sausage making technique

Good Technique: Keeping Ground Meat Cold / Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Welcome to the official #charcutepalooza Safety and Health Concerns post and page, and a place where you can ask questions comprising more than 140 characters that I or others can answer.  Have a look at our book Charcuterie for all general safety issues.

Many of you are embarking on unfamiliar waters regarding the curing of meat.  If you’re fearful or nervous, remember that humans have been curing meat for millennia, that civilization depended on the ability to preserve food by curing it for most of human history and that if it were complicated and dangerous we probably wouldn’t be here.

As with all cooking, curing meats and making sausages requires the use of all your senses, perhaps most importantly, your common sense.  Think.  Try to reason your question out.  Does this mold look gross?  Don’t eat it!  Does this thinly sliced duck breast look enticing, glistening?  Taste it!  Smell it—does it smell bad or good? Del Grosso put it fairly succinctly: If it doesn’t stink and isn’t slimy, it’s probably fine.

The Big Common Sense Issues:

—If you’ll be thoroughly cooking the food before eating it, as with bacon or pancetta, there are no bacteria or botulism issues since cooking food to those high temperatures takes care of any bad microbes and the botulism toxin, should there be any.

—All mold except for chalky white mold should be immediately removed from the meat with a brine or with vinegar. It does not mean that you should throw it away. But be if mold has been allowed to grow for a long time, it can penetrate the meat. Use your common sense.

—If your food smells rotten or looks unappetizing, don’t eat it.  If you have reason to be concerned about bacterial contamination and don’t want to throw it away, cook it before eating it.

—When dry-curing sausage, always use a curing salt to protect against botulism bacteria.

That’s it.

Curing Whole Muscles

Duck Prosciutto/Duck Ham

Duck Prosciutto

This is the easiest and most straightforward type of curing to do at home.  The thickness of the meat determines how long a piece of meat needs to be on the cure or in the brine.  Bacteria for the most part is only be on the surface meat of meat we cure.  Rinsing it off is usually a good idea (I buy whole beef cuts to grind into tartare, but I always wash it and give it a good coating of salt first).

If you’re cooking the meat (such as bacon or pancetta), there are no health concerns.  If you are drying the meat, the rule of thumb is that it is done when it’s lost about 30% of its raw (or green) weight.  It should be firm but not hard, and sometimes it’s not completely firm.  Salmon needs neither to be dried nor cooked and should be a little squishy in the center.  Depends on the cut.  Again slice and taste.  If it’s pleasant to eat, eat it; if it’s not, it’s not done.

Whole muscles are very forgiving when you dry cure them.  Temperature and humidity can vary widely and the muscle will dry fine.  I usually just hang pancetta and duck breasts in my kitchen and they do fine. You don’t need a temperature- and humidity-controlled drying chamber.

In very dry conditions, the exterior can dry to the point that moisture from within can’t escape, resulting in a tough hard exterior and a raw interior.  It won’t hurt you but it might not be delightful to eat.

Curing Sausages

salamiDry curing sausage is the most tricky and temperamental of the dry-cure preparations.  It’s advisable to use a bacterial starter culture to ensure you have sufficient acidity and to use sodium nitrate (DQ Cure #2) to prevent the bacteria the toxin that causes botulism.  Optimal conditions are around 60 to 65 degrees F. and 70% humidity.  I’ve also started using a mold culture to mist the sausage with to make sure good mold develops and not bad mold.  The cultures and curing salts are all available at butcher-packer.com.

I’ll address specifics when #charcutepalooza needs them to be addressed.

General Bacteria Issues

If you’re healthy, no bacteria you encounter in the craft of charcuterie will likely kill you, especially if you have a quality source for your meat. The bacteria you encounter will be on the surface of the meat—I routinely rinse and pat the meat dry, then salt it.  The way bacteria gets into the center of meat is when you grind and mix it for sausage.  This is why you can’t get e coli poisoning from a rare strip steak but can from a rare hamburger.

Keep meat that will be ground or has been ground cold until you cook it—if by chance there is harmful bacteria in the meat, temperatures between 40 and 120 degrees F. allow them to reproduce at astonishing rates, especially in the 90 to 110 degree range (that would be 4 to 48 degrees C., and 32 to 42 degrees C., respectively).

The bacterium that creates the toxin that causes botulism must be addressed in dry-cured sausages and items that are smoked and then eaten without being cooked further.  Botulism bacteria are prevented with sodium nitrite (see below).

