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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Curing Meat (part 2)

This is the second post about curing part of a pig which my family received as a Christmas present. In the first part I described butchering and bagging the pig. I am including a few more pictures of that process here.

Please take note of the first picture. I hope you're not too squeamish, but if you're going to be a survivalist, you'll need to do a lot more than just look at pictures of this stuff. First, do you know where the bacon is located on the half of pig laying there? I can't really describe how to get it out, you kind of need to see it done, but it is underneath the rib cage as you are looking at that picture. For reference, the left side of the picture is the hind quarter, then in the middle is the rib cage and bacon and the front(to the right) is the front shoulder.

Second, note the pig head in the background. The head has been skinned because there is a good amount of meat on it -- it's a meathead. Most of the meat there is put into sausage, but my relatives eat the tongue, and some people eat more than that. In a survival situation, you will want to save as much edible meat and fat as possible. The fat has a lot of uses.
The second picture shows some of the meat packaged for the freezer. As I stated in the first post. Freezer bags are a big time saver, and they seem to have no problem keeping the food for up to a year. The larger ones have no problem holding a medium sized chicken. A side benefit of the freezer bags, and one which I have never utilized, is that you could reuse them. We always throw away all packaging that has touched raw meat. That seems to be the normal and wise thing to do when everything is cheap and available. In a crisis situation I'd probably save mine and reuse it. Now that I think about it, this is kinda cool, I've already got a freezer full of meat packaging supplies.
On to the curing process.

I'm still learning about all this but will share what I've learned. (In other words, don't' quote me as an expert, do your own research).
There are multiple ways of curing meat. The salt cure is one that has probably been around for thousands of years. You can find many recipes on the Internet and in books.

My recipe was as follows: three gallons water, three cups of pickling salt, one cup brown sugar, and 1 oz. curing salt. This is enough for about 25 lbs. of meat.

I got my information from Sugar Mountain Farms blog. The author of that page notes that the curing salt contains 6.25% sodium nitrate which has been connected to cancer. It is a helpful preservative, but not necessary if you will be eating it relatively soon, or freezing properly.

The curing salt is cheap(.99 cents / oz.) and can be purchased here.
In order to cure an entire hind quarter I had to cut it into two pieces. Once cut, each piece easily fit into a five gallon bucket. The above recipe was enough for one bucket and each half of the hind quarter weighed between 25 and 30 lbs. I was able to cure the bacon in one of the buckets with the ham as well.

Before placing the hams into the bucket of cure it is important to inject the meat with some of the curing solution that has already been mixed up in the bucket. This is done to insure that the curing solution gets all the way in to the bone at the center.
A meat pump is used to inject the meat. (Wow! I don't own one of these, but borrowed one from my brother-in-law. I just saw the price. This one is going for nearly $50. You might find a cheaper one.)

Just suck up the juice by pulling out the plunger, insert the sharp point into the meat, and depress the plunger. I did this in at least five or six places on each cut. The idea is to be sure that the meat near the bone is fully saturated. When the solution is injected you can see the meat swell to receive the solution.
Once the meat is injected it may be placed into the buckets and the resealable lids put in place. As stated previously, I put the bacon on top of one of the hams. The bacon did not need to be injected.

Now for the waiting. Meat may be cured from 2 weeks to 6 six weeks or longer. It depends upon your purpose and in my case weather conditions. I believe the theory is that the longer it cures, the longer it will last. If your freezer is out of service, you may need to preserve meat in such a way that it will last for long periods in warm weather.

If you are just looking for good taste I can assure you that two weeks is sufficient for the hams. I had planned to cure mine for longer but the weather was getting too warm. I have a wood stove in my basement and was having a hard time keeping the meet between 32 and 45 degrees, so after two weeks I pulled it out. You'll want to get a good meat thermometer as well.

I should mention that I pulled the bacon out after only 4 days and it was fantastic.

I made my own smoker. To accomplish this I simply stacked up cement blocks five layers high and about four square. This is bigger than needed but I already had a large BBQ pit made so this was a simple modification. I then cut a piece of particle board to fit over the top. Mesh wire was attached to the particle board in order to hold the meat. The meat would hang on the underside of this board, over the smoke pit.

To create the smoke you could simply light a hardwood fire, but I chose to use charcoal. When the charcoal fire was glowing red, I spread it out, and covered it with soaking wet hickory wood chips. These were purchased at Home Depot for $5. As soon as that smoke started billowing up, I flipped the board containing the meat over the top of the smoker. I then covered and surrounded the whole thing with a tarp and let it sit for about six hours. At the end of six hours I brought it inside and it was ready to cut and package.

I borrowed a meat slicer for the bacon. The hams were cut into about 8 pieces for family size consumption and then packaged in the zip lock freezer bags. I must say, that was some of the best hickory smoked bacon I've ever had.


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