Category Archives: Curing Meat

For Meat Eaters Only

I have to share the most amazing book with you.

A copy of Philip Hasheider’s The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making: How to Harvest Your Livestock & Wild Game appeared in my mail one day.

I set it aside and just recently cleaned up my computer area. There it was! Just when I needed it to break down rabbits from Abundant Acres Farm in time for our winter meal for the book this weekend. If you’ve never broken down a rabbit it’s not as intuitive as you might think it would be.

This book is amazing – it covers any big or small, backyard or wild game that you can imagine. The pictures are clear, the text is straightforward and there is nothing garish or squeamish about it.

I’ve attended classes on butchering before but it’s difficult to see everything up close. I feel like this book might be even BETTER than attending a class. You can spend as long looking at a particular cut as you like and the vantage point is as good as it possibly gets.

A lot of care has gone into making this book the next best thing to being there as possible, to honor the animals whose lives have been lost to eaters, and to providing recipes so that we might best honor those animals by ensuring no part of them is wasted.

And while I have no plans to start eating squirrels, possums and raccoons it’s nice to know how to process them. This book is so in depth that it covers frogs even.

I noted some differences in kill methods from what I believe to be the most humane or the simplest ones – namely the method for killing chickens was laying the chicken across a chopping block and cutting off the head while I prefer to hang the bird upside down and slit the throat (chickens are calm when upside down), and I prefer to dislocate a rabbit’s neck over stunning and bleeding them.

But as the saying goes – there is more than one way to skin a cat. Thankfully cats and dogs are not in this book.

If processing your own meat is one of those things on your life list I can heartily recommend this book.

Please note that the Amazon link in this entry is an affiliate link. They don’t amount to much but they do help defray my hosting costs.

Pepperoni Fail – a Bedtime Story

Once upon a time there was a mama bear whose baby bears loved pepperoni. The littlest one in particular would not eat meat or legumes or vegetables and that mama bear had a hard time keeping enough iron in him. One thing he would eat, though, was pepperoni so the mama bear figured she would make her own pepperoni from grass fed beef for her lethargic little baby bear.

That mama bear went out in the forest to search high and low until she found some humanely raised, grass fed beef from Cascade Beef that would do nicely. Then she traveled all the way up to Arlington and bought some sausage casing. She came home and ground 5 pounds of that grass fed meat up in her meat grinder and lovingly mixed in seasonings. Then she fried off a little taster so that all the bears could try.

Mama bear tried the pepperoni and thought “that should do.” Papa bear took one bite and said “MMM tastes like pepperoni, but it needs more kick.” The oldest baby bear tried it and cried “Yum! I want some more!” but the littlest baby bear said “That’s not pepperoni. I don’t want that.”

The mama bear forged ahead anyway and stuffed those pepperoni. Then she took them down to the utility room and hung them up on the washline next to the pork jowels to cure. All night she dreamed about her littlest baby bear eating the pepperoni she had made for him so that he could get big and strong.

But while the bears slept, a mean wolf came around. He peeked in all the beds and saw that the bears were fast asleep so he crept down the stairs, sniffing for pepperoni all the while. He pushed the grain bins over the to dryer and climbed up on them first, then the dryer next and he ate almost all the pepperoni that Mama bear had worked so hard until 2 in the morning to stuff. He also made sure that any pepperoni links he couldn’t finish had his teeth marks in them so that the bears wouldn’t have to share them with him.

And now, dear readers, it’s time for the moral of the story.

ALWAYS BE SURE THE UTILITY ROOM DOOR LATCHES. The End.

But here is the cool part I realized as a result of all this: you don’t need to stuff and cure pepperoni to make it. In fact if you have a wiley dog I recommend NOT doing that. This pepperoni tasted like pepperoni without the obligatory curing time (which by the way is what requires you use nitrates which are beyond creepy.)

You can simply mix ground beef or pork with seasonings then fry it loose like Italian sausage. It works great on pizza or with pasta that way and requires no special equipment or ingredients. In fact I think you should rush out and try this pronto because if you eat pepperoni you are going to love this. You can adjust the spiciness up (if you have a papa bear) or down (for baby bears.)

