Real Country Life

The Meat Smoking and Curing FAQ - Maintained by: Richard Thead

The Meat Smoking and Curing FAQ
Maintained by: Richard Thead

Meat Curing and Smoking FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ) in the group
This file is a compilation of shared knowledge and answers to frequently
asked questions of the group As such, this file is
updated. Be a contributor--point out mistakes, write sections and reviews,
provide us with new sources. All contributors will be cited in this file.

Contributors (in alphabetical order): Michael Kankiewicz, Rick Logan,
Richard Thead

Last Updated: 18 January, 1999

Copyright 1995-1999 Richard Thead. All rights reserved. You may use and
copy this file as long as the contributors' names and this copyright remains

CHARTER is a newsgroup devoted to the discussion of recipes,
equipment, and techniques of food preservation. Current food preservation
techniques that rightly should be discussed in this forum include canning,
freezing, dehydration, pickling, smoking, salting, distilling, and
Foodstuffs are defined as produce (both fruits and vegetables), meat,
fish, dairy products, culinary and medicinal herbs. Discussions should be
limited to home-grown or home-preserved foods.


Related information may be found at: Rick's BBQ Home Page



I. Curing

II. Smoking

III. Specific Foods

IV. Other Sources (besides this FAQ)

V. References

I. Curing

[Why is meat cured?]

For a couple of reasons. One is safety. When meat is cold smoked its
temperature often stays in the danger zone for several hours or days. Many
environmental factors of this treatment are such that the growth of
dangerous bacteria is greatly accelerated. The curing of the meat inhibits
this growth.

The other reason is traditional preparation. There are many curing
techniques that were developed in the days before refrigeration that are
continued today for traditional reasons. A good example is corned beef.

Oldtime butcher shops closed every weekend. Ice, the only
refrigerant available, could not dependably hold fresh meat for two
days. To keep unsold meat from going to waste, the butcher soaked the
meat in a strong brine or covered it with coarse salt to trigger
osmosis. The grains of salt were called "corn" in England, and the
name "corned beef" stuck with the product. [1]

-- Contribution from --
Meat is cured for one other reason, color. Using prague powder is what
gives meat its pink color.

[What is osmosis?]

Osmosis is the movement of water across a membrane from weak solutions
toward strong solutions. [1]


[What is meant by "the danger zone"?]

The "danger zone" is the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees F.
When uncured meat remains in this range for more than 2 hours the growth
of dangerous bacteria increases to a dangerous level.


[What other factors affect the growth of bacteria?]

When meat is smoked, the environment is robbed of most if its oxygen. If
this is combined with temperatures in the danger zone, the growth of the
bacteria that causes botulism is increased.


[What is botulism?]

Botulism is an intoxication of the bacteria clostridium botulinum. This
bacteria is anaerobic meaning that it requires an environment relatively
free of oxygen to multiply. It also requires a moist environment and
temperatures in the danger zone. The symptoms of botulism are sore throat,
vomiting, blurred vision, cramps, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and
central nervous system damage (including paralysis). Symptoms usually
occur within 12 to 36 hours. The fatality rate is up to 70%. [2]


[What are the commonly used curing compounds?]

Salt, sugar, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. Salt and sugar both cure
meat by osmosis. In addition to drawing the water from the food, they
dehydrate and kill the bacteria that make food spoil. In general, though,
use of the word "cure" refers to processing the meat with either sodium
nitrite or sodium nitrate.

Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are the basis for two commercially used
products: Prague powders #1 and #2. Prague powder #1 is a mixture of 1
part sodium nitrite and 16 parts salt. The chemicals are combined and
crystallized to assure even distribution. Even though diluted, only 4
ounces of Prague powder #1 is required to cure 100 lbs of meat. A more typical
measurement for home use is 1 tsp per 5 lbs of meat. Prague powder #2 is a
mixture of 1 part sodium nitrite, .64 parts sodium nitrate and 16 parts
salt. It is primarily used in dry-curing.

One other commonly available curing product is Morton's Tender Quick. It
is a mixture of salt, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate and sugar. Ask your
butcher or grocer to stock it for you.


[Why use soy protein concentrate?]

