Tip of the Month: All About Cures and Brines

Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Most Americans, especially hunters, love cured and smoked meats, with ham, summer sausage and jerky being some of our favorites. In fact, in my opinion, the only food that rivals a good smoked meat is chocolate!

 
This article will target the cures used for curing and smoking whole muscle meats such as smoked venison hinds, fish, chickens, goose breasts, turkey breasts etc. We will cover cured and smoked sausages (which are ground products, not whole muscle) in a future Tip of the Month.
 
To cure these whole muscle meats, we need to make a brine.
 
A brine is a solution to soak meat products in or inject into meats to cure them. A typical brine will contain salts, sugars, flavorings, and nitrite.
 
Traditionally, anything that is smoked is also cured. And cured products almost always contain nitrites. The only cured products on the market which claim to have ‘no nitrites added’ contain seasonings or ingredients which have naturally occurring nitrites in them. Many vegetables, especially root vegetables and green leafy vegetables contain higher levels of nitrites than cured meats.
 
Many people claim to “cure” fish and other meats in a salt brine prior to smoking, and some of these taste quite good. However, salt is not a curing agent. Salt does preserve meat by deterring bacteria and by drying. But salt alone will not cure meat. Meats that are cured turn pink when cooked. Really, the only difference between a pork roast (which turns brown and tender when cooked) and a ham (which turns pink and firm when cooked) is that ham is cured. If you were to simply take a raw chicken and put it in your smoker until it was cooked, what you would have is a cooked chicken with smoke flavor.
 
There are two types of cures on the market: concentrated cures and complete cures.
 
Complete Cure Kit

Complete Cure Kit can be purchased for only $5.50 at heidwildgame.com

The concentrated cures usually have a name like “Fast Cure” or “Sure Cure”. They contain 6.25% sodium nitrite. The remaining 93.75% is salt. These concentrated cures are ALWAYS dyed pink. They are used at a rate of 4oz cure to 100 lbs of meat. This cure is more often used in sausages and is less likely to be used in a brine.

 
The complete cures which are more common in the non-commercial setting contain .85% nitrite and are always white or off-white in color. They’re called complete cures because they also contain salts, sugars, and flavorings. They are used at a rate of 1.5# – 2# of cure per 100 lbs meat. Complete cure is used in sausages as well, and is usually the cure that is used to make a brine for soaking fish, turkeys, venison rounds etc for smoking.
 
Thank you for your interest. Next month we will cover recipes on how to make a brine with your cure, soaking times, and injecting brine into meat.
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