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Why Do I Have To Cure Meat?

Cure is an essential ingredient in smoked sausage and meats. But why must it be used? There are 3 basic reasons to use cure: (1) Cure is critical for the prevention of food poisoning, (2) Cure gives meat its reddish color and (3) Cure gives a characteristic "tangy" flavor.

Let's take a closer look at the first, most important point. When meat is smoked, the low temperatures and lack of oxygen inside the smokehouse create ideal conditions for the development of food poisoning, specifically botulism. Cure prevents the natural bacteria in the meat from developing into botulism. Fresh sausage does not require the use of cure because the meat will be thoroughly cooked at high temperatures before eating.

So what exactly is cure? First of all, there are two different types of cure. We call these cures "Insta Cure No. 1" and "Insta Cure No. 2." Insta Cure No. 1 is sodium nitrite on a salt carrier. This type of cure is used for cooked and smoked sausage as well as for product that will be canned. Insta Cure No. 2 is sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate on a salt carrier. This cure is used for dry-cured products that don't require cooking. In both cases, the essential ingredients in the cure are included with a salt carrier to deliver the correct proportions of nitrate and/or nitrite to the meat. The FDA regulates the amounts of nitrite and nitrate allowed in cured meats, and all pre-mixed cures carefully follow these guidelines. In many cases sugar is also used to temper the salty flavor.

Cure is delivered to meat in either a dry or liquid form. Sausage makers are probably most familiar with the dry form of cure that is mixed with the meat before stuffing the casings. Dry cure can also be rubbed onto the surface of the meat. Liquid cure, also known as brine or pickle, is either pumped into the meat or used as a soak. Using either type of cure, the process will take longer in cold weather.

The most important point to take away about cure is the following: If meat can't be cured it should NOT be smoked!