Soy protein concentrate is used to bind together sausages and slow the
loss of fat and moisture during smoking. This is extremely important to ensure
that the final product is not dry and crumbly inside the casing.


[Where can these compounds be obtained?]

If you are chummy with a local butcher who does curing, maybe (s)he will
sell you a small quantity. Otherwise, the Sausage Maker offers all items
mentioned here and elsewhere in this FAQ mail order. See the books section
for a phone number where you can obtain a catalog.


[What is spray pumping?]

It is the process of injecting the meat with cure using a special purpose


[What's trichinosis?]

It is an infestation of trichinae. The parasites invade the voluntary
muscles causing severe pain and edema. It can be avoided by ensuring that
cooked pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F.


[If my cured pork doesn't reach a safe temperature, what about

Trichinae can also be killed by freezing the pork according to the
following chart:

Temperature Grp1-days
days ----------- --------- --------- 5 deg F
20 30 -10 deg F 10
20 -20
deg F 6 12 Group 1 comprises product in
separate pieces not exceeding 6" in thickness or arranged on separate
with the layers not exceeding 6" in depth. Group 2 comprises product in
pieces, layers or within containers the thickness of which exceeds 6" but
not 27". [3]


[What about dry-curing sausages and meats?]

I'll leave this topic open for someone with real experience. The dry
climate in Tucson makes it difficult to maintain the ideal 70% relative humidity
required for dry-curing so I've never even tried.

II. Smoking

[What is the difference between smoke cooking and curing?]

Pretty simple; Smoke cooking is done at higher temperatures in order to
cook the meat. Smoke curing is really just smoking cured meat or sausage.
Although smoking meat does provide some preservative effect, it alone is
not sufficient to allow long term storage.

"Smoke is a very complex material, with upward of 200 components that
include alcohols, acids, phenolic compounds, and various toxic, sometimes
carcinogenic substances. The toxic substances inhibit the growth of
microbes, and the phenolics retard fat oxidation, and the whole complex
imparts the characteristic flavor of burning wood to the meat." [4]


[What are the proper temperatures for smoke cooking meat?]

I prefer to keep the temperature around 200-220F. This means the
temperature *at* the meat. I use a large log burning smoking pit with an offset
firebox so it's easy to maintain this. In an upright water smoker you will have
trouble keeping the temperature this low, since the heat builds up at the
top where the meat is. You can achieve decent results with a water smoker,
but the cooking time will be shorter and the depth of smoke penetration
will be less. My briskets and pork shoulders smoke for 16-24 hours; pork ribs
and pork loin roasts take less time.


[How important is temperature control during smoke curing?]

Very. If you are smoking sausages, excess heat will melt the fat out and
leave the final product dry and crumbly. This I know from experience.
Here, we're talking about temperatures around 140F, although it varies from
recipe to recipe. This is very difficult to maintain in a wood burning smoker.
Mine has a slow smoking section farthest away from the fire. With experience,
I've learned to control the temperature in this section without
overdamping the air inlet. Some other meats, like bacon and ham, are a little more
tolerant of higher heat, but it can affect the quality of the final

The best solution is a thermostat controlled gas or electric slow smoker
like those sold by the Sausage Maker (see sources). These are not good
general purpose smokers, in my opinion. I just don't think they do nearly
as well as a log burning pit for smoke cooking.

Unfortunately for the many water smoker owners, they just won't do for
slow smoking--don't even bother trying.


[Is closing down the air inlet dampers a good way to keep the temperature

If you keep the temperature low by closing down the inlet dampers, the
smoke gets thick and sooty and produces an unattractive and bitter coating on
the surface of the meat. I prefer to keep the fire burning more freely and
control the temperature by providing some draft between the fire and the


[What are the various woods used for smoking?]

