help you tenderize the meat as it cooks, making it more succulent, juicy, and flavorful.

The problem is the variable concentrations of nitrates and nitrites, which are used as the curing agent.

A lot of research has been done to show the dangers of ingesting nitrates and nitrites, which are two of the main ingredients of curing salts.

One of the most disturbing factors is that the harmful effects of the nitrates and nitrites don’t become apparent until you’ve eaten the meat on a regular basis for some time. Many people who eat pork and bacon regularly for example are at great risk.

Curing salts are also used in the process of preparing certain beer and wines. This means that people who consume beer and wine regularly are also exposed to the nitrates which may affect their health especially if eaten in large quantities.

This is also the case with curing salts, which can be slightly more expensive than table salt.

Commercially Available Curing Salts, and When to Use Them

If you are a meat lover, and have ever experienced the magic that is a perfectly cooked and seasoned piece of meat, you know how important curing salts play in this process.

There are many reasons why curing salts are essential for the process of keeping meat moist, tender, and delicious pre-oven.

Curing salts main purpose, as the name might suggest, is to cure your meat in a safe way that results in the same juicy, tender meat you would get if the meat were made with a dry rub.

The key to making cures work is that most curing salts are made up of the following ingredients:

  • Potassium nitrate: This ingredient makes the meat retain water, or water-soluble proteins if that meat is then exposed to low heat and moisture.
  • Salt: This ingredient helps to control the bacterial growth and fungal growth that causes mold and starches. It also helps in the flavoring process.
  • Sugar or honey: This ingredient helps to, well, sugar coat your meat. This is one of the easiest ways to maintain moisture in your meat.

Although you can buy curing salts, you can also make them at home. If you are using them for home meat cures, you will need to make larger batches and adjust your percentages of ingredients accordingly.

Why do you use curing salt?

Curing salts are primarily used to increase the shelf life of meat, particularly the sausages.

The effect of curing salts is achieved by the depletion of water in the meat (dehydration). Curing salts also have significant effect on the tenderizing process and the production of curing compounds.

Curing salts needs to be dissolved in water before it can be used. Then, the water is used to add the proper amount of curing salt into the meat.

Usually, the addition is 20g/kg and the amount is increased for ham and bacon (bacon 23g/kg).

Prague Powder #1

2, 3, and 4.

Prague Powder #2

(magnesium sulfate) is used to help cure bacterial infections in bottom feeders, shrimp, and plants.

A high concentration, such as a teaspoon per gallon of water, will kill the bacteria many fish have that cause ich. It will also cause ich to come out of a fish’s slime coat.

However, it will also kill your fish if you use it incorrectly.

It is best to use a mechanical filter, like a filter sock, and make sure you test the pH before using the chemical.

The water should also be moving in the aquarium.

You must also ensure the animal is healthy before using this treatment as the chemical can stunt the animal’s growth.

Morton® Tender Quick®

Sodium and Magnesium sulfates and chlorides are some of the most important curing compounds for fish keeping.

Here is a breakdown of the curing compounds in the form of salt available on the market and how to use them.

Example salt: Morton Tender Quick

Morton® Tender Quick® cures contain sodium and magnesium sulfates.

These are used to cure marine fish and invertebrates such as clams, shrimp, and snails.

Sodium sulfate is used in combination with magnesium sulfate when it is desired to have a higher level of magnesium, such as for breeding marine fish or invertebrates.

Magnesium sulfate is a shelf-life extender.

How to use?

How much to use?

When you are using these cure compounds for freshwater fish, invertebrates, and corals, you need to maintain a salt level of at least one-tenth of the concentration of sea water.

So with a sea water concentration of one level, you need to use a concentration of ten.

Counting Table:

Table 1: Salt content of various products

Example salt: Instant Ocean

Instant Ocean provides the same benefits as the Morton Tender Quick—Magnesium and Sodium Sulfates. They include:

Morton® Sugar Cure® (Plain)

This is a salt mixture with no added sugar. It is primarily used for brines for ham, bacon, and sausage. It is also widely used in canning and container pickling.

Salt plays an important role in food preservation because it kills or prevents the growth of bacteria. The concentration of salt used in food preservation is known as a “Saturated Solution.”

This means a saturated solution is one that has as much dissolved salt as it can hold. This saturated solution then has the capability of killing any bacteria that comes in contact with it.

Morton® Sugar Cure® (Plain) is used in many recipes for a variety of meats.

