My first dry cured ham, wasn't sure if it was spoiling (Update, it came out PERFECT!! with QView!)

Discussion in 'Curing' started by trizzuth, Jan 11, 2013.

  1. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    So I bought a half hog from a local farm last fall, the chops and bacon off that thing have been amazing so far!  Really nice marbled pork like you just don't see in a supermarket.

    So I had this gigantic ham and decided to give dry curing a try as I LOVE the taste of Virginia Country Ham for breakfast!

    I followed the 4 youtube videos from the gentleman instructing how to salt and dry cure hams and bacon, part 1 here: 

    My only difference is that I am doing the dry curing process in a fridge in my basement that sits around 38 degrees.  I'm using the Morton Sugar Cure as he suggests as well, have applied the cure and gave it a good rub down for 4 weeks and just this past week, actually injected some of the cure mixture mixed with water into along the bone and joints to help prevent bone sour.

    I'm at just about 5-6 weeks now with the ham absorbing the cure and am almost ready to wash it off and do the final dry before I cold smoke it.

    My problem is (and I have not yet done the "wire into the ham test for odor"), that the skin initially looked like a normal shaved hog hind leg, I could even see a few veins here and there in the skin.  As the ham has absorbed some of the cure now, and it is working it's way in, it seems to be changing the color and elasticity of the skin a bit.  Not drastic color change, but it is not the same.  Hard to explain.  Iv'e also noticed that on pushing around on some of the skin, it almost feels like there is air built up inside, it gives a bit, so that also had me concerned about spoilage.

    The actual lean meat on the outer edges still looks nice and pink and healthy, and the ham overall does not give off a foul odor, but I fear it is spoiling slowly, and I cannot really tell now.

    Do you think if I showed some pics it would help, or does anyone have any advice based on the above if this is normal with their experience in dry-curing hams?

    I want it to come out right so so so bad, but this is my first time and I scoured the internet for pictures of dry cured hams spoiling and cannot find any pictures anywhere.

    Any advice is much appreciated, if necessary to help with diagnosis, I will most definitely do the wire stick test soon and take pics when I have a chance and post em up.  Thanks!!
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2013
  2. Pics would be very helpful!
  3. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    ARRGGGGHHH I know this, but am a slacker.  I'll see if I can get some tonight..
  4. The ham should have been injected early on.
    Salting well at the beginning is essential.
    However, it's not necessarily spoiled, color and texture changes are a part of curing.
    Are you using Morton's regular Sugar Cure or the smoke flavored?

    And yeah, pics are always helpful.

  5. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    Well, from watching the vids, he stated that the injection was really only necessary due to the possible fluctuations in temperatures there may be from doing the dry cure outside, so I wasn't initially worried as it was going in the fridge the entire time at a steady 38 degrees.  I got a bit nervous due to the color/texture of skin, so finally injected it.  Might have been to late, or i could still be OK.

    I am using the normal Morton's Sugar Cure, not the smoked one as I plan on smoking it myself slowly in my giant oil tank smoker..
  6. I didn't watch the video.
    The sooner you can get salt and cure around the bone, the less there's a chance of spoilage.
    When making the injection brine, just enough water should be added to dissolve the salt, that ensures a saturated salt solution or 100 degree brine which will help control any nasties that may have been pushed into the meat with the needle.
    Injecting isn't essential, but added insurance.
    There's no point in applying more than a couple or three doses of salt and cure, again, early on, as long as you do a good job. A couple is usually sufficient.

    Last edited: Jan 11, 2013
  7. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    OK, pics as promised..  Take a look and please let me know what you think.  This was salted.cured with Morton's sugar cure for about 6 weeks in my fridge in the basement.  Ham came from a local farm this past fall.  I just washed it off and you can see some of the odd blue coloring to the skin area in certain angles.

    I plan on having this rest in the fridge downstairs for about 2 weeks now, is it fine to leave it uncovered as I did when it was curing with the salt mixture?

    I didn't poke it and smell, but it smelled ok overall from the outside.

  8. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    It may be the temperature is too low to allow for bacteria to grow properly in the meat....   Bacteria is required for Nitrate to convert to Nitrite as stated below.....


    These premixes reduce the possibility of serious error that could occur if handling pure sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. In addition, excessive amounts of nitrates or nitrites which are not evenly distributed may cause a green-brownish color of the meat's pigment. This is a form of oxidation that can happen with any cured meat or sausage, but is more likely to happen in an acid environment, such as in fermented sausages. This form of greening of cured meats is referred to as "nitrite burn."