Alder The traditional wood for smoking salmon in the Pacific
Northwest, alder also works well with other fish. It has a light
delicate flavor. Apple and Cherry Both woods produce a slightly
sweet, fruity smoke that's mild enough for chicken or turkey, but
capable of flavoring a ham. Hickory Hickory is the king of the
woods in the Southern barbeque belt, as basic to the region's cooking as
cornbread. The strong, hearty taste is perfect for pork shoulder and
ribs, but it also enhances any read meat or poultry. Maple
Mildly smoky and sweet, maple mates well with poultry, ham, and
vegetables. Mesquite The mystique wood of the past decade,
mesquite is also America's most misunderstood wood. It's great for grilling
because it burns very hot, but below average for barbecuing for the
same reason. Also, the smoke taste turns from tangy to bitter over an
extended cooking time. Few serious pitmasters use mesquite, despite a
lot of stories about its prevalence in the Southwest. Oak If
hickory is the king of barbecue woods, oak is the queen. Assertive but always
pleasant, it's the most versatile of hardwoods, blending well with a
wide range of flavors. What it does to beef is probably against the
law in some states. Pecan The choice of many professional chefs, pecan
burns cool and offers a subtle richness of character. Some people
call it a mellow version of hickory. [5]


[Rick, do you have any politically incorrect views about smoke cooking
that you enjoy getting flamed about?]

Don't get me started.

III. Specific Foods

[Can I make a Smithfield Ham at Home?]

These are unique since the hams come from only peanut-fed hogs. They are
worked with cure for 30-45 days. Then they are smoked for at least 7 days
and left in the smokehouse for another 6 months. "The Smithfield ham or a
reasonable facsimile is rather difficult to produce unless you have a
steady supply of peanuts and a huge smokehouse 3-4 stories high." [3]


[How do I make my own bacon at home?]
New! Pictures of the bacon making process
It is my experience that bacon is the easiest slow smoked product to
produce at home and the results are as good as, or better than, the best
commercially produced bacon.

I use Morton Tender Quick and brown sugar. Rub down a slab of fresh bacon
(pork belly) with a liberal quantity of the Tender Quick. You can't really
use too much but a cup or so should do. Then follow with a thorough rub of
brown sugar (again, start with a cup or so). Then place the meat in heavy
plastic and allow to cure for 7 days at 38F. I use a small refrigerator
for this. I run a remote temperature probe inside and monitor the temperature,
tweaking the thermostat when necessary. The temperature is important; too
low (below 36F) and the curing action will cease, too high (above 40F) and
the meat will begin to spoil. I also cut the pork belly in two and cure it
with the meat surfaces face to face and the skin on the outside. It helps
it fit in the fridge and improves the curing action. I then smoke it at
140-150F until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 128F (about 8
to 10 hours). I find it best to remove the skin about 3/4 of the way through
the smoking process. This way the fat is protected but still acquires some
color. Chill overnight before using. Slice into approximately 3/16" thick
and fry as usual.

If you are using Prague Powder #1, mix 2 oz with 1 lb of salt and use like
the Tender Quick.

Other sugars can be used instead of brown sugar. Try honey or even some
maple syrup.


[How do I make my own corned beef?]

For best results, use trimmed briskets.

Start with a curing brine. This recipe comes from [3] and makes enough for
25 lbs of meat.

5 quarts ice water (about 38-40F) 8 oz. salt 3 oz. Prague Powder #1 3
oz. powdered dextrose

Spray pump the briskets to about 12-15% of their original weight. After
pumping, the briskets are packed in a vat, and sprinkled with whole
pickling spice. If more than one brisket is done at a time, pack them flesh to
flesh with the fat sides out. Add enough brine to cover and allow to cure for
3-4 days at 38-40F. The meat is then ready to use (but still requires


[What is pastrami and how do I make my own?]

For best results, use trimmed briskets.

Start with a curing brine. This recipe comes from [3] and makes enough for
25 lbs of meat.

5 quarts ice water (about 38-40F) 8 oz. salt 5 oz. Prague Powder #1 5
oz. powdered dextrose 1 Tbl garlic juice

Prepare and cure as for corned beef. After curing, remove from brine and
rub liberally with cracked black pepper and coriander seeds. Smoke at 140F
until the meat is dry and then increase smoker temperature to 200-220F and hold
until internal temperature of meat reaches 170-180F. Chill overnight
before using. This meat is fully cooked.


[How do I make my own andouille sausage?]

