The Art of Dry Curing Meats
Traditional dry curing techniques date back thousands of years and were used simply to preserve meat as long as possible. It was quickly realized that salting meats and hanging them in certain areas preserved them for longer periods of time. What was actually happening was the salt drew moisture out to the surface and rapidly restricted available water internally, lowering what is called water activity (Aw). Back in the old days, they didn’t know about bacteria, good or bad, and didn’t know that salt has many trace minerals such as sodium nitrite, which helped to cure the meats. This is why modern recipes add sodium nitrite (Insta Cure™ #2) as an additional ingredient, because most processed salts today have trace minerals removed (nitrite included).
The cool, humid and gentle breezes typically associated with naturally good areas for dry curing are very difficult to duplicate at home. Depending on the recipe, temperatures need to fluctuate from 50-90°F and relative humidity from 65-90%, which, for most, likely means heating and cooling, humidifying and dehumidifying. The risks involved in not maintaining proper conditions can be serious, so the art of dry curing has been mostly lost in modernity. In the last 10-15 years, there has been a surge of interest in traditional food preservation and this old style of salami-making has seen a very welcome comeback!
Salami can be prepared in either fresh/cooked, smoked or dry-cured varieties. Dry-cured salami (the kind we’re making in this tutorial) is ready to eat once it’s properly fermented and aged, while the fresh variety must be cooked beforehand. Fresh/cooked and smoked salamis do not have long shelf lives and should be consumed shortly after cutting (unless vacuum sealed and/or frozen). Dry-cured salami has a prolonged shelf life, famously rich aroma, unmatched sliceability and a flavor that is developed, savored and remembered. For all tools and ingredients listed throughout this tutorial, part numbers can be found in parentheses for easy location on our website. Let’s learn how to age salami!
#12 electric meat grinder (15-1111)
5 lb. sausage stuffer (18-1011)
2x meat lug (16-1023)
Roast tyer, 86 mm (11-1710)
Sausage pricker (17-2519)
pH strips (3.9–5.7 range) (11-1521)
Cutting board (14-1324)
Soehnle 33 lb. scale (21-1012)
Sterile/clean plastic/foam cups
Needed for Recipes:
For smaller diameter salami:
Sopressata sausage seasoning (12-1037)
Insta Cure™#2 (11-1016)
47 mm dia. pre-tied collagen casings (17-1711)
Bactoferm™ T-SPX (11-1311)
For larger diameter salami:
At least 2-3 hours prior to meat prep, take 1 cup of tepid 4 oz. distilled water (plastic, glass or foam cups are okay. Must be unused/clean). Open Bactoferm™ T-SPX and place 1 level tsp. of culture for every 10 lbs. of meat in a cup of water. Swish it around and stir it with a sterile spoon or utensil to blend it thoroughly. Quickly close the tops of the cups with plastic wrap to prevent contamination. Push out any air in the Bactoferm™ packet, sealing the opening with tape or vac-seal if possible, and put it back into the freezer (close to the vents, the colder the better). Remove your hairnet, protective eyewear, nitrile gloves and lab coat (just kidding). If you need to mix more than 1 tsp. Bactoferm™ T-SPX (making more than 10 lbs.), then add 1-2 oz. of distilled water to the cup for each consecutive 10 lbs. being added. Too much water will overly dilute the culture solution.
If you want to also add the beneficial-mold surface that is often seen on salami in old salumerias and NYC delis, here’s what you do: Buy a spray bottle, mix 1 tsp. of Bactoferm™ Mold-600 with 6-8 oz. of room-temperature distilled water in your spray bottle and let it sit for 1-2 hours in the bottle. Spray the salami surfaces once they are encased, hung up and ready for the fermentation stage.
You’ll want to grind lean meat separate from fat where possible. We suggest buying Boston butt (shoulder) and trimming it very neat for your “lean,” which will still be 10-15% fat. For extra fatty chunks, you can either retain the shoulder’s fat cap or buy pork back fat (where available). Total fat content should be between 25-35% total weight. Grind your lean meat through a 1/4" plate and fat through a 3/8” plate.
Use a recipe and ingredients from a trusted source (your neighbor’s Italian grandpa doesn’t count) or one of our time-tested seasoning blends. Mix your seasoning and Insta Cure™ #2 together (2 tsp. per 10 lbs.), pour the seasoning over the meat/fat mixture and mix them in thoroughly. Now add the Bactoferm™ T-SPX water solution to the mixture and mix again. Don't add more water than what's in the culture solution.
Remember: Wear gloves throughout the process and change them often if you need to. Be careful not to allow for any bacteria contamination as it can result in a ruined batch of salami.
Stuffing Salami into Casings
Natural casings (beef middles, ideally) are excellent for breathability, elasticity, provide mold the best surface for growth and best adherence to meat during drying. We use flat collagen casings for their enhanced durability, ease of use and storage. Fibrous casings should be avoided as they need ideal conditions to not release from the meat (separation). Flat collagen casings do not need soaking; just wetting them is enough. Just a couple dunks in a bowl of tepid water will make them pliable enough to “accordion” comfortably onto the stuffing tube and will increase elasticity strong enough to withstand a tight stuff. Stuff your casings, tie off ends or clip with hog rings and pin-prick all visible air pockets. Be generous and pin-prick all over the sausage. If you have pre-tied casings (highly recommended), then you just need to clip/tie one end. Stuff one salami into a full-diameter stuffed ball, like an extra short salami. This is our chub. We’ll get back to him later.
