Curing and Smoking Food for flavor and preservation.
To put it simply, Curing ham, bacon, fish, meat and other food is a matter of treating the food to flavor and preserve it.
Curing meat is chemically treating it, while observing food safety standards,
to keep the meat from spoiling. Meats can be dry cured or wet cured and although the processes are different, the results are very similar with some exceptions. The primary chemicals used for curing have been
used commercially and by individuals for years with proven results. They are,
salt (sodium chloride, NaCl), Sugar, Nitrates and Nitrites and Wood Smoke.
These curing chemicals not only help preserve the meat but also give it an
outstanding flavor if done correctly. Many cured meats can be eaten after being
smoked but without being cooked, like
beef jerky or chicken jerky.
Salt or sodium chloride is
regular table salt except without the iodine added. Salt is the primary
ingredient used in meat curing. Salt is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs
water so it works by dehydrating the meat, thus preventing the growth of some of
the harmful bacteria and it helps lower the pH of the meat. This lower pH helps
good bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus grow which further lowers
the pH making it difficult for the harmful bacteria. Salt also causes the
soluble meat proteins to come to the surface of the meat and solidify forming a
dry skin which bacteria cannot penetrate.
Sugar is used in curing
meat because, like salt, it is hygroscopic and thereby absorbs water as well,
It also feeds the beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus which create and
environment not well suited for the harmful bacteria. The type of sugar used in
meat curing can vary form syrups like corn syrup and maple syrup to things like
honey and brown or white cane sugar. This added sugar does not flavor the meat
with a sweet taste but it does help tame the harshness of other curing agents.
Nitrates and nitrites
Nitrates like potassium
nitrate or sodium nitrate are typically used as a meat preservative together
with salt. The combination is
typically called a curing salt or pink salt. The pink salt is died pink sot that
it will not be confused with table salt.
Nitrates were a typical
contaminate of natural salt and as a result were discovered to assist in meat
preservation by early civilizations. Nitrate and nitrite is a very effective
inhibitor of the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that
causes botulism poisoning. They not only help kill bacteria, but also produce a
characteristic flavor and give meat a pink or red color like the familiar cured
ham. Smoking ham,
bacon and other meat products also helps give it
a pink color. Much controversy has surrounded the use of nitrite in
recent years. However, this has been settled and all sausage products produced
using nitrite have been shown to be free of the known carcinogens.
Meat can also be preserved
by smoking with real wood
smoke in a
variety of flavors. When
hot smoking, the meat is further dried
and the surface of the meat is taken to a temperature above 140 F which kills
any living bacteria. The smoking process also dries the meat to help preserve
it. Cold smoking also helps dry and
preserve the meat. The smoking of meat also give meat that great wood smoked
flavor which one of the primary reasons for smoking. Like all curing
methods it is very important to adjust the
amount of smoke being used to get the right flavor.
The SmokePistolÂ® and GrillKickerâ„¢ and their cartridges are patented SmokePistolÂ® and GrillKickerâ„¢ are the trademarks of T&D Suppliers Inc. Copyright Â© T&D Suppliers Inc. 2009-2010.