Salting Meat

Corporal Arthur Porras of the 9th Texas took the lead in teaching us this aspect of authentic rations.

Excerpt from Rations, The Reenactorís Dilemma†††††††††††††††

By permission of: Arthur Porras

First, let's begin with your meat, the infamous salt pork or salt beef. DO NOT buy the salt pork sold at stores, it is incorrect, and more importantly, not cured properly, which means it will spoil on you and you will get sick.

Instead of thinking of salt pork as a specific product, think in the generic term "salt cured meat". You can salt cure any cut of meat you care to. I personally usually salt boneless beef ribs but that is up to you. At the grocerís in the spice section you will find meat cure. I use Mortonís brand Tender Quick. Itís in a blue 2lb bag. The directions are on the back and very easy to follow. It takes 1/2 oz. of meat cure per pound of meat to be cured. Hint: I rub in pepper with the salt cure to give the meat more flavor. I bought mine 4 1/2 years ago and I still have enough for two more events.

Usually 1 1/2lbs of meat is more than enough for me for a weekend. Remember you have to fit all this in your haversack and lug it around. When you are ready to eat your meat you must rinse the salt out or else it will be unpalatable. I put the amount of meat I need for that meal in my tin cup, fill it with water, knead the meat to force out the salt, pour out the water and repeat again. The question I constantly hear is "Have you ever gotten sick" and the answer is "NO". I have carried cured meat in the middle of Texas summers for the whole weekend WITH NO REFRIGERATION and it does not go bad. I have gone as long as 5 days and never had a problem. As modern reenactors we have forgotten how recent an invention refrigeration is and we fear any meat not out of the icebox or a cooler. There is no need for this. So now you have your salted meat which should be wrapped in a waxed brown paper.

A gloss on Arthur Porras' article above†††††† - Ian Straus

In addition to the directions on the bag, Morton's publishes a paperback book on salting meat which gives the directions for dry salting (rub the salt into the meat as explained above), and also for brine curing .When I bought mine the book was $5 but the shipping was more than that! See Morton's Web site for purchase information.

But what that book will tell you is that a measured tablespoon full is equivalent to that half ounce. It also advises salting in two applications, a week apart. Salt your meat when it's fresh! In between the two curing rubs, you should keep your curing meat in the refrigerator so it won't spoil before you get it cured. Make sure you trim off fat before curing, at least if you're not curing bacon.Smell your salted meat before the second salting:If it smells rotten (meaning it will turn your stomach) it is rotten, you did something wrong such as starting with spoiled meat or didnít give it its second salting on time, and you should throw it away and start again.

Oh, one more thing: Don't use iodized salt to cure meat! It would taste bad. Tender Quick is a mix of non-iodized salt with a little sodium nitrite, which is a preservative.

I have come to apply more salt than Morton's calls for. Because I have trouble making that tablespoon cover all of my pound of meat without missing any, I end up using the whole tablespoon at the first application. So a week later after I have done it a second time, I've salted that meat a lot. I refrigerate it in a zip lock bag or a rubber-lidded container. You'll note that the salting draws liquid out of the meat, which you should pour away. After I salt the meat I keep it refrigerated until it's time to go to the reenactment, so my treatment of the meat is "belt and suspenders". How long will it keep? At least a month in the refrigerator. I understand brine-cured meat would keep all winter pre-20th century.

Is my product too salty? I generally boil it a little to get the salt out, pour that water away and pour in fresh water to finish boiling it, and when that is done the meat does not taste even as salty as the corned beef you find refrigerated a the supermarket! But it does taste good. Understand that "corned beef" means salted beef. I have received compliments on how good my corned beef tastes.

Note that you can also salt pork and even fish! When Arthur taught us the class on curing meat at battalion muster in 2002, he showed us salted pork chops. They looked very dry on the outside, almost wooden. Even modern bacon should be a little salty, but if in doubt salt cure your refrigerated bacon a little.

Now, a little more about brine curing:It involves soaking the meat in a saturated solution of salt.That means so much salt is dissolved in the water that no more will dissolve.The old test for reaching this saturation point is whether a fresh egg will float in the water.†† This uses more salt than dry curing.Do this in a plastic or glass container or a pottery crock, not metal.(I suppose you could brine a large amount of meat in a barrel as they did in the 19th century, but water-tight barrels are hard to come by now.) You may need to weight your meat down to keep it under the brine.I have only used brine curing in conjunction with smoking.†† A day or two in the brine gets the meat very salty.†† Civil War period writings reflect leaving the meat in the brine until it was to be cooked, which might be months or years.That was pretty salty stuff!And according to and old song it evidently got as hard as wood over a long period.

When I smoked the meat, I brined it for a day or two in accord with the directions for my smoker, then smoked it for a couple of hours with sweet-scented wood chips (hickory, alder, or fruit wood), then left it in the hot smoker for more hours with no more wood chips.This both flavors and dries the meat, and at least partly cooks it.The meat shrinks.It promises to keep a LONG time, but needs to be re-hydrated and cooked before you consume itGood stuff though.

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