The Pink Salt Issue: Is Sodium Nitrite Harmful

The quick answers:

—Sodium Nitrite (aka pink salt, which is sold under various names such as DQ Cure #1 and Prague Powder #1) is by regulation 93.75% sodium and 6.25% nitrite.

—Its fundamental property from a health standpoint is that it kills bacteria that cause botulism in smoked and ground meat.

—The great advantage of using sodium nitrite is flavor: it’s what makes bacon taste like bacon and not spare ribs, what makes ham taste like ham and not a pork roast, and corned beef like corned beef and not pot roast.

—You do need to handle it with care because it’s toxic if you ingest it directly.  It’s colored pink to prevent accidental ingestion.  Keep it out of kids’ reach.  According to this link on Oxford University’s site, the exact toxicity is 71 milligrams per kilogram.  I weigh nearly 100 kilograms.  That means if I ate 7.1 grams, it could kill me (by binding the oxygen carried by my blood to the hemoglobin, making that oxygen unavailable to my cells).  That’s about a teaspoon.  If you’re a petite 110 pounds, 1/2 teaspoon would be toxic.  This article on its toxicity suggest an even lower amount is harmful.  Bottom line: Don’t be afraid of it, but keep it well identified, and use it only as a recipe calls for.

—In the amounts called for in curing meat, and in the amount we commonly eat, it is not harmful in any meaningful way.  Indeed, used properly, it’s beneficial.  It’s an anti-microbial agent (i.e. kills bad bacteria), and it creates great flavors and appealing color.

Many think of sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate to be harmful chemical additives and have heard that they can be carcinogenic in certain situations.  Here is my position on these issues:

Nitrates and Nitrites are naturally occurring chemicals that our bodies rely on for a number of reasons.  Green vegetables such as spinach and celery are loaded with them.  Of all the nitrite in our bodies, as much as 93% of it comes from the nitrate in vegetables.  Our bodies naturally convert nitrate into nitrite, which works as a powerful antibacterial agent, particularly in an acidic environment (such as in our stomachs).

In the 1970s, concerns arose that nitrites could be carcinogenic.  Current studies conclude that large quantities (as in contaminated water) can do serious damage, but that the quantities added to food do not.  Indeed, as one study put it, “Since 93% of ingested nitrite comes from normal metabolic sources, if nitrite caused cancers or was a reproductive toxicant, it would imply that humans have a major design flaw.”[1]

And The American Medical Association reports that as of 2004, “given the current FDA and USDA regulations on the use of nitrites, the risk of developing cancer as a result of consumption of nitrites-containing food is negligible.”

It’s my belief that companies advertising their products as “nitrite-free,” are either uninformed themselves or are pandering to America’s ignorance about what is healthy and what is harmful in our foods.  In other words, the term “no nitrites added” is a marketing device, not an actual health benefit.

Use pink salt in the quantities recommended in the recipes and eat a balanced diet.

Questions, concerns?  Leave them in comments.


1. Douglas L. Archer, “Evidence that Ingested Nitrate and Nitrite Are Beneficial to Health,” Journal of Food Protection, Vol 65, No. 5, 2002, pp 872-875.

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89 Wonderful responses to “For Charcutepaloozians:
Food Safety and Common Sense”

  • Paul C

    A great post! You said :-

    ‘If you’ll be thoroughly cooking the food before eating it, as with bacon or pancetta, there are no bacteria or botulism issues since cooking food to those high temperatures takes care of any bad microbes and toxins, should there be any.’

    I’ve read that botulism and other bad fellas poop poison and even if the bacteria are killed off with heat the toxins can persist. It might be arguing semantics, but in this case the semantics could make you sick…

    Also I whole heartedly agree on the Nitrite thing. I always girly giggle to myself when I see people buying packages of ‘nitrite free bacon’ that I know have Celery Juice ( or other sources of ‘natural’ nitrites listed high on the ingredients list.

    • ruhlman

      It’s my understanding that the botulism toxin is nullified at cooked temperatures, as are the bacteria themselves. It’s the spores that generate the bacteria that are very difficult to kill, even at high temperatures. If anyone has more info on the toxin itself, please let me know or comment here.

        • Matt

          Correct, Ciguatoxin as an example, the toxin that causes Ciguatera, will not be destroyed through cooking. This can be found in infected predatory fish such as grouper. So the rule that heat destroys Botulinum Toxin does not apply to all toxins!!

          Ugh, this is all bringing back memories of food sanitation class.

