Have you ever wondered how exactly uncured bacon is made and what the difference is? There is a difference between cured and uncured meats and it comes down to curing agents. That's right, even uncured bacon uses a curing agent. In our commercial shop and at home, we make both cured and uncured products depending on the type of recipe we are working with at the time. Let's take a look at the two products you'll use to make cured and uncured meat at home.
The most common way to cure meat is to use curing salt. This product goes by lots of names including pink salt, pink cure, and sodium nitrite. This is a special type of salt that is used for curing and it is different than Himalayan pink salt. It is also different from rock salt, sea salt, and table salt. You can't substitute one for the other when trying to cure meat.
Is Jerky Cure Just Salt?
Technically, yes, but sodium nitrite is different from other types of salt. In its purest form, sodium is actually a metal. When it is combined with other elements, it becomes the products we use for flavoring and preserving food. While jerky cure is salt, not all salts are the same.
Benefits of Using Curing Salts
There are a few significant benefits to using a curing salt. The most important is that you can create shelf-stable jerky strips using curing salt. Uncured jerky can't be kept on the shelf, it has to go in the refrigerator for food safety. There are other factors involved in making shelf-stable jerky, but curing it is a requirement.
Another benefit of using curing salt is that it can improve the color of the meat you are working with. When you slice into corned beef, for example, that delicious pink color is from the nitrites in the salt, not from the meat itself. Curing salt will reserve the color of jerky, sausage, and other meats while preventing spoiling.
Cautions about Salt Cure
Since about the 1990s, consumer preferences have morphed to focus on healthier products with fewer ingredients. Two of the ingredients that get a bad rap are nitrites and nitrates. These substances have been linked to cancer and other health concerns, but are an essential part of cured jerky making and other shelf-stable meat products.
The use of nitrites and nitrates in cured meat is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Cured meats may not have beyond a certain amount of nitrites or nitrates added according to rules established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA.
Curing Salt vs 506 Celery Juice Powder
Here is where things start to get sticky. Celery juice powder is known to contain high levels of naturally-occurring nitrites and nitrates. When used to cure meat, this product will help to prevent many of the most common types of bacteria from forming, but may not suffice to kill everything so there is always a small possibility that you might get sick.
Unlike manufactured sodium nitrite, celery juice powder is not considered as a curing agent by the FDA and USDA. Instead, it is a flavoring agent. In order for manufacturers to produce uncured meat products using celery juice powder, they must include a label that says *except for nitrites and nitrates naturally occurring in celery juice powder.
Ultimately, celery juice powder does contain nitrites and nitrates and it can be used to safely cure meat whether at home or in a commercial setting. It does not mean that these products are better for you, healthier, or even different tasting, though many people can tell the unique flavor profile of celery juice powder.
Best Curing Salt for Beef Jerky
The Bearded Butchers recently introduced our own pink curing salt simply called Sodium Nitrite. This is the best quality curing salt you can get for making homemade jerky. We recently tested it out making a batch of venison jerky from our locally-harvested wild game and it came out amazing. This is the perfect product to give you commercial-quality beef jerky.
Best Celery Juice Powder for Homemade Jerky
We also recently released our very own celery juice powder for curing and flavoring dried meats, sausages, and jerky making. It's called 506 Celery Juice Powder and it's the perfect ingredient for making corned beef, pork loin jerky, turkey jerky, and a bunch of other recipes. In fact, we use this exact product to make our ground beef jerky snacks. It will prevent most foodborne illnesses and harmful bacteria. Remember, cure is only for inhibiting the growth of bacteria. If mold grows then you have a moisture issue.
How to Use Sodium Nitrite for Making Jerky
Making jerky at home is one of the most entertaining and fun projects you can do with your family. When you make jerky at home, you'll want to know how much sodium nitrite pink cure you should use. The package that we sell weighs one ounce and is enough to cure 25 pounds of meat. You simply mix the cure into the meat along with the marinade. This works best for ground beef jerky. It enhances the flavor of your dried meat strips and gives you that important, jerky flavor.
How to Use Celery Juice Powder for Making Jerky
You'll use celery juice powder the same way as for sodium nitrite, simply add in with your soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, or whatever else you use for a beef jerky marinade. The flavor is very mild and won't make your beef jerky taste like a vegetable, but it does add a subtle flavor that is different from a traditional beef jerky cure.
When to Use Sodium Nitrate over Celery Juice Powder
Since celery juice powder isn't considered to be a curing agent, you'll want to stick with sodium nitrite or nitrate for making properly dried jerky or other meat snacks that you want to have the best shelf stability. Sodium nitrite and nitrate are better at preventing bacteria growth than celery juice powder. We tend to use celery juice powder mostly for making bacon and tender jerky recipes like chicken jerky or turkey jerky that you don't want to dry all the way out.
Celery juice powder also works very well for making ground meat jerky where you use a jerky gun to make meat strips. We think that the celery juice powder helps to enhance the savory flavors we gravitate toward with these types of dried meat products.
Always Use a Curing Agent
When you are making jerky at home, it is important that you use a curing agent. Not only does the cure add flavor and enhance texture, but it also prevents bacterial and mold growth on your meat and improves the shelf life of the products. Jerky can be made in the oven, on dehydrator trays, or in the smoker, but you'll always want to use some type of curing agent. Our cure packet is the perfect solution to getting high-quality at reasonable prices and you'll know that you are getting the best products for making meat snacks at home.