How to cure meat without sodium nitrite

Written by barbara stanley
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How to cure meat without sodium nitrite
Nitrites give cured hams their pink colour. (ham image by Soja Andrzej from

Curing meat without using sodium nitrites must be done carefully. Nitrites provide protection against the growth of botulism-producing organisms, act to retard rancidity and stabilise the flavour of cured meats. "According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, adding too much nitrite to foods can be toxic to humans."

You must prevent rapid decomposition through rotting by extracting the water from the meat as it cures. Common table salt (sodium chloride) is the most important ingredient for curing foods. Salt kills or retards the growth of microorganisms by drawing the water from the cells of the microbe and the meat.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Large container
  • Two- gallon-sized cooking pot
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 0.68 Kilogram common table salt
  • 1/2 pound brown sugar
  • 28.4gr potash (potassium-sodium)
  • 1/2 pound sea salt
  • 1/2 gallon apple vinegar
  • Ladle

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  1. 1

    Use 1/2 pound of sea salt to cover one large fresh ham or one large cut of beef. Cover the meat completely with the salt, using more, depending on the amount of meat to be cured. Rub the salt vigorously over the meat. Cover the container with an old, clean towel. Allow the meat to sit for 24 hours.

    How to cure meat without sodium nitrite
    Sea salt has larger crystals than table salt. (fleur de sel, white sea salt crystal, white background image by Oliver Mohr from
  2. 2

    Hang the meat to bleed for 48 hours after sitting in the salt overnight. Do not rinse the salt from the meat.

  3. 3

    Increase the ingredients in the materials list by doubling or tripling to cover the amount of meat you will be curing. Place the first four ingredients in a large pot and bring the solution (called pickle) to a boil. Skim the surface of the pickle as it boils, until all skim is removed. This is done on the fourth day of curing the meat.

    How to cure meat without sodium nitrite
    Canning pots are often used to make pickle. (professional cooking range with pot image by Canakris from
  4. 4

    Soak the meat in the vinegar while the pickle is cooling. Add enough water to the vinegar to completely cover the meat. This step removes any remaining blood from the meat.

  5. 5

    Remove the meat from the vinegar and place it in the pickle. Use weights, if necessary, to keep the meat submerged in the pickle. Put the container of meat in a cool room to cure for six weeks. After the meat has cured, cook the meat according to safe internal temperatures given on a meat thermometer. Refrigerate or freeze any portion of the meat not eaten.

    How to cure meat without sodium nitrite
    Meat thermometers have guides for safe cooking temperatures. (thermometer image by Alfonso d"Agostino from
  6. 6

    Smoking the meat, if desired, is done after the meat has cured. Hang the meat for two days before making smoke with green wood chips. Make sure the smoke does not go out while the meat is preserving. Smoke the meat for four or five weeks, depending on size.

    How to cure meat without sodium nitrite
    Smoked meats should be heated before serving. (smoked pig meat image by Murar Gianino Sorin from

Tips and warnings

  • Common table salt can be substituted for the sea salt if preferred.
  • After the pickle has cooled, add any spices you like.
  • Sugar is used in the curing process to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.
  • "Nitrites and nitrates must be present in dry-cured sausages to prevent botulism poisoning according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
  • The smoking process produces resinous, cancer-causing chemicals that adhere to the meat.
  • Meats must be totally submerged while curing to prevent rancidity.

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