Take the Weight
Weigh the salami and mark on a label or sheet of paper that particular salami’s initial weight. This is also commonly called the “green” weight. We will use this number to identify the salami’s progress and determine when it’s ready to take down for eating and hoarding (…or “storing”). This is a must! Don’t trust your senses; you cannot gauge doneness accurately by sight or checking firmness/elasticity. It’s like a BBQ guru who puts his thumb against a loin chop and says, “They’re ready!” Thermometers are easy to operate and cheap—why take the risk?
Where to Hang Your Salami
For fermentation and mold production, you need a warm (90-100°F) and very humid area (90-95%). Warmth is not hard to create. A kid-safe, small space heater or ceramic heat bulbs work great. Either way, place it a safe distance away to keep the area warm and not heat the sausage too much. For the high humidity, a cool-mist ultra-sonic humidifier is a must. Later you will need a cool (45-59°F) and slightly less humid area (70-75%).
Hang Your Salami
Remember the Mold-600? If you have that spray bottle handy, now’s the time to use it. Mist the mold solution up and down the salami. Give them a few good sprays each. Even if you aren’t adding mold (it’s not necessary), a fermentation stage is important for early microbiological stability. Hang the salami (including your softball-sized chub) in your controlled environment and bring the temp up to 90-100°F and humidity to 90-95%. This is the fermentation stage! Hold the sausage in this environment for 48 hours. Keep the mold solution in the spray bottle and in the freezer until later.
Why Make a Salami Test Chub?
A chub is a small sample of your product, stuffed to the full diameter of the sausages that you’re drying. Stuff it to a short length to reduce waste, since this will be thrown out after testing. This test chub will be used—you guessed it—to test the pH of your fermenting salami to determine whether it is in the correct acidic range, so that the sausage is fermenting properly.
After 48 hours of fermentation, remove the chub. Cut it in half. With clean/dry fingers, rip a 1-2” piece of the pH strip, scoop a little bit of the meat center and insert the pH strip. Hold it there for 30 seconds and check the color guide. The pH should have dropped down to 5.3 or lower. If higher, keep fermenting for an additional 6 hours to ensure proper acidity level. Throw away the chub; do not eat it. Once fermentation period is over, drop the temperature down to 50°F and humidity to 75% for the long drying period. Also, by this time, you should see excellent mold coverage (if applied earlier). At least 25% of surfaces should have spotting. If not, respray surface with a few mists of the remaining mold solution. This is the last spray (if needed). The solution should not be frozen again; discard the remainder down the drain and clean the bottle with hot, soapy water.
In the first 1-2 weeks, you’ll want to check your environment rather frequently. If there are large variations in humidity and temperature, they’ll need to be corrected immediately. When making sausage like this at home and especially when you’re first learning how to cure salami, it’s important to do dry runs, test the environment and keep notes of all conditions. Even with immaculate cleanliness, your salami may develop unappealing mold on the surface. If this is the case, mix white vinegar and distilled water (1:1), moisten a clean cloth with it, and wipe the mold away. Use a little extra around the affected area. If dark/unwanted mold continues to come back and/or appears beneath the casing, the sausage should be discarded.
Flash forward about 4 weeks for 47mm dia. sausage or 5-6 weeks for 65mm. Let’s take out one of those Italian baseball bats we call salami and weigh it. If it’s lost over 35% of its green weight and it was fermented, you could say it is ready to cut and inspect. If it’s lost less than 35%, leave it for another week and reweigh. Personally, we enjoy 40% loss for the best quality, but others dry even more! When you cut the salami open, the cross section should be roughly the same vibrant color throughout, aside from a bit darker purplish ring closest to the surface, which is normal. If the color is vibrant and dark towards the surface and light/grey/pale in the center, then something went wrong. In the latter case, the center will undoubtedly be moist, non-pliable and crumbly. This means that it didn’t make it. Don’t “give it a try” or claim to have an iron stomach. You can get very ill and so can others, so throw it out! If you see a nice, uniform, reddish (cured) color and a rubbery center, then it’s done, ready to slice thin and be savored.
Digital Dry-Curing Cabinet
The Sausage Maker is excited to announce the first large-capacity dry curing cabinet (often called a curing chamber) for home use. Perfect for the modern kitchen, office or man cave, watch plain salamis turn into artisanal charcuterie masterpieces. Dry curing is no longer limited to those who live in an ideal climate.
We at the Sausage Maker have built numerous dry curing cabinets over the years in an effort to find the best way to accurately regulate both temperature and humidity in a controlled and sanitary environment. Through all the lengthy engineering, testing and adjusting cycles, we have finally developed a dry curing cabinet that we can proudly offer to our customers. Now you can dry-age steaks or pork belly to enhance the flavor of choice cuts, hang sausage to make a traditionally preserved salami, capicola (coppa) or give your summer sausage or pepperoni sticks that tangy flavor through natural fermentation. Make traditionally fermented, dry-aged and preserved foods in your home, with the control and modern elegance of the Sausage Maker’s dry curing cabinet (11-1509. Ship by truck. $3,425.99).
Designed and assembled by the Sausage Maker
LCD capacitive-touch control panel
Temperature range: 41–99°F (±2°F)
Humidity range: 40–90% RH (±5% RH)
304 grade stainless steel interior
USA-made, whisper-quiet compressor
2-gallon water tank humidifier
6 stainless steel v-sticks for hanging product
Carbon air filtration
Removable s/s drip collector
UV-protective double-paned glass
Miniature blue LED ceiling light
Water tank overload drainage
Learn more about dry curing and stock up on all your dry curing needs at our online store.