      • bob del Grosso

        176 degrees for 10 minutes destroys some C. botulinum toxins but I’d not be sanguine about heat killing all of them. Better to make sure that one takes every precaution to prevent the growth of C. botulinum and not count on heat protecting one from harm.
        A good general rule of thumb is to ask
        1) “Given that C. botulinum spp are soil microbes, are there any products in the cure that have grown underground (for example garlic)?”
        2) Given that C. botulinum thrive under anaerobic (little to no oxygen) conditions, does the meat that I want to cure have “chambers” or cells within it that, because they are not free and open to oxygenated air, will act as sites for the growth of anaerobic organisms like C. botulinum?
        If the answer to one of the above questions is “yes” then use nitrate or nitrite.

    • Chris Raines

      Isn’t it fun? (the “uncured” or no-nitrite products) I have gotten into countless, well, let’s just call them “discussions” with many meat market managers who don’t get that yes indeedy do, there’s nitrite in there!

    • Travis

      Most cures are a nitrate/nitrite mix or are nitrite only. I image some could be nitrate only, but I haven’t heard of any. Bacterial activity converts nitrates to nitrites, so the more curing you let happen the more nitrite.

      Some risks of nitrites:

      Nitrite and hemoglobin get together in the body and change to nitrate and methemoglobin, but your body naturally uses an enzyme, methemoglobin reductase, to change that nasty stuff back to good old oxygen-carrying hemoglobin. This is why infants or pregnant women shouldn’t eat foods with nitrites. ["Food Chemistry", H. D. Belitz, Werner Grosch, Peter Schieberle, p492] These effects are probably negligible in a grown adult.

      Nitrite is a nitrosating agent that can convert amines (in meat proteins) into nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. This can happen in the meat during curing. Additionally your saliva and stomach acid are also nitrosating agents and so can create nitrosamines as well. High levels of heat (around 600 F) have also been shown to form nitrosamines in products with nitrites. Thankfully, ascorbic acid has been shown to inhibit this nitrosation in meat… haven’t seen any studies about how this affects salival or gastric nitrosation… so it’s now commonly added. Other similar helpful compounds: erythorbic acid and alpha tocopherol (Vitamin E). [http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/f-w00/nitrosamine.html, Richard A Scanlan, PhD]

      As for toxins and bad bacteria, the bad bacteria in the meat will naturally die as the pH lowers and the cultures you’ve added (hopefully) have overthrown them. Toxins produced by bacteria, however, do remain so you want to (1) minimize the initial population of bad bacteria, (2) keep the meat cool so they don’t grow fast, (3) lower the pH, (4) add a competitive culture of good bacteria, and/or (5) heat it up to kill them early (think summer sausage). ["The Art of Making Fermented Sausages", Stanley Marianski, throughout]

      Michael, you’re right that you can kill the botulism toxins by heating to 140 F for 5 minutes, but the spores take temps above boiling under pressure to destroy them. Moreover, staphylococcus aureus and its toxins won’t be defeated by high heats. Luckily staph won’t kill you.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I met all kinds of negative reactions to what I was embarking on with proscuitto by persons in the profession. Strong objections I should add; but I perservered and tried to home cure duck proscuitto. It came out disastrous because altho I could control the temp I could not control the humidity. My feeling is that the every day person living in an apartment who does not have access to be able to completely control all levels of what is considered necessary for Charcuterie is going to have a hard time being successful. I was not successful. Plus add to that the fact that everyone who I came in contact with tried to scare the beejesus out of me and succeeded in that I could not bring myself to do little more than to eat one slice.

    I think, as a layman in Charcuterie, that it is very important to be able to take a recipe and adjust it to the meat vs the weight vs the cure in correct amounts and I am not that person. Math is not my subject and I understand the potentiality of not having the right ratios can be vital. As vital as the right physical condiitons. this was definitely a challenge and I enjoyed the activity of it; but I will not be endeavoring to create any more although I will be reading lots.

    I actually bought my pork and figured out the ratio of home cure to its poundage; but further in reading, some of the ‘make sure you don’ts’ were too numerous for me to consider continuing this great challenge. I am not a defeatist; but home curing is just too big a challenge for me; and a good part of this feeling comes from the lack of support surrounding my intital project in Montreal; and that includes the almost impossible ability to buy Prague Powder #1 in Canada.

    Understand that I know there are bloggers partcularly in Toronto who have not come up against the kind of walls I have; food safety above all was the motivating factor in every single caution.

    • KT

      Sounds like you should stay away from home curing meat. Anyone else interested should pursue it, but spend a little time learning before attempting. There are many many resources out there that can be found with a little effort that will tell you how to create the proper curing environment. I’d also recommend picking up Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie, just to READ it first. You’ll learn a ton.