    Sodium Nitrate and its chemical equivalent potassium nitrate are interchangeable. For the most part potassium nitrate has been replaced with sodium nitrate – which is considered more stable and reliable; both are extremely poisonous. These ingredients are still widely used for home curing outside the United States, but it is recommended that these cures should only be used in it pure form by meat processing plants. In such plants this is done by trained personnel under strict supervision. Therefore it is highly recommended when using nitrates to obtain it in premixed cures that can be safely and accurately measured; such as in cure #2, and the Morton cures which are discussed in more detail latter on. 

    Nitrates are considered a slow cure, and are referred to as a “time release capsule.” It does not cure meat directly and initially not much happens when it is added to meat. With nitrates the curing is dependent on the amount of bacteria present, and the environment (temperature) the bacteria need to grow. For nitrates to work as a cure it requires the presents of certain microorganisms. These microorganisms are present in all meats, and start to react with the nitrates to reduce them to nitrites. It is the nitrites that will start the curing process.

    This is a slow process that steadily releases nitrites over a long period of time. This makes it well suited for curing products that require long curing times. Dry cure products can take as long as several weeks to several months to fully cure. Nitrates are used for making dry cure sausages; such as pepperoni, hard salami, geonoa salami, dried farmers sausage, capicola, etc, and dry cure meats that are not cooked or need to be cooked.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  9. It looks like nitrite burn to me.
    Did you leave the ham setting in the liquid?

    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  10. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    Interesting about Nitrite burn.  Each time I reapplied the cure, I made sure to follow the specific instructions on the package.  1 and 1/4 teaspoon of "spice" mix which contains the curing agent to 1 cup of sugar/salt mixture.  Fridge remained at a steady 38 degrees the entire time, which I though was fine.  I used a large metal turkey roasting pan and rack, and wrapped the rack in saran wrap entirely and cut many holes in the bottom for drainage before resting the ham on the rack.  So it wasn't exactly sitting in the drained fluid at all really.  

    What are the negatives of Nitrite burn?  Too much nitrite will poison the meat?  should I add another dose of curing mixture and let it sit in my garage or basement?  My basement is too warm, around 64 degrees measured yesterday when it was about 50 outside.   I assume it will be colder as it gets colder outside, but this was the type of temp fluctuation I wanted to avoid.  
  11. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Dave may have the color problem solved.  Hopefully so.

    This is my first attempt at dry curing a ham.  Like many, I have cured many “City” hams using the injection method.

    The curing method used on my ham is the traditional dry cure method using Morton’s Smoked Flavor Sugar Cure mix and curing techniques combined with information from the universities of Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri.

    It appears to me that you are attempting to cure a ham using the combination cure technique which involves pumping the hams with a curing pickle solution and then rubbing some of the dry cure into the surface of the ham.  Using Morton Sugar Cure (Plain) mix Morton recommends 1 cup of Morton Sugar Cure with 4 cups cool water.  Hams should be pumped with 1 ounce of pickle cure per pound of meat. This method of curing will be shorter than the traditional method.  If bone-souring is suspected, insert a long pointed instrument along the bone to the center of the ham, then withdraw it and smell it. If it has a putrid or foul odor, cut the meat open to the bone for conformation. If bone-souring has occurred, discard the meat.

    How long are you going to cure? 

    How thick is your ham? 

    Did you use the amount of cure recommended on the cure bag?

    How many applications and how often were they applied?

    Are you hanging it shank up or down?  Looking at the pics, you are laying it on its side. Is the blue side down?  

    What is “Final Dry”?  Equalization? 

    Mr. T
  12. Don't be inserting a probe until the ham is at least fully cured and equalized, it's best to wait until it's dried down fully.

  13. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Makes since to me also.  I was quoting from the Morton Meat Curing Guide.  I take it if bone-souring is suspected that there would be some sort of foul odor present at which time it would be used.
  14. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    Good point on the insert and sniff technique, I will wait.

    As far as what I've done, I have always pre-mixed the appropriate amount of Morton's Sugar Cure with their "spice packet" as instructed on the bag and then rubbed the ham down.  I did this initially, then again on week two and week three and then i believe i skipped a week and then did it again on week five as it was still coated pretty well.  From what I have read (and this does not involve calculations based on weight, but this may have been where I went wrong), the curing stage is about 4-8 weeks, I went to 6 and just washed it yesterday. Planned to have it equalize for 2 weeks in the fridge before cold smoking it.  I'd venture to say it's about a 20lb or so ham.  