Pepperoni Sausage- Adapted from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

5 pounds lean, grass fed beef, ground
3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup dry red wine
3 teaspoons cayenne pepper (Mama Bear left this out completely)
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 tablespoons organic sugar
2 tablespoons paprika

Combine all ingredients well then freeze as is or fry and freeze until needed for spaghetti, pizza or pasta salads. Another thing you could do is adapt these ingredients and make pepperoni beef jerky with it by slicing the meat as thinly as possible, marinating in this spice mix overnight and then drying on low in an oven or dehydrator until the meat is no longer moist.

Guest Post – How to Cure a Ham by My Friend Mike

I blame this guest poster for getting me into charcuterie in the first place, and into smoking meat.  If there was a master smoker certification (and maybe there is) he would have credentials.  This is despite a meat curer’s handicap of being the only meat eater in a household of vegetarians so while I’ve been trying to get Mike to get 1/2 pig I realize it just doesn’t make sense for him and many others to buy meat in that quantity.  He did, however, kind-heartedly agree to smoke our ham.  That totally saved me since I was maxxed out with fridge and freezer space curing everything else.  I asked him to do a post on how to cure ham since so many of you have expressed interest in doing it yourself this fall so here is Mike’s post.

How to Cure and Smoke a Ham

I’ve enjoyed smoking and curing meats for a while now, but had never attempted a ham.  When Annette recently offered me the opportunity to share a high quality hog’s leg, it sounded like a great opportunity to try something new.  As it turned out, making your own ham is a very simple process that anyone can try, and the results were excellent.  As simple as the process was, I did manage to learn a thing or two along the way that will make it even easier next time.  For this ham I used the “American-Style Brown-Sugar-Glazed Holiday Ham” recipe from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (p. 93).

First off, the ham was huge — 20 pounds.  It required a 5-gallon bucket to fit, and 2.5 gallons of brine.  The size made working with it a bit unwieldy.  I’d go with something smaller next time, if I have a choice. This took up a lot of fridge space, so if you only have one fridge make sure your significant other is aware of what you’re up to ahead of time.

Another thing to consider is how to get the ham fully submerged in the brine – it’s gonna want to float to the top for the first few days or so.  My bucket had a lid, which helped a lot.  I put a pie plate on top of the ham and used a small plastic container as a wedge between the lid and the plate, forcing the ham to the bottom.  The plate listed a bit and took on some brine, but it never slid off the top of the ham and it remained submerged without adjustment for the full 8.5 days.  Wrapping the plate tightly with plastic wrap might have stopped it from listing.  I also tried using the pie plate and a weight, but the plate would tilt and slide off the ham, allowing the ham to float to the top.

Here’s a picture with my lid/plastic container/pie plate setup.  It seemed a little sketchy but worked:

Next, I was so focused on getting the brine together and getting the ham in it (which was done on a weeknight after the kids went to bed, and required a trip to Cash & Carry for the bucket) that I neglected to really trim off all the fat and carve out the aitch-bone.  The ham came to me with the skin removed and a lot of the fat trimmed off, so I didn’t bother trimming it further.  After it was done brining I realized that it needed further trimming and cut off about 2 pounds of fat (and also got a couple glandular-looking bits that you definitely don’t want in there).  Unfortunately, I again forgot the aitch-bone.  Next time I’ll trim it before brining and definitely get the aitch bone out, because carving the finished product was a pain with it in there, and I think the brine would’ve penetrated the interior of the ham a little better without it.

Here’s a fuzzy picture of the little gland bits, which I found at the smaller end (top when serving, bottom while still on the pig) of the ham near the bone:

Next, I brined the ham for 8.5 days, and then rested it in the fridge (uncovered) for 24 hours before smoking.  The rest period is important to allow the salt to redistribute more evenly throughout the ham and to develop a pellicle to aid in smoke absorption.  However, the recipe calls for half a day in the brine per pound, so it should have been in there for 10 full days.  I shortened the brine due to scheduling (I received the ham on a Thursday and smoked it on a Sunday) and because I was afraid of it coming out too salty.  It is definitely not too salty at all.  In addition, the brine didn’t penetrate fully so the color of the finished product varies from a pink ham look near the outside to a very pale color on the inside.  More brine time might have corrected that, and removing the aitch-bone might have helped too.  In the future I might try injecting if I get another ham that size.

