Dry Curing Through The Eyes Of A Newbie (Updated 2/20/12)

Discussion in 'Sausage Makers' started by solaryellow, Dec 18, 2011.

  1. solaryellow

    solaryellow Limited Mod Group Lead

    Disclaimer: This being only my second batch of dry cured product I do consider myself a newbie to dry curing. However, the first batch came out so well that I feel that I do have something to contribute to the topic. I am going to explain the process and the principles to the best of my knowledge and the little experience I have. If I make a mistake and you catch it please let me know so I can correct it.

    Dry curing is a mixture of science, art, and circumstance. To get myself familiar with how it all works I read several books over and over, read countless blogs, and kept up with a few different forums until I felt comfortable to proceed. I first built a dry curing/fermentation chamber. This is imperative to the beginner because it allows you to control the environment making the results more predictable.

    The science:

    Cure #2 - If you have made sausage for any length of time, chances are you are familiar with cure #1 or TQ. For this we are using cure #2. Cure #2 is a combination of sodium nitrite (6.25%) and sodium nitrate (1%) mixed with salt. This is a long term cure. The nitrate part slowly breaks down into nitrite before finally breaking down yet again to nitric oxide. Cure produces a pink color as it interacts with myoglobin as well as adds some flavor. But the real purpose of using it is to prevent botulism poisoning.

    AW - The key to dry curing is controlling AW (water activity). Bacteria need water to thrive and reproduce. If we can control the amount of water available to these bacteria, we can control the bacteria. Salt and sugar both bind to water to reduce the amount of water available to bacteria which is why both are staples in dry curing recipes. Most pathogenic bacteria (the bad stuff) needs .91 or greater AW in order to thrive. So why not just salt the hell out of the meat and bind more of the water so the bad bacteria can't multiply? The answer is we need some water available for the good bacteria to thrive to accomplish the fermentation. Fermentation significantly slows down below .95 AW.

    PH/fermentation - Bacteria thrive in a neutral environment. To help control that we want to lower the PH of the meat to make it more acidic so that our pathogenic bacteria can't make us sick. With the use of a starter culture and some food (sugar/dextrose) for the starter culture, we can lower the PH of the meat through fermentation. The good bacteria eat the food and produce lactic acid.


    Temperature - For fermentation to occur, the starter culture works best at warmer temperatures. Anyone who makes beer or wine knows all about this. For the ideal temperature, consult the documentation for the starter culture you are using.

    Humidity - Controlling humidity is very important. Too dry and your casings will dry out trapping moisture inside the sausage leading to rot and spoilage.

    Mold - With high humidity and warm temperatures mold is inevitable. There are good molds and bad molds. If it is white or cream colored, chances are it is good. If it is any color other than white or cream it is most likely bad. It is possible to get the right mold by innoculating the sausage after stuffing by giving it a mold bath. Mold 600 is readily available to all. While innoculating your sausage from bad mold, good mold also helps keep the casing from drying out.

    The art:

    The art is totally up to you. You choose the ingredients and craft a flavor whether good or bad.

    I will spare you the common images of grinding meat and go straight to the good stuff.


    I had bought a packet of Mold 600 from the last batch of dry cured sausage I did. While it isn't overly expensive, once you have some good mold growing there is no need to keep purchasing it. For this batch I harvested the mold from the casing of some pepperoni we ate the night before. I literally stripped the casing off and put it in a tub of filtered water to let it start reproducing. This created my mold bath for this batch. You could also purchase a mold-covered salami from your favorite store or deli and do the same thing.



    Since the goal of dry curing is to reduce the amount of water so bacteria cannot thrive, I do not add any unnecessary liquid to the mix. This is very different than a fresh or smoked sausage. The liquid you would normally add makes mixing so much easier but in this case I am not adding any additional. This if course makes the meat set up pretty quickly as the dry ingredients soak up the moisture from the meat. The meat will be very sticky.


    I mix my ingredients the night before and like to write on the bag what my next steps are.


    Starter culture:

    For these I am using T-SPX. Make sure you follow the directions from the manufacturer. Each starter culture is different.


    From left to right:

    Lebanon Bologna, pepperoni, Len Poli's favorite salami, Milano salami, and hot salami.


    Weighing in:

    Make sure you record your starting weight or you will not know when it is done drying. You should be shooting for a 30 - 35% weight loss.



    Since I am using T-SPX for my starter culture, I have my chamber set up for 72* F and 90% humidity. After three days I will drop the temp to 55* F and the humidity level to 80%. I will lower the humidity level slowly as the sausages lose weight. Note that I have tagged each sausage with it's name and the green weight.


    Resources I used to get to this point:




    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012
  2. fpnmf

    fpnmf Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Looking good.

    Cant wait to see the weight loss and mold growth.

    I will be building my curing chamber in Jan.