  • Winnie

    This is a great post. While I totally appreciate your words about the safety of pink salt, I am sorry (and you/your readers can laugh at me all you want), but I still don’t want to put something in my food that has toxic properties and needs to be handled with such care.

    To be honest, I eat some things that other people would consider unsafe: raw eggs (from my own chickens) and raw milk come to mind. But I do my research and do what is comfortable to me. That said, I don’t want to die from botulism or anything. I didn’t feel that the pink salt was necessary for the bacon, esp if I planned to store it in the freezer after slicing- taste/color aside, my decision was supported by the info in your book and this post.

    When I was 14 I did a report on the nitrite/nitrate/carcinogen connection and I am still haunted by it. Never ate a hot dog after that and it’s probably why I chose to study naturopathic medicine. Anyway, I am old enough now that I have given up being a zealot when it comes to eating healthy, and I get that the amount used in the bacon recipe isn’t much, but I still made mine without it. No, it does not taste exactly like bacon, but I still love it.

    Thanks to you and charcutepalooza, I am now more informed about the use of celery juice in store-bought “nitrite-free” bacon and understand that that is pretty much a crock.
    Well, the upshot of this comment is that I may come around and use pink salt in the later challenges if it is truly necessary for safety. But for the fresh bacon, I did not feel it was, and I am pretty excited to have made something so tasty, that I feel good about eating. I used pastured, organic pork belly so it certainly wasn’t cheap- I am savoring every delicious bite.

  • Warner aka ntsc

    In four years of dry curing meat, I hang my fifth prosciutto this afternoon to start the fifth, the most serious health problem I have had are the four stitches to close the cut from a knife that slipped.

    By the way, from the Physician’s Assistant who sewed me up:

    1): Use a sharp knife, if you do cut yourself, closing the wound is far easier as the edges are straight.

    2): If I kept a Kosher kitchen this wouldn’t have happened (slicing prosciutto #5).

  • Rand

    When using the mold 600 bacterferm,how far along the drying period can you apply it?

    • Willi

      As soon as the surface is no longer damp is the perfect time to start spraying your mold starter.

  • Sir pirkalot

    Very timely post. Thank you!
    I had actually planned to write a post regarding this very subject, and you have saved me the time. Not to mention you said it much better than I could.

    There seems to be a number of people out there that have been scared by propaganda available on this subject ( the Internet is full of information- both accurate and inaccurate), and even when the facts are provided, insist on clinging to their unfounded (on facts) fears.

    ALL cured meat that claims it is nitrate free, is nothing but a marketing scam, most of these products use concentrated celery juice (which in fact is loaded with nitrates), however since it is a natural product the FDA allows them to put that inaccurate and misleading claim on their products.

    Another fallacy that needs to be addressed is that salt alone will prevent botulism. Some salts IE: some sea salts, have been shown to contain a minuscule amount of nitrates, but not all sea salts do, and certainly not worth the gamble to use solely as a curing agent.

    Keep up the good work you do, and I sincerely hope there are no serious health issues that arise from people attempting to cure meat without using some form of nitrates.

  • Brad

    Thanks for this post and the opportunity to ask questions! I attended PigStock TC where Brian Polcyn taught some charcuterie on the Mangalitsa Pig. Since then I’ve cured coppa, guanciale, pancetta, bacon and lonza. The prosciuetto is still hanging, of course. This is an odd question — I made a LOT of cured meat since we bought the whoel pig at once. Now we have pounds of think sliced coppa and lonza in the fridge and it’s slowly drying out (overdrying) and in some cases getting moldy. So how do we preserve the finished product? Can you freeze it? Avoid slicing it too soon?

    • Brian

      My Italian friend taught me that storing the meat in a jar in oil will stop over-drying and mold growth. The meat must be totally submerged with no air bubbles and should be kept in a dark cabinet (sunlight makes the oil go rancid). As with all things, let your senses guide you to if it is still good or not, but I have bacon stored in olive oil that is still good after 5 years.

  • Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen)

    After two years of curing meat, we have had only one charcuterie failure, a whole ham. It was very obvious by sight and smell that it was ‘off’. We briefly considered cooking the dog snot out of it, as I know peoples in many parts of the world probably would have, but we chose to not risk any bacterial contamination and threw the meat away. The experience was not wasted, however; we learned from our mistakes and have a better idea how to be successful should we want to try again.

