Salt Curing Meat in Brine

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contents of web page Al Durtschi
Curing meat by using a salt brine was a widely used method of preserving meat before the days of refrigeration. This is the way we cured pork in Southern Alberta, however it would work for beef as well:

Recipe by Verla Cress (born 1940)
OK - Brine barrel filled half way up with 1 cup salt per 2 gallons of hot water (that's 32 parts water - 1 part salt), and a bit of vinegar -

OR

BETTER - Brine Barrel filled 1/2 way with 5/8 cup salt & 3/8 cup curing salt per 2 gallons hot water, and a bit of vinegar.

Cut your animal up into ham sized pieces (about 10 - 15 lbs each).
Put the pieces in the brine barrel and let it soak for 6 days. Now that your meat is salted, remove the meat from the brine, dry it off and put it in flour or gunny sacks to keep the flies away. Then hang it up in a cool dry place to dry. It will keep like this for perhaps six weeks if stored in a cool place during the Summer. Of course, it will keep much longer in the Winter. If it goes bad, you'll know it!

OR... FURTHER PROCESS IT BY:

Putting it in a brine barrel, filled half way up with 4 cups brown sugar to 3 gallons water - and a bit of vinegar (note: no salt): Inject some of the sugar brine mixture into the already salted meat with a syringe, then put the meat in the sugar brine for 3 days.

Remove the meat from the brine and smoke it for 3 days. Now put your smoked meat into flour or gunny sacks to keep the flies away and hang it up in a cool dry place to store. Smoked meat preserved like this should keep in the Summer for at least 4 months if stored in a cool dry place. It will keep much longer in the Winter, or if refrigerated.

More Detailed Instructions:


This recipe was taken from a tiny home-made recipe book, "Remember Mama's Recipes." It was put together by the women of the Stirling, Alberta, LDS congregation back in 1973.

Brine Cured Pork

    • 100 lbs pork
    • 8 lbs salt (Note: 1 part salt to 48 parts water)
    • 2 oz. salt peter
    • 2 lbs brown sugar
    • 5 gallons water

Method:
Mix salt, brown sugar and salt peter, add this to the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar. Skim off any scum that may form while boiling after everything is dissolved. Remove from heat and chill until quite cold.
Pack the pieces of meat into clean barrels or earthenware crocks, placing them as close together as possible. Now pour the cold brine over the meat making absolute certain the meat is completely covered. Put a board over the meat that just fits inside the container and place weights on it to make sure that the meat is emerged in the brine. When curing larger and smaller pieces of meat at the same time, place the larger pieces on the bottom and the smaller ones on top. This is so the smaller ones can be lifted out without disturbing the larger pieces. The small pieces do not take as long to cure as the bigger ones.
The meat should be cured in a temperature that is just above freezing. If the meat is cured at a warmer temperature the brine may show signs of souring. If this should happen, remove the meat and soak it in lukewarm water for an hour or so. Wash the meat in fresh cold water and be sure to throw out the soured brine. Clean out the container, repack the meat and make a fresh brine in original proportions.

    • Bacon sides and loins require 2 days per pound in this brine.
    • Shoulders will take 3 days per pound.
    • Hams will take 4 days per pound.

After the meat is cured the pieces should be soaked in warm water and then washed in cold water or even scrubbed with a brush to remove any scum that may have accumulated during the curing process.
Hang the meat by very heavy cords in the smoke house and allow to drain 24 hours before starting the smoking.
Hard wood is the best to use for smoking and the temperature in the smoke house should be 100-120 degrees F. The ventilators should be left open at first to allow any moisture to escape. Smoke until desired flavor and color is arrived at.

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.

[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. The Sausage Maker Inc./ 26 Military Road/ Buffalo NY 14207. (716)-876-5521.

1996, Leslie Basel

Salting Meat

Corporal Arthur Porras of the 9th Texas took the lead in teaching us this aspect of authentic rations.

Excerpt from Rations, The Reenactor’s Dilemma
By permission of: Arthur Porras
First, let's begin with your meat, the infamous salt pork or salt beef. DO NOT buy the salt pork sold at stores, it is incorrect, and more importantly, not cured properly, which means it will spoil on you and you will get sick.