  3. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Great post!
  4. mballi3011

    mballi3011 Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    Ok you have my define attention. I have been wanting to dry age something for a longtime. Now I can watch your attempts and I know you know what your doing to. You go boy
  5. solaryellow

    solaryellow Limited Mod Group Lead

    And by all means if you have any questions please ask. I know before I started heading down this path it seemed like a difficult process where at best you would get mixed results and it really isn't.
  6. pineywoods

    pineywoods Smoking Guru Staff Member Administrator Group Lead SMF Premier Member

    Joel maybe you should put a link up to your chamber build and explain why one is required just so nobody tries this in their regular fridge
  7. solaryellow

    solaryellow Limited Mod Group Lead

    Sure. Here is a link to the dry curing chamber build http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/106836/curing-chamber-build-w-cure-view

    The purpose of the curing chamber is to carefully control the environment. As stated in the original post, you must account for environmental conditions or you will experience a number of problems.

    Humidity - You want high humidity during fermentation (I am running my chamber at 90% RH right now) so the starter culture can thrive and turn its food into lactic acid to drop the PH of the meat to make it inhospitable to bad bacteria and give it that one of a kind tang. Once fermentation is over with, you can begin the drying process but even then higher humidity is required. I will start at 80% RH when the drying stage begins 2 days from now. Too little humidity and the outside of the casings will dry out causing moisture to be trapped in the sausage which will lead to rot and spoilage. You can not achieve this with just a refrigerator alone. You will see in my build that I use a humidity controller with a fogger to generate humidity. A humidifier could be used or even something as simple as a pan of water. It is key to monitor it too.

    Temperature - For your starter culture to work efficiently, it will require warmer temps. Cool temps will slow down the bacteria thus slowing fermentation and can also lead to off flavors. The longer it takes for the PH to drop, the more at risk you are to developing bad bacteria. Once fermentation is complete, I will drop the temps down to 55* F in the curing chamber and will hold it there throughout the drying stage.

    Airflow - One thing I didn't touch on in the original post is airflow. It is necessary to dry the meat and exchange air. I use a low RPM fan that is turned on through the use of dehumidifying part of my humidity controller. Too much airflow will dry out your casings leading to rot and spoilage.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2011
  8. chefrob

    chefrob Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    nice post joel.....can't wait to see how these turn out.
  9. nepas

    nepas Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Looks good

    I sure wish my wife would get her s#$t from my fridge so i can get ta drying.
  10. I'll be watching this one. Very educational. [​IMG]
  11. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Really Great post Joel and thank you for making it clear that this is Advanced Sausage production and requires Specialized Equipment and Knowledge...JJ
  12. bluebombersfan

    bluebombersfan Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I have always been very interested in dry curing.  I have tried a homemade pancetta but it was dry cured in a fridge.  I have been searching around for homemade online for homemade chambers but really haven't had much luck.  Do you have a homemade chamber or did you buy one???

  13. scarbelly

    scarbelly Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Great tutorial Joel. I will be watching for sure. 
  14. solaryellow

    solaryellow Limited Mod Group Lead

    Here is my dry curing chamber build Brian. http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/106836/curing-chamber-build-w-cure-view
  15. danmcg

    danmcg Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Real nice job explaining the whole process Joel. I'll be looking forward to the finished sausage.
  16. bluebombersfan

    bluebombersfan Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Great job!!  Your curing chamber looks awesome!!!  [​IMG]   I think dry curing takes meat processing to another level!!!  great job!!
  17. solaryellow

    solaryellow Limited Mod Group Lead

    Two days later and we got mold!


    Although we do have a slight problem. The Lebanon Bologna isn't supposed to have mold on it nor was it dragged through the mold bath.


    Here is how to fix it. 4 parts water and 1 part white vinegar.


    Dampen a cloth in the water/vinegar solution and then wipe the sausage down to remove the mold. Then we are back in business.


    Tomorrow marks day 3 and the end of fermentation. The Lebanon Bologna and the other bologna that Dan recommended to me will be cold smoked for 8 hours. After that, the regular bologna will get poached while the Lebanon Bologna will go back into the curing chamber which will be set to 55* F with a RH of 80%. On Wednesday I will smoke the Lebanon Bologna again for 8 hours and then return it to the curing chamber for a few more days to dry out.
  18. bmudd14474

    bmudd14474 Smoking Guru Staff Member Administrator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Looks great Joel
  19. nepas

    nepas Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Freaking nice.


    Is the Lebanon sweet or regular? Reason i ask is if its sweet the brown sugar can act weird.

    Ok nuff with her stuff in my fridge. After Christmas her crap comes out so i can start drying  [​IMG]
  20. solaryellow

    solaryellow Limited Mod Group Lead

    It is regular Rick. JJ and I were discussing the two different kinds the other night in chat. I have never had the sweet version but I do have an affinity for the regular.

    Serve her an eviction notice. [​IMG]

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