  • Julia

    Thanks for this succinct post! I think all of this really needed to be addressed. It’s nice that it’s here, and in one piece, so that it can referred back to.

  • Brian Silovey

    What is the difference is between nitrite in celery and the nitrite in pink salt? Is there any? I am using pink salt in my curing as I’ve eaten far too many hotdogs to worry about it now, but it would be good to know if some nitrites are better than others,

    Thanks,
    Brian

  • Briggs

    great post. being a bit of a hippie, i agonized over whether to use pink salt due to the nitrate/nitrite issue. i googled around trying to find some no nonsense info on the subject but couldn’t find any. i bit the bullet and used pink salt. i’m glad i did, and glad this post is here for future charcuterie agonizers!

  • neil

    In the book, Preserving The Italian Way, it mentions that in the old days in the country, they got nitrates for their salamies by scaping dried urine from the stable walls. Practical!

  • Warner aka ntsc

    I slice and freeze as well as freeze larger pieces. Anything I’m likely to keep more than 4 weeks goes in a food saver bag (vacuum process), anything sliced goes in a food saver bag. I’ve kept dry cured sausage as long as a year this way, specifically the pepperone and the Tuscan salami.

    My freezer is set to -10F however.

  • Lessa

    The nitrite/nitrate issue for me (and several of my friends) have an allergic reaction giving us migraines. What do you suggest instead?

    • ruhlman

      How do you know it’s the nitrate/nitrite giving you headaches? Do you get allergic reaction to vegetables as well? If you don’t, my guess is it’s something else giving you issues.

      • michael vh

        Do you have a take on MSG as well? With many of these food scares, I think the power of suggestion often overcomes common sense.

  • mary lynn

    I thought some were unsure of botulism and found this at the CDC site and thought I’d share.

    “Foodborne botulism is a rare illness caused by eating foods contaminated with botulinum toxin. Spores of C. botulinum are ubiquitous in the environment (3), but growth and elaboration of toxin occur only under particular conditions that include an anaerobic, low-salt, low-acid environment. Bacterial growth is inhibited by refrigeration below 4°C, heating above 121°C, high water activity,or acidity (pH <4.5) (4). Toxin is destroyed by heating to 85°C for at least 5 minutes, and spores are inactivated by heating to 121°C under pressure of 15–20 lb/in2 for at least 20 minutes (5)."

    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no9/03-0745.htm

    • warren

      “Bacterial growth is inhibited by refrigeration below 4°C, heating above 121°C, high water activity,or acidity (pH <4.5) (4)."

      Someone needed more (less?) caffeine when they wrote this. Low water activity inhibits bacteria — it's the reason salting and drying preserve foods. High water activity *promotes* bacterial growth.

      And the temperature range for inhibiting C. botulinum should probably be 4 to 50 C (about 40 to 120 F).

  • JimD

    My favorite trick to keep the meat cold after grinding is to take a large bowl and put 3 ice packs around the inside of the bowl. (the gel kind you get at the drug store for strains/sprains) Then I put another bowl that I have kept in the freezer on top of the ice packs. The plastic ice packs keep the bowl you are grinding into from moving around like an ice water bath does but everything stays really cold for up to an hour.

  • GaryT

    My question is about smokers. I read a lot of negatives about Bradley. What else is out there that reliably works?

    • ruhlman

      I actually love cameron’s stovetop smoker. Perfect for smaller stuff, but if you need to smoke big items or a lot of them. I liked the bradley smoker but it has its drawbacks.

    • Fritz

      I’ve got a Bradley (the smoke generator part anyway) attached to an old chest freezer that I’ve been using for a couple of years. I have had great luck with it. Major drawbacks being the cost and availability of the wood chip “biscuits”.

  • sallycan

    I’m wondering if it is ok to hang meat to cure in the refrigerator that I use for aging cheese-ok for the meat and ok for the cheese? Will they interfere with each other? The cheeses are in ripening boxes, but it’s rather “cheese stinky” in there, with fresh, mold ripened, waxed hard cheeses, and washed rind. Usually hang meat in the wine cellar, but low humidity at this time of year is a challenge, and I’m tempted to use the cheese fridge, but don’t want to sacrifice either one for the other. Thanks for posting this section.

  • Luanne Iwan

    Question: I have little furry spots on my bacon and Pancetta, just 2-3. how can I save the product and rid myself of the mold? Is that the bad kind? So afraid I’m gonna give the family botulism

    • warren

      Sounds like some type of mold — wash the affected area with white vinegar and an old tooth brush. Then re-hang it to air dry.