Andouille is a spicy smoked sausage common in Louisiana cooking. It is
easy to make at home. This recipe is based on one from from [6] with minor
modifications, most notably the addition of the soy protein concentrate.

2 tsp garlic powder 2 Tbl sugar2 Tbl kosher salt
1 tsp Prague powder #11 Tbl ground black pepper 5 lbs pork, fat
and lean separated1 tsp red pepper flakes 3/4 cup cold water2
tsp cayenne 1/2 cup soy protein concentrate3 Tbl
paprika (see sources)1/2 tsp ground mace
wide hog casings1 tsp thyme

Grind the fat through a 1/4 inch plate. Grind lean meat through 1/2 inch
plate. Dissolve Prague powder in water to ensure even distribution. Mix
all ingredients, except casings, well. Stuff into casings and twist at 12 inch
intervals to form links. Hang sausages in front of a fan in a cool place
overnight to dry. Smoke at less than 140F for 6 to 8 hours. Refrigerate
until firm. Freezes well.


[How do I make beef jerky?]

There are a jillion recipes for jerky--just take a look in the recipe
archives. I prefer a teriyaki-based marinade (use 1/2 tsp of Prague Powder
#1 or 1 tsp of Tender Quick for safety) with other spices, lightly smoked.
Experiment with your own combinations of spices and find something you
I like to avoid fresh ingredients like garlic preferring to use powder
instead. Also try various combinations of black, white and red pepper
(cayenne) to suit your tastes.


[How do I make smoked salmon?]

(From [3]) Start with boneless sides (filets) of fresh salmon.

Place the sides in a tub of saturated salt solution and add ice to chill.
This removes diffused blood, makes the flesh firmer and helps retain oils.
The fish should remain in this brine for 60-90 minutes.

The sides should be drained for 15-20 minutes. A shallow vessel is filled
with a salting mixture prepared as follows (for 20 lbs of fish):

2 lbs salt1 oz brown sugar1 oz Prague Powder #11 oz white pepper1 oz
ground bay leaves1 oz ground allspice1 oz ground cloves1 oz ground mace

Dredge the sides in the mixture and rub it into the flesh lightly. Pack
the sides into a tub with as much curing mixture as will cling to them. cover
loosely and apply weight. Leave fish for 8 to 12 hours then remove and
scrub and rinse to remove excess salting mixture. Fix sides on a hanger and
allow to dry in front of a fan for 4 to 6 hours. Hang in smoker and smoke for 8
hours at not more than 100F. Continue to smoke for 24 to 48 hours at 70F.
Brush with oil and store in a cool, dry place.

IV. Other Sources (besides this FAQ)

[This FAQ does not tell me what I need to know!]

Please put the question to the group, Or...


Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing (1984). Rytek Kutas. Self published.
Can be obtained from the author at:
The Sausage Maker Inc.
26 Military Road
Buffalo NY 14207.

The bible of sausage making, meat curing and slow smoking.
This is the first book I pick up when I need a question answered.

Michael Kankiewicz contributed the following:

A funny anecdote about The Sausage Maker: On the inside cover there's a
short humorous biography of each of the brothers. They're a bunch of good
'ol Buffalo Polish guys. The paragraph about Ben Kutas says something like
"...and when he's not packing sausage, he spends his spare time as a as a

I always thought it was a joke. Then one day, when I was looking through
our university's directory, I came across Ben Kutas, Professor Emeritus,


Hot Links and Country Flavors (1990). Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.
ISBN: 0-394-57430-3.

This book is great. It contains about 60 recipes for sausages, divided by
region. It also contains about 200 recipes using the sausages you make.
The andouille hash is one of my favorites.

V. References

[1] Food Science--Osmosis, Rita Sorci Planey, "Fine Cooking", Aug/Sep
1994, pp12,13[2] The New Professional Chef (1991). The Culinary
Institute of America.[3] Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing (1984), Rytek
Kutas.[4] On Food and Cooking (1984), Harold McGee.[5] Smoke and Spice
(1994), Jamison and Jamison.[6] Hot Links and Country Flavors (1990).
Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.

Please direct questions, comments, criticisms, and contributions to:

Richard Thead


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