Instead of thinking of salt pork as a specific product, think in the generic term "salt cured meat". You can salt cure any cut of meat you care to. I personally usually salt boneless beef ribs but that is up to you. At the grocer’s in the spice section you will find meat cure. I use Morton’s brand Tender Quick. It’s in a blue 2lb bag. The directions are on the back and very easy to follow. It takes 1/2 oz. of meat cure per pound of meat to be cured. Hint: I rub in pepper with the salt cure to give the meat more flavor. I bought mine 4 1/2 years ago and I still have enough for two more events.

Usually 1 1/2lbs of meat is more than enough for me for a weekend. Remember you have to fit all this in your haversack and lug it around. When you are ready to eat your meat you must rinse the salt out or else it will be unpalatable. I put the amount of meat I need for that meal in my tin cup, fill it with water, knead the meat to force out the salt, pour out the water and repeat again. The question I constantly hear is "Have you ever gotten sick" and the answer is "NO". I have carried cured meat in the middle of Texas summers for the whole weekend WITH NO REFRIGERATION and it does not go bad. I have gone as long as 5 days and never had a problem. As modern reenactors we have forgotten how recent an invention refrigeration is and we fear any meat not out of the icebox or a cooler. There is no need for this. So now you have your salted meat which should be wrapped in a waxed brown paper.

A gloss on Arthur Porras' article above - Ian Straus
In addition to the directions on the bag, Morton's publishes a paperback book on salting meat which gives the directions for dry salting (rub the salt into the meat as explained above), and also for brine curing . When I bought mine the book was $5 but the shipping was more than that! See Morton's Web site for purchase information.

But what that book will tell you is that a measured tablespoon full is equivalent to that half ounce. It also advises salting in two applications, a week apart. Salt your meat when it's fresh! In between the two curing rubs, you should keep your curing meat in the refrigerator so it won't spoil before you get it cured. Make sure you trim off fat before curing, at least if you're not curing bacon. Smell your salted meat before the second salting: If it smells rotten (meaning it will turn your stomach) it is rotten, you did something wrong such as starting with spoiled meat or didn’t give it its second salting on time, and you should throw it away and start again.

Oh, one more thing: Don't use iodized salt to cure meat! It would taste bad. Tender Quick is a mix of non-iodized salt with a little sodium nitrite, which is a preservative.

I have come to apply more salt than Morton's calls for. Because I have trouble making that tablespoon cover all of my pound of meat without missing any, I end up using the whole tablespoon at the first application. So a week later after I have done it a second time, I've salted that meat a lot. I refrigerate it in a zip lock bag or a rubber-lidded container. You'll note that the salting draws liquid out of the meat, which you should pour away. After I salt the meat I keep it refrigerated until it's time to go to the reenactment, so my treatment of the meat is "belt and suspenders". How long will it keep? At least a month in the refrigerator. I understand brine-cured meat would keep all winter pre-20th century.

Is my product too salty? I generally boil it a little to get the salt out, pour that water away and pour in fresh water to finish boiling it, and when that is done the meat does not taste even as salty as the corned beef you find refrigerated a the supermarket! But it does taste good. Understand that "corned beef" means salted beef. I have received compliments on how good my corned beef tastes.

Note that you can also salt pork and even fish! When Arthur taught us the class on curing meat at battalion muster in 2002, he showed us salted pork chops. They looked very dry on the outside, almost wooden. Even modern bacon should be a little salty, but if in doubt salt cure your refrigerated bacon a little.

Now, a little more about brine curing: It involves soaking the meat in a saturated solution of salt. That means so much salt is dissolved in the water that no more will dissolve. The old test for reaching this saturation point is whether a fresh egg will float in the water. This uses more salt than dry curing. Do this in a plastic or glass container or a pottery crock, not metal. (I suppose you could brine a large amount of meat in a barrel as they did in the 19th century, but water-tight barrels are hard to come by now.) You may need to weight your meat down to keep it under the brine. I have only used brine curing in conjunction with smoking. A day or two in the brine gets the meat very salty. Civil War period writings reflect leaving the meat in the brine until it was to be cooked, which might be months or years. That was pretty salty stuff! And according to and old song it evidently got as hard as wood over a long period.

When I smoked the meat, I brined it for a day or two in accord with the directions for my smoker, then smoked it for a couple of hours with sweet-scented wood chips (hickory, alder, or fruit wood), then left it in the hot smoker for more hours with no more wood chips. This both flavors and dries the meat, and at least partly cooks it. The meat shrinks. It promises to keep a LONG time, but needs to be re-hydrated and cooked before you consume it Good stuff though.