I use a Weber Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker.  It has always worked well for me and I’d recommend it to anyone.  Weber recently released a new version with some updates, and also a larger 22.5-inch size.  If you plan to smoke large cuts of meat, the larger smoker is probably the way to go.  For this cook I put a large clay saucer, like you’d use under a clay flowerpot, in the water pan and covered both with foil.  I didn’t think this cut of meat would require any additional moisture, and it was very juicy at the end.  For charcoal I used Trader Joe’s house brand of briquettes, which is repackaged Rancher charcoal from The Original Charcoal Company.  I’m a big fan of this charcoal because it is made of only hard wood and natural binders.  I’ve found it provides more consistent temps for longer cooks than lump (which I often use for high-temp grilling) and is easy to work with.  For smoke wood I used six fist-sized chunks of dry maple.  Maple gives a less aggressive smoke flavor than hickory and provides an excellent aroma and taste.  I always use the “Minion Method” to start my smoker, and did so here with about 20 lit briquettes.  I should’ve used about 30 lit briquettes due to the weather, which was around 55 degrees, windy and rainy.

I took the ham out of the fridge an hour before smoking to allow it to warm up a bit.  When it went in the smoker the internal temp was only 39 degrees Fahrenheit, so that wasn’t so helpful.  Weather conditions made the cook a little tricky, and it took a few hours for the cooker to get to my target temp of 220 degrees Fahrenheit.  After that I allowed it to drift as high as 250.  I pulled the ham out after 7.5 hours when the internal temp hit the mid 150s.  Another half-hour or hour might have helped render off a little more of the internal fat and connective tissue, but the ham turned out so juicy I’m not sure I’d be willing to risk drying it out.

Here’s a pic of the ham in the smoker at the beginning of the cook.  The interior diameter of my smoker is 18.5 inches, and the ham just barely fit:

Another thing I would do differently next time involves the glaze.  I mixed the glaze according to the recipe and applied it to the ham a couple hours before it finished smoking.  The glaze is fine, but I’ll only do that again if I plan to carve and serve it right out of the smoker.  My plan for this one was to split it with Annette and carve up and freeze most of the remainder, so the glaze really just made a tasty mess.

Here’s a picture of the ham when I removed it to apply the glaze.  It would really be delicious just like this, and the smell was amazing:

Here’s a picture with the glaze on:

After glazing the ham went back in the smoker for about two more hours.  When it was done I applied another coat of glaze.  Overall, I think it turned out great.  The flavor is very good, it’s super juicy and I’m pleased with it.  If you’re looking for a holiday ham, I think this is a good recipe.  Brining the ham is as simple as mixing a few ingredients and having the time and space for the meat and the container.  Smoking is equally simple.  The ingredients are pretty standard, other than pink salt, which can be found at Butcher & Packer.  I think next time I need ham (and it’s going to be a while) I might try this recipe with a picnic shoulder, which would be a lot more manageable, size-wise.

Here is a picture of the finished product, prior to carving:

Here’s a picture of a some slices, it’s bright pink near the outside and more the color of regular roasted pork near the interior:

The Recipe from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

The Brine

1 gallon water

1 1/2 cups kosher salt

2 packed cups dark brown sugar

8 teaspoons pink salt (if using -  not necessary for safety sake though, it’s only to improve flavor & color)

1 12 to 15 pound ham, aitch bone removed (ours was closer to 20 pounds)

The Glaze

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

3/4 cup dijon mustard

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Makin’ Bacon

You’ve probably figured out by now this is a not post for the vegetarian reader.

But if you like bacon then I’m talking to you. And if you’ve ever thought even for a second about curing your own bacon then I’m beseeching you. Because this bacon brought tears to my eyes it was so amazing. Without a doubt this was the best bacon I’ve ever eaten. I give 100% of the credit not to the cures or the smoke but to the farmer. He was the one that chose these particular pigs for their meat flavor, pastured them in what sunshine we get here in Seattle, and fed them an all natural diet.