    • ruhlman

      if you used pink salt, no need to worry about botulism. wash off mold with vinegar. if you didn’t use pink salt and youre worried about botulism, cook the bacon before you eat it.

  • Dan @ FoodieLawyer

    Thank you for an excellent post with some very helpful information. We are brand new to charcuterie and had a bit of apprehension. We’re now looking forward to homemade sausages! (And we have six pounds of delicious bacon in vacuum sealed bags in the freezer from this months Charcutepalooza challenge!)

  • Paul C

    neil
    In the book, Preserving The Italian Way, it mentions that in the old days in the country, they got nitrates for their salamies by scaping dried urine from the stable walls. Practical!

    Easy then … don’t use pink salt, just wipe your sausage on the toilet seat! :)

  • Camille

    Is Morton’s Tender Quick the same as the curing salt you link to? I’m trying to avoid paying three times the cost in shipping charges, but I can’t tell if this Morton’s product will work.

    • warren

      It’s not a substitute for pink salt if that’s what you’re asking. It’s a premixed cure that contains salt (NaCl), sugar, sodium nitrate and nitrite (and some other stuff).

    • ruhlman

      it’s similar and should work if it includes sodium nitrite, but it also includes sugar and seasonings, no?

      • warren

        They make two kinds — TenderQuick is a premixed dry-cure similar to the basic dry-cure given on page 39 of “Charcuterie” though we don’t know the salt/sugar ratio. The SugarCure is a premix dry-cure with spices.

  • Anna

    Your statement about sodium nitrite being “by regulation 93.75% sodium and 6.25% nitrite” doesn’t make sense. Sodium nitrite is an ionic compound, NaNO2; as a solid it will always be ~23g Na (the weight of a mole of Na atoms) : ~46g NO2 (the weight of a mole of NO2 molecules) – or 33% NA and 67% NO2 (or thereabouts).

    Do you mean that, when bought as regulation pink salt it contains a mix of 93.75% sodium chloride (NaCl, normal salt) and 6.25% sodium nitrite (NaNO2)?

    • bob del Grosso

      Anna, I think the confusion lies in the fact that there are two salts containing sodium in DC # 1 which is 6.25% Sodium Nitrite and 93+ % Sodium Chloride.

  • Peter

    Could you address Mortons Tender Quick, how it compares to #2 powder, and how it might be utilized instead with a recipe calling for #2? Would the called for salt content be adjusted?
    I’m treating a 12 pound brisket with MTQ instead of the called for salt quanity and it’s 1/4 tsp. of cure. Am I asking for trouble, or on the right track? (10-12 days in the brine; making corned beef.)
    Thank you.

    • ruhlman

      the morton’s site doesn’t give percentages, so ok to use at the levels its directions suggest. let us know how it works.

  • Darren

    ruhlman
    my understanding was that the nitrite was bonded to the sodium somehow, but I’m not a chemist.

    The pink salt is a mix of NaCl and NaNO2. It’s two separate molecules–two separate crystals in this case–mixed together. Individually, yeah, the sodium is ionically bonded to whichever atom/molecule–the Cl or NO2.

    Just thought I’d geek-out there for a minute.

    • ruhlman

      Darren, thanks for your help with the sodium nitrite toxicity level and link. i’ve updated the site to reflect what you’ve noted.

  • Karen

    Thoughts on the propylene glycol in pink salt? also, I’d rather have celery juice as a nitrite source…never see a warning label on celery!

    • Ellendra

      I’m curious about the celery thing too (more for hypothetical self-sufficiency scenarios than out of any fear of the store-bought product). How concentrated would the celery juice have to be? Is there an easy way to test for nitrite concentration? Would the juices from other greens work? (I could picture some interesting flavors from using, say, a basil-parsley-sage juice for the nitrite source)

      There are some interesting possibilities there.

  • Aaron

    With Steak Tartare I assume washing with white vinegar. With regards to the salt how much and how long?

    Thank you

  • Amit

    What are your thoughts on creating a curing chamber for dry cured, fermented sausages? I’ve read your book and am now reading the Stanley and Adam Marianski book on sausage making. They advocate a ‘proper’ curing chamber. What would you suggest for the home practitioner, especially one that lives in a highly variable climate.

  • Jason DiLoreti

    I have a question about temperature. You had said above that ” I usually just hang pancetta and duck breasts in my kitchen and they do fine. You don’t need a temperature- and humidity-controlled drying chamber.”