    When I was rubbing the salt in, I just used enough to cover the lean area of the exposed meat and put what I could on the skin, which didn't adhere very well, and as the juices came out of the ham, usually it was the lean areas that needed to be repacked every week.  Lots of the sugar cure would fall off and go into the pan, but I don't think what I was doing would over cure it...
  15. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    OK, so maybe it's not bone sour that I am concerned with, but perhaps Nitrite burn is now an issue.

    Am I still ok to proceed here? what are the impacts of nitrite burn?  Again, that blueish color only seems to be occurring underneath where the skin is, and perhaps a bit into the skin.
  16. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Not being the pro here and not knowing the answers to the above questions it's hard for me to help.  It is my opinion that the ham was laying skin side down in which case the fluids may have collected causing the off color and spongy skin.  I would recommend hanging it shank end down so fluids could drain more freely. As long as there is no foul odor, I would continue.
  17. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    OK, so I've reassessed the situation and did some calculations.  My ham weighs about 25lbs.  At the thickest part, it is about 10 inches, but I did have some foil wrapped bricks that i was using to weigh it down and flatten it out a bit that I rested on top of the ham while it was curing on top of two small ziplock backs so the foil would not touch the meat.  I'd venture to guess it was about 8-9 inches thick before I flattened it a bit.    This equates to 10oz of cure per application which is 1.25 cups.  

    First time I mixed up the Sugar Cure, I used 2 cups and 2.5 teaspoons of curing spice (double the exact directions on the bag for small applications).  I rubbed it everywhere I could and even tried to cake it on thick on the lean part of the exposed meat.  

    For the next two cure applications, I only used 1 cup and 1.25 teaspoons of curing spice.  So based on the above calculations, this seems pretty in line with the correct application of the curing salts.  I am pretty sure I gave it 4 applications of cure over 6 weeks, so this may have been a bit too much that led to the nitrite burn that appears in the pic.

    Based on the calculation for cure time from thickness, it comes out to about 56 days, which is just about 2 months.  So figuring that I may have applied one too many cure sessions, I think it has cured enough to start the equalization period.

    I must say today that it did not look as blue as in the pics I first took, and I've now got it into a cheesecloth stocking hanging in my fridge in the basement, shank side down so it can drain more if it needs to.  

    So I am planning on 20 days to equalize, then will cold smoke it for a day or so.  

    I do have one more concern after feeling the ham all over.  There is an area about the size of half your hand on the top skin side that gives when I push it, almost like there is air or liquid inside under that piece of skin.  Could this be due to the several injections of curing mixture i gave it, or an air pocket?  Should I pierce this area to see what comes out?

    She really looks so pretty now hanging there in the fridge.  I don't know if I could have cured it hanging like that as it would have been a major PITA to remove it from the cheese cloth, then apply cure and re-bag it each time.  

    I hope hope it turns out good!  The exposed meat area is really looking like straight up salty cured ham right now.
  18. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    On day 2, did you inject cure #1 along the bones as the video suggested ???   That is an important step... as the rubbed cure takes weeks to penetrate to the bone to stop bacterial growth...  Curing a large hunk of meat, like a ham, is pretty much a scientific process and an art developed over years...   proper procedures are important.... 

    I'm not saying you didn't follow the necessary steps, just commenting on the difficulty that lies in the process with a huge hunk of meat..

  19. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    Yeah, as for the actual injection, I did not do this anywhere near when I started, I think it was around week 3.  Based on the video, the reason to inject the cure along the bone is to prevent spoilage due to the inconsistent temperatures that occur when you're curing the ham in the smokehouse outside.  The gentleman in the video said it's not really necessary if you have a consistent temperature, so that is why I didn't do it up front.  Ham seems pretty dry all over now, just that one weird mushy spot that feels like fluid/gas inside under the skin.  The skin on the outside in that area is just like the rest of it, pretty firm.

    I know it is a very scientific process, and there are many factors at play that may make it easier/more difficult to do based on where you live.  But I figured I would be eliminating a lot of those areas of concern by doing the cure in a temp controlled fridge.  He makes it look so easy and straight forward in the video!
  20. It really is easy, if you follow the rules.


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