Being able to cure your own meat is a must have skill for every hunter. And a nice skill to have for EVERY cook out there!
Corned beef. Pastrami. Ham. Bacon.
Need I say more?
The steps I cover here can be applied to any meat, although I usually go with meat from four legged animals. You CAN cure poultry - corned goose breast is a popular recipe for waterfowl hunters.
Let's start with WHY we would want to cure meat.
Step 1: Curing Basics
Curing meats started out as a preservation method. Salting and smoking meats has been done for countless generations.
In the modern world, we have amazing appliances, like refrigerators and freezers, so the home cook is less concerned about how long they can keep the meat. We're more concerned with things like taste and texture.
As a hunter, I eat a lot of venison. Venison is a very lean meat. It can be very tough, especially if it's overcooked. And on occasion, I get a gamey tasting deer. Venison, when properly handled from the shot through to the butchering, should not be gamey. However, sometimes mistakes happen. Or sometimes you just get an old, tough buck, whose hormones have been raging for weeks, and yeah, he might have some funky flavors. Anyway - the point is: curing can help to tenderize and alter the flavor of meat.
I have found that curing venison virtually ELIMINATES any gamey flavors. If you think about corned beef, does it taste anything like a beef roast or steak?
There are two main methods for curing: wet and dry. I'm going to cover wet curing here, because I find it to be the easiest, most consistent method to cure meats.
Step 2: Things You'll Need
There are only really a few things you need to cure meat:
- Instacure #1, aka Pink Salt, aka Sodium Nitrite. A little bit goes a LONG way. ALWAYS follow the recommended usage amounts. Besides for use in wet cures like we are doing here, you can use it to make jerky, summer sausage, and other tasty treats.
[Click for example]
- Sugar, salt (kosher or pickling, not table salt unless it's non-iodized), and spices. In my last step, I'll give my basic recipe for corned venison, which I also use on beef, and can make pastrami from. But you can also buy pre-made mixes. They are fairly inexpensive, and they typically contain all the ingredients you need, even the Pink Salt. Another advantage of buying a premix is taking the guesswork out of the flavors. I've tried a number of ham recipes that tasted nothing like ham, but the pre-made commercial mix nailed it.
I recommend trying some of the recipes you can find online, but if you want easy, and again, CONSISTENT, pre-made will do it.
[Click for example of bacon cure]
[Click for example of ham cure]
- A brining bucket. All you need is some type of vessel, big enough to hold the meat you are curing completely submerged in a brine. But small enough to fit in your fridge. You need to keep the meat submerged. Some brining buckets come with a special internal locking systems to do just that. But you can easily use an object like a plate, or even a ziploc bag filled with water. Just put the plate or bag on top of the meat to push it down in the brine.
[Click to see example of brining bucket]
- A place to let it sit for a while. I happen to have a "beverage" mini-fridge I keep in my basement. Super handy. When corning, the pickling spices can get a little fragrant. Not bad, but think: potpourri. If you are keeping it in your main fridge, I like to add a piece of press-n-seal over it, then use the brining bucket's cap on top of that. Helps keep the odors IN the bucket, and OUT of the fridge!
- Time. A ham recipe may take just a few days. A corning recipe may take a few weeks. This will vary based on the thickness of the meat. You typically can't OVER cure something. But if you UNDER cure it, you'll get some brown areas in the cross-section of your meat instead of the nice red. It's not bad, it'll just have the regular meat flavor. Think of it as having a chuck roast stuck inside a corned beef brisket.
Step 3: Corned Venison or Beef or Goose Breast
This is my go-to corning recipe. It's easy, there's no guesswork, and it's consistent:
- An up to 5 lb roast. Double the recipe for larger cuts.
- 1/2 gallon distilled water
- 2/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 5 tablespoons pickling spice
- 3 teaspoons Instacure #1
- 1 head of garlic chopped. If it’s small, go with 2
Put everything except the roast in a pot. This is our brine. Bring it to a boil and stir to get the sugar and salt to dissolve.
Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Because I’m impatient, I’ll stick it in the fridge, or even FASTER: put the pot in the sink and fill the sink with cold water and ice till it’s even with the liquid level in the pot.
Once it’s cool, put your roast in the brining bucket, and cover with the brine.
Refrigerate for two weeks, stirring (I just swirl the bucket) daily. I have never had a roast under 5 lbs not finish curing throughout within 2 weeks. If you go bigger, you may have to go longer.
After two weeks, remove the roast from the brine, and rinse off under tap water. DISCARD the brine.
You have now cured meat! You have a nice corned roast that you can cook with your favorite corned beef recipe. Here's mine.
You can also smoke it and make pastrami. Yes, pastrami and corned beef are pretty much the same thing. The main difference is pastrami gets smoked, and corned beef get's braised. Here's a pastrami recipe if you are interested.