    I live in Texas and I’m sure the average temperature of my kitchen and your kitchen in Ohio are probably very different throughout the year. I would assume that there there would have to be some sort of temperature threshold that would not be good to hang meat in my kitchen… correct? What would you suggest?

  • ruhlman

    I would say that above 75 you’re going to have issues. better to dry in fridge or buy a mini fridge and set it to warmest temp.

  • Paul C

    Jason I live in Texas and I hang pancetta etc in my coat closet which seems to keep a suitable temperature reasonably well even in summer. I just hang them from the coat rack and usually put a bowl of heavily salted water underneath on top of some boxes.

  • Jennifer A.

    Karen
    Thoughts on the propylene glycol in pink salt? also, I’d rather have celery juice as a nitrite source…never see a warning label on celery!

    I wouldn’t worry about propylene glycol in the pink salt. It’s probably there as a dessicant/flowing agent. I used to be wary of nitrites and additives before getting Charcuterie and making stuff out of it, but that stopped when I considered this: pink salt is only 6.25% nitrite, the rest is salt, a little coloring, and apparently some propylene glycol. A person weighing about 150 pounds would need to ingest 4 to 6 grams of PURE nitrite to get a toxic dose (toxic meaning detrimental, but not necessarily fatal). Consider Charcuterie’s American Glazed Ham recipe. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I think it had around 30 grams of pink salt in it. 6.25% of 30 grams is about 1.9g of pure nitrite, not enough for a toxic dose. Then consider that this is dispersed in a gallon of water. So the majority of the nitrite is going down the drain when you’re finished (or washed away in the case of a dry cure). Then consider that you’re probably not eating these cured products on a daily basis. I love bacon, but I don’t eat it daily. If you are eating them daily it’s probably small portions like a slice of ham on a sandwich, etc.

    As a culinary version of Blue Oyster Cult might sing, “Don’t fear the nitrites!”

    Celery juice? I know it’s got nitrites aplenty in it, but . . . what kind of preservatives are in that? And do you get a consistent level of nitrates so that you know you’re getting a good cure? does it come in powder form?

    • bob del Grosso

      Celery juice is not as safe to use as Pink Salt because you have no idea how much nitrate is present.Cooks Illustrated ran some tests on products made with celery juice and found that most contained more nitrate than similar products made with conventional nitrated curing salts. If you want to use a plant based nitrate source with a known % of nitrate there’s a company in Florida that makes something I believe is called “VegeStable.”

    • Libby

      I agree with this assessment of sodium nitrite. Since it’s only 6.25% of the weight of pink salt, you’d need to ingest 64 g of pink salt for an acute toxic dose of 4 g of sodium nitrite.

      I do think using pink salt warrants care and consideration, but the amounts used in cooking are not anywhere near the doses required for immediate toxicity.

  • rhondajean

    This looks like such an interesting book. I think I’ll feature it on my blog. Do you have recipes for brawn or headcheese in the book? Thank you for such an interesting blog.

  • Ed Duboce

    This looks like such an interesting book. I think I’ll feature it on my blog. Do you have recipes for peperoni in the book? Thank you for such a blog. I know you are trying hard. Really, really hard.

  • richn

    My first attempt at a Ruhlman recipe was homemade mayo and it was a complete failure (because I didn’t use the right blender). Things got much better after that. I tried the bacon recipe and was so impressed (even though I finished it in the oven) that I went out and bought a Bradley smoker and have never looked back. Santa brought me a copy of Charcuterie and life is good. Just smoked some turkey thighs last night and they were seriously some of the best meat that I have ever eaten.

    It always kills me when most people eat an unhealthy diet of processed industrialized foods, over eat, don’t exercise, are breathing shitty air and drinking polluted water that nitrites or some other tiny piece of their lifestyle becomes the “boogy man”. Moderation in everything – even moderation.

    Thanks Michael, your book and blog has had a very positive effect on my family and friends in how we enjoy our lives.

  • Ron Jones

    I am curing my first moulard duck breasts for prosciutto. I put in salt with some juniper berries, pepper and bay leaves for 24 hours then hung one in cheesecloth as directed.

    The other breast I smoked with apple wood for about an hour at a low temperature (90F) in the Big Green Egg and then hung it . Do I need to worry about botulism for such a short smoking period? Thanks much.

  • ruhlman

    i dont think you need to worry for that short time. there’s always risk in all this stuff but it’s so small, personally, i don’t.

  • groady

    The humidity (65% – 72%) seems to be about ideal for charcuterie but the temperature is a liile cooler (47-52 degrees F) than what is recommended. My question is what affect will a lower temperature have on hanging time and the quality of the finl product?