Morton® Sugar Cure® (Smoke Flavor)

Sugar Cure® is designed to deliver after taste which can be controlled by the length of time. Sugar cure® can be used with any meat to provide a basis for all types of delicious smoked food.

To be used for the clean, smoke-free curing of pork, beef and veal.

This sugar cure is a relatively mild cure compared to others and can be used for a variety of preparation styles.

While it is milder, it does have a stronger salt content than some of the other cure products. The sugar cure has excellent results with all cuts of meat.

This should be well mixed in a kitchen aid or other mixer.

Combine the cure and your choice of outside ingredients.

Mix at the rate of 1&1/3 lbs. to 1 gallon of water.

Use 1/2 to 2/3 cup for 100 pounds of meat.

Often, the sugar cure can be used with specific meats.

The sugar cure is used as a base for all of the different meat products.

The Sugar cure can be used to make the following meat products:

  • Boiled ham or bacon
  • Parts of pig
  • Scrapple or head cheese (using beef or pork)
  • For non-meat products
  • Pickle or dill
  • Salmon
  • Sausage
  • Canadian Bacon

How to Use Curing Salts – Safely!

As a salt curing enthusiast, you know how wonderful the results are, along with how easy it is to prep and cure foods with salt. Firmer flesh, heightened taste sensation, intensified color and appealing texture, salt curing is a practice that’s been taking place for thousands of years.

Much has been said about the health risks of using too much salt, but the risks are minor at best for the average home sparger.

Salt curing at home seems to be growing in popularity, so here’s a how-to guide to using curing salts safely in your kitchen.

What are curing salts?

Curing salts are pure nitrates or nitrites and are generally used when the meat to be cured was previously frozen. If the meat was not previously frozen, nitrates or nitrites are not needed, rather the meat would have been paired with salt and sugar. This is because nitrates and nitrites are used to stop the growth of any bacteria in the meat.

The nitrates/nitrites function as a hurdle that bacteria must hurdle before they can begin to work on your meat.

Firms selling curing salts also sell them in a desiccated and powdered form, which is normally more convenient because you can make your own curing formulations using salt and part of the curing salt depending on your recipe needs.

Common curing methods

There are two common cures for salmon and trout. The first is to leave the fish in the salt for a fixed length of time, and to remove the fish after that length of time. The second is to hold them at a constant temperature for a period of time, and to then remove the fish. The second method will give a more even cure throughout the fish, but takes more control of the process. As a rule of thumb, it is not a good idea to cure more than 18kg of salmon or trout at a time.

The length of the first cure is at the discretion of the packer. This cured product is usually sold as sour or streaky bacon, when it has been lightly salted. It is cured for six to eight days.

The second cure tends to give a slightly darker cure, more in the style of smoked ham in the food trade. The second cure is usually done at a constant temperature of 1525C, and is held for 12–18 hours. This time and temperature will cure about 12–20kg of salmon or trout, giving a product with a higher percentage of salt and sugar, and giving it more of a ham appearance.

Why do you use curing salt?

Curing salts are primarily used to increase the shelf life of meat, particularly the sausages.

The effect of curing salts is achieved by the depletion of water in the meat (dehydration). Curing salts also have significant effect on the tenderizing process and the production of curing compounds.

Curing salts needs to be dissolved in water before it can be used. Then, the water is used to add the proper amount of curing salt into the meat.

Usually, the addition is 20g/kg and the amount is increased for ham and bacon (bacon 23g/kg).


Curing salts inject flavour and moisture into your meat if you’re planning on smoking your meat. It also helps to break down the proteins, helping them to bind together and keeping the meat nice and juicy.

Curing salt is typically made up of sodium nitrite, which has the chemical code NaNO2.

It works by stopping the growth of bacteria and giving the meat a bright pink colour. Also, it enhances the flavour of the smoked food. The process of injecting the curing salts takes only a few minutes and it helps to give your meat a distinct smoky flavour. It doesn’t have to be injected into the meat, you can also rub it directly onto the surface.

There is often confusion over what curing salts are in meat in general. This is also often compounded by the fact that the word “salting” itself can refer to three different processes.

“¬ Salting” can refer to:

{1}. Brining, or soaking the meat in a mixture of salt water and/or herbs or spices.
{2}. Drying, in which salt is used to dry the meat after curing has taken place, or throughout the process.
{3}. Smoking, where the salt is used as a seasoning, with no curing taking place.

Dry Curing

And Brining: What's The Difference

Dry curing and b