More reading of a slightly more graphic nature on that.

When you get a pig there is but one belly and a whole lot of ham to eat before you can get another pig for more belly. My house is filled with bacon lovers. So I made bacon from non-traditional cuts as well.

Anatomy of a Pig

The primal cuts from a pig are the hams (rear leg and behind), the picnic hams (front leg), the shoulders (also called the Boston Butt), the lower legs (hocks), the belly (bacon), the ribs, the small tenderloin just inside the ribs and the loin which is much larger than the tenderloin and just outside of the ribs. The loin is the section sometimes cut as pork chops when not removed from the ribs. If not handled correctly it can become dry and tough. We found that we aren’t actually that fond of pork chops but we sure do like bacon.

Increasing the Cured Meats

Cured meat is tasty but it’s also very flexible and can make a ho hum dish into an amazing dish simply by the addition of some chopped bacon or ham. It’s also one of the few homemade lunchmeats and makes a mean breakfast sammy. And then what would sun ripened tomatoes be without that first BLT of the year? So rather than cut the loin into steaks I decided to cure it like ham. I’m calling it cottage bacon. Not that we live in a cottage but it sounds more quaint to me than “war box bacon” or “tiny 1 toilet house bacon.” I’m quite pleased with the results and so is the rest of the family.

I cured the Canadian bacon, cottage bacon and breakfast bacon for about a week in the fridge before hot smoking it all on Sunday.

I find it interesting that there were only slight variations in the cures, which were all water with kosher salt and mostly one other ingredient, but the cuts all tasted so different. The Canadian bacon had garlic and thyme in the salt brine. The cottage bacon had brown sugar in the salt brine. The breakfast bacon had a salt and maple syrup rub on it. The ratio of fat to meat in each cut is really the distinguishing factor here, as well as how large the cut was since the flatter cuts absorbed more smoke and brine than the larger ones.

Each one was succulent and flavorful beyond belief in it’s own way. Each one will be the perfect addition to oh so many good meals for us into fall.

When you do your own meat you can choose how much you want to grind up into sausage versus how much you want to leave uncured for later smoking or braising versus how much you want to cure into salted, aged goodness.

I have a feeling we finally have enough bacon in the house to keep Pickle Man happy. And the really nice thing about this is that all of the bacons and ham are hot smoked so I felt completely comfortable using just kosher salt and no nitrates or nitrites or flavorings or preservatives of any kind. I know the conditions the pigs lived in, I know that they were all happy enough to still have curly tails (feedlot pigs do not because they are so stressed out they would chew each others tails off), and I know firsthand that the pig was treated with respect even in death.

All these recipes are from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn which covers not only smoking but salt curing, fresh sausages, dry curing, pates and confits. It makes all this completely approachable for the home cook and I highly recommend this book.

Maple Cured Smoked Bacon

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 – 5 pound pork belly, skin on (mine was off) and cut to fit into 2-1 gallon Ziploc bags

Combine the first 3 ingredients and rub on the pork bellies then place the bellies in the bags in a refrigerator for 7 days, turning to distribute the cure daily until the meat is firm to the touch.

Remove the belly from the brine, rinse and pat dry (I didn’t actually rinse off that maple syrup) and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit to an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate the bacon overnight to firm it up before slicing as thinly as possible. Fry up a taster piece and weep like a girl. Oh wait, that was me.

Canadian Bacon

1 gallon water
1 1/2 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 bunch sage
1 bunch thyme
2 smashed garlic cloves
1 – 4 pound pork loin

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large pot and bring it to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the pork loin in it and use an overturned plate to keep it submerged in the brine for 48 hours. Remove the loin from the brine, rinse and pat dry and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.

Cottage Bacon

1/2 gallon water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 loin, cut into 2 or 3 pieces

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the loin pieces in the brine and use an overturned plate to keep them submerged in the brine for 3-4 days. Remove the loins, rinse and pat dry and place them on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until they reach an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.

I’ll leave you with an image of a gargantuan 20 pound bone-in ham which I’m hoping my friend the serious wood smoker will do a post on.  And yes, it fills a full length cookie sheet.

Happy Easter!