  • groady

    Sent my previous post before I read through it completely, the humidity and temperatures were measured in my basement where I intend to hang the products.

  • philip Geneman

    Thanks for this post this is all very important information. I have not worked with pink salt yet. This post is very helpful. you know I have not cured meat in a long time(since school really) and forgot a lot of this information and should try to do this some time soon, lets see how it gos! thanks for this post I really liked reading this!

  • Amy Kramer Hawks

    Thank you so much for this post…I was worried about the pink salt too, and reading your posts, and the replies has been very helpful.

  • Eric

    Thank you for another mouthwatering article!

    I have been searching and searching for a meat curing cabinet, and I can’t find one available for genreal home use. Am I missing something? It seems like the only option is to build one myself. Now, I guess I could use a wine cooler (has built in temperature control from 40 through 70 degrees), coupled with a humidistat “rigged” to a small humidifier….but gosh…it feels a bit like a teenager building a homemade bong…isn’t there something available “out of the box” from some cool household applicance maker?

  • Brian Silvey

    Hi Michael,

    On another forum a fellow asked about the difference in the amount of pink salt that is called for in your corned beef recipe and what Sausagemaker.com calls for. Yours is 25 grams for a 5lb brisket and they are about 5 grams or one tsp.

    Here’s the link to SM http://www.sausagemaker.com/11000instacureand153no11lb.aspx Scroll down and you’ll see where it says 1tsp. Can you comment on the difference and how you came up with the 25 grams amount?

    Thanks,
    Brian

  • Yaniv Schiff

    I have started working my way through your book and am about to try my first cured sausage. I’m starting with the Saucisson Sec, because, well, I love Saucisson. I’m a little concerned though about the humidity levels in my basement. The temperature is at a stable 60-65 degrees so i’m happy about that, but the humidity isn’t that high, maybe 40%-50%. Will this adversaly affect my suasage or will it just take longer to cure? I don’t have a mini-fridge or anything available to use for curing…yet. With a room as big as a basement, does putting a pan of salted water below the sausage make any difference? The comments and this blog post are really helpful.

    Finished so far are two types of bacon and the merguez sausage. All of which turned out great (though the bacon was a little to salty).

  • Paul C

    could you use a big cardboard box to create a small room that you can use a bowl of water in to help get the humidity up inside ?

    • Yaniv Schiff

      That’s a thought! It would have to be a pretty big card board box. Any risk of contamination?

      If i were to build a humidor type container, is there a good, or bad, type of wood to use? Would plywood work?

  • Yaniv Schiff

    Well i decided to convert a closet into a makeshift curing room. I put up a shower curtain over the door way and stuck a humidifer in there. The sausage is hanging off coat hooks. We’ll see how this goes….I was able to get the humidity up to pretty stable 65% and the temp is between 60-65 degrees.

    Just out of curiosity, has anyone attempted to convert a portion of their basement into a meat curing room. I have this gangway in my basement that would be perfect. I think i would just need to put up some insulation and some wood paneling. Because it’s underground the temp stays steady all year round.

  • Sara

    The nitrate-celery juice point has already been made, but I wanted to add that McGee addressed this on an interview about 2 years back on The Splendid Table. I would bet it could be found in his NYT articles and/or his book as well.

  • JOe

    Is it ok to cut your drying sausage in half to see if its done and thn re hang it to dry if isn’t?

  • JP

    when you say “the rule of thumb is that it is done when it’s lost about 30% of its raw (or green) weight” would this mean before salt cure for something like duck prosciutto?

  • Jonathan Steven

    There’s a pseudo-progressive (yuppie) deli in my neighborhood and while the prepared sandwiches are pretty darn good, they have a “nitrate free” smoked turkey sandwich on the menu which also includes red pepper relish, smoked cheddar, as well as the most certainly not “nitrate free” red leaf lettuce. They play pretty fast and loose with “nitrate” throughout the rest of the menu as well.

  • Neen

    I’ve made a bit of an error. I made soppressata (used the recipe from your book) and realized a few days later that I accidentally used DQ Cure #1 instead of DQ Cure #2. Will the bactoferm and DQ #1 be enough to keep me from dying of botulism? If not, do you suggest that I not dry it for a long period and instead move it to refrigeration a la fresh sausage? It’d be a shame to lose it. It smells awesome in the basement closet right now.

  • Neen

    I forgot to mention that the aforementioned soppressata is in sheep casings and so they might have a shorter drying time.

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