This is the preliminary treatment of the food before smoking begins. Depending on the precise technique it may also be known as salting or brining.
The words curing and brining can sound ominous, and conjure up the idea that hours of attention and labour are needed. Unless you are embarking on the commercial production of hams and smoked meats this is not true – curing is simple, and the chances are you already have all the ingredients you need.
If you have never cured anything before, you are going to be suspicious. You may ask, why is this necessary, and is this not an archaic process? Certainly it is a process that has been practised for centuries, and it is carried on to this day for reasons which are perhaps more scientifically understood than they once were.
The process of curing is simply the infusion of salt into the food in order to bring about certain physical and chemical changes that have the effect of greatly stabilizing the flesh, be it meat or fish, and also act to suppress the growth of bacteria.
When we then go on to smoke the cured foodstuffs, the produce not only takes on the delicious flavor of the smoked wood but the smoke vapour penetrates the surface of the food and further assists in preventing the growth of micro-organisms which are the principal cause of decay.
Of course, in these days of fridges and freezers, preserving food is no longer our prime motivation for smoking: it’s the flavor that we seek. But it is good to know that our techniques have been practised in the same way for centuries.
There are three ways of curing that we are likely to come across :
- Brine Cure: Marinating the food in a solution of salt and sugar dissolved in water.
- Dry Cure: Curing the food in a mixture of salt and sugar without water.
- Injection Curing: where the food is physically injected with the brine solution.
The Covered Brine Cure
- 150 grams non iodized salt (about half a cup)
- 150 grams of white household sugar
- two pints of water
Brines should be mixed thoroughly in glass, crockery, or plastic vessels. Do not use aluminium containers.
Warm up half of the quantity of water and dissolve the salt and the sugar within it. When thoroughly mixed, add the rest of the water, cold from the tap. If the solution is not used immediately, store it in the refrigerator (the cooler the better).
To emphasize the simplicity of the smoke-curing process, it would be fair to say that all fish, poultry, wild game, or butcher meats can be deliciously prepared using the standard covered brine and the Bradley Electric Smoker. Only the times in the brine and the smoker would vary, depending on the type of meat and your personal taste. The sugar is simply included to counter the saltiness of the salt and the quantity can be adjusted as you prefer. It also provides a base from which to expand with other seasonings or juices.
Dry Cure Mix
The basis of the dry cure mix is once again simply salt and sugar mixed together and and used to cover completely the food to be prepared.
The sugar is there to counter the saltiness of the salt so this really is a matter of taste, and tastes do vary widely when it comes to preferred amounts of salt.
A one-to-one mix of salt to sugar produces an entirely acceptable result. However I have seen ratios of up to one part sugar to twenty parts of salt quoted.
Times will obviously vary depending on the size and texture of the food. Aim to leave the food in the dry cure overnight, as a minimum.
As it sounds, brines are injected into meat. This technique would be used for large pieces of meat and is used in commercial environments.