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Exploring Ancient Preservation: A Journey into Salt Curing Meat

Mastering Charcuterie: A Tale of Two Methods

Have you ever pondered the methods our ancestors used to preserve meat before modern conveniences? Imagine if today's power grid failed—how would we manage to store meat without refrigeration or power to pressure can it with? These are questions that often occupy my thoughts, prompting me to explore the ancient ways of preservation in case we're ever without electricity. Have you heard of the Carrington event of 1859? This geomagnetic solar storm destroyed the telegraph lines, effectively plunging communication back into the "stone ages." Such events recur cyclically, with no precise date but an inevitable return. As discussions of blackouts and grid failures persist, I find myself researching and learning about innovative solutions for maintaining food security in the absence of power.

A year or so ago I began a journey on learning how to preserve meat to be a shelf stable with the use of refrigeration or other resources for preservation. I knew that it could be done by using salt, but how could this be done and most importantly, safely?

First, let's understand how meat is preserved just by using a simple ingredient...salt. Salt curing works by utilizing the natural properties of salt to draw moisture out of the meat. Moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria, which can cause food to spoil. By coating the meat in salt, moisture is extracted, creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria to thrive. This process effectively preserves the meat, extending its shelf life and enhancing its flavor. Additionally, salt helps to inhibit the growth of spoilage microorganisms, further contributing to its preservation. Over time, the salt penetrates the meat, imparting flavor and transforming its texture, resulting in a delicious, shelf-stable product ready to be enjoyed for weeks or even months to come.

This study took me back to ancient preservation techniques of dry curing, while embracing modern insights. We'll explore two distinct methods: the EQ method and the salt pack method, each offering its own unique approach to crafting delicious, cured shelf stable meats.

The Salt Pack Method: Old-School Charm

Historically the salt pack method was used to dry cure and store meat—a tried-and-true technique that harkens back to the days of our ancestors. This method is all about simplicity, relying on generous amounts of salt to preserve the meat. One downfall to this method is that so much salt is used that your final product can have a salty finished taste. To do this...

  1. Prepare the Meat: Start with your choice of meat, such as pork belly, beef brisket, or duck breast. Trim any excess fat and take out any bones and ensure the meat is clean and dry.

  2. Coat with Salt: In a large container or on a clean work surface, spread a layer of coarse salt. Place the meat on top of the salt and cover it completely with more salt. Make sure the meat is thoroughly coated on all sides.

  3. Packaging: Once the meat is fully covered in salt, place it in a container and completely immerse it in salt.

  4. Curing: Store the meat in a cool, dry place, such as a refrigerator or curing chamber. The curing time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat and your desired outcome. As a general rule, you'll want to cure the meat for about 1-2 days per pound, flipping it halfway through the curing process.

  5. Rinsing and Drying: After the curing period is complete, remove the meat from the salt pack and rub off salt

  6. Aging (Optional): Hang the meat in a cool, well-ventilated area for several weeks to allow it to air dry and develop its characteristic flavor and dry down further.

  7. Slicing and Serving: Once the meat has been cured and aged your target weight will be 35% of the original weight, it's ready to be sliced thinly and enjoyed. Serve it as is, or incorporate it into your favorite dishes for a deliciously savory addition.

With patience and attention to detail, drying curing meat with a salt pack can yield beautifully preserved and flavorful results that are sure to impress. A piece of meat has only a percentage of moisture so using more salt than needed will not cure it any better. This is one of the biggest downsides of this method. There is a lot of salt that has been tainted by the burying of the meat in the first salt pack. That seems like a waste of a very important staple, especially if it is hard to get. This led me to the next more modern, but just as effective method.

The EQ Method: Precision and Perfection

Now let's talk about the EQ method. Short for "equilibrium," this modern approach is all about precision. It involves calculating the exact amount of salt needed based on the weight of the meat to extract all of its moisture. No guesswork here—just a careful balance of ingredients to achieve optimal Drying, flavor and texture.

  1. Select Your Meat: Choose your preferred cut of meat for curing, such as pork loin, beef brisket, or duck breast. Ensure the meat is fresh, clean, and free from any excess fat.

  2. Calculate Salt Percentage: Using a kitchen scale, weigh the meat in grams. The EQ method typically involves using 2-3% of the meat's weight in salt for curing. Calculate the exact amount of salt needed based on this percentage.

  3. Prepare the Salt Mixture: In a bowl, mix together the calculated amount of salt with any desired seasonings or spices. This can include ingredients like black pepper, garlic, herbs, or sugar, depending on your flavor preferences.

  4. Coat the Meat: Place the meat in a container or on a clean work surface. Coat the meat evenly with the salt mixture, making sure to cover all sides. Massage the salt mixture into the meat to ensure thorough coverage.

  5. Packaging: Once the meat is fully coated with the salt mixture, transfer it to a container or vacuum-sealed bag. Seal the container or bag securely to prevent any air from entering.

  6. Curing: Store the meat in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place. The curing time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat and your desired outcome. As a general guideline, it is 1 day per 1/4 inch at the thickest part Plus 2 days for safety.

  7. Monitor and Flip: During the curing process, periodically check on the meat to ensure it's curing evenly. If using a container, flip the meat halfway through the curing time to promote uniform curing.

  8. Rinse and Dry: Once the curing period is complete, remove the meat from the salt mixture and rinse it thoroughly under cold water to remove excess salt. Pat the meat dry with paper towels.

  9. Optional Aging: For additional flavor development, you can smoke the meat or add extra curing spices, such as pepper, sugar or smoked paprika to the outside of your meat and wrap it in string to hold its shape. Poke a hole thru it to hang and age the cured meat in a cool, well-ventilated area for several weeks. This step is optional only if you will now freeze your meat to preserve. If you are looking for a shelf stable piece then from here you need to hang it until it has dried to the target weight. After that your finished product will be fully dried and shelf stable.

  10. Slice and Enjoy: When your piece of meat has lost 35% of its weight it should be ready to enjoy, sliced thinly and served. Serve it as is making a charcuterie plate or incorporate it into your favorite dishes for a delicious addition to your culinary creations.

By following these steps with precision and attention to detail, you can successfully dry cure meat using the EQ method, resulting in beautifully preserved and flavorful delicacies.

Choosing Your Path: Which Method is Right for You?

So, now that we've explored both methods, you might be wondering which one to choose. The answer ultimately depends on your preferences, time constraints, and desired outcome.

If you're a stickler for precision and enjoy the challenge of calculating exact measurements, the EQ method might be right up your alley. It offers unparalleled control over the curing process, resulting in consistently excellent results.

On the other hand, if you appreciate a more hands-off approach and crave that rustic, old-school charm, the salt pack method might be more your speed. It's simple, straightforward, and requires minimal fuss, making it perfect for beginners or anyone looking to embrace a slower pace in the kitchen.

Whichever path you choose, the journey into the world of charcuterie is sure to be a rewarding one. So gather your ingredients, roll up your sleeves, and let's get curing! Whether you're drawn to the precision of the EQ method or the rustic charm of the salt pack method, one thing's for sure: delicious homemade charcuterie awaits.

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