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Cures 101: Introduction to Cures for Whole Muscle & Ground Protein

What is cure? Why should you use it? Why is it pink? Master Meat Crafter Mark Hanni answers the most frequently asked questions on Meat Curing, different types of Cures, and more. 

For Centuries, meat has been preserved with salt. Salt when used at certain amounts does prevent some types of bacteria from causing meat to spoil. With the addition of pink cure, (also known as quick cure, speed cure or fast cure) further bacteria control was able to be had and along with that came the development of cure color we see today.

Why do we need to cure meat?

We use nitrite in meat because it delays development of botulism, develops cure color, prevents off flavors and odors, helps slow down rancidity and stops warmed over flavors from happening. Also, preserves flavors of spices and smoke.

The use of nitrite is only part of the curing process, Salt is added for flavor and sugar is used to reduce the harshness of the salt, spices and other flavorings can be added to achieve a desired flavor

    What types of meat need to be cured?  

    Meats that we are wanting to have an extended shelf life, cured color and products that have been made into a sausage of some sort, we also use cure for hams, bacons and poultry products. 

      What type of cure should I use?  

      The most common type of cure that can be used on everything from hams to chickens, jerky and sausage production is Speed Cure. Also known as pink cure, Prague powder or fast cure, this product comes unflavored and can be paired with any seasoning mixture.  

        Why is cure pink?  

        In it’s pure form, sodium nitrite looks similar to white table salt. It's dyed pink to ensure it doesn’t get mistaken for salt, which if consumed in large quantities, could be toxic or lethal.  

          Are there different types of cures for different proteins?  

          Yes, there are a wide range of cures based on protein application. Fish cures for example, don't contain nitrites, as it’s naturally occurring in several species of fish. Ham cures have added sweetness and sometimes phosphates to aid in color development. We’ve taken out the guesswork of choosing a cure. 

          All of our smoked sausage seasonings come complete with pre-measured cure. 

            Do I need to let my meat cure before smoking? 

            Curing of Hams, bacons and poultry and other whole muscle products will have extended days for curing because it takes longer for the cure to penetrate the inner parts of the muscle.  

            When making Summer sausage, snack sticks, Weiners or similar type products you can go to the smoking procedures right after stuffing, but you can also wait for a day or so after stuffing and before smoking, this will develop a little more flavor and cure development will be improved.   
            Pro Tip: Make sure the meat stays below 40 degrees. 

              Do I apply my cure wet or dry?  

              Both wet and dry brining are effective methods of curing whole muscle proteins 

                Are there natural alternative curing methods? 

                Yes, Cultured Celery Powder and Cherry Juice Powder are naturally occurring sources of nitrite and does not need the addition of chemically made nitrite, it is used in higher amounts to achieve the necessary cure requirements and it is higher priced, but is a great way to provide natural curing methods.   

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