Safely and successfully dry-curing meats at home requires control over humidity, temperature, and air flow.
To dry cure meat is to kill the bacteria inside without cooking it. To do this, you must deprive the bacteria of water, and so you remove the meat's water content.
You must also keep the temperatures low enough to stunt bacterial growth. Which also means that the water will leave more slowly.
You will also need to control the water content outside of the meat in order to control the water content inside of the meat. If the humidity is too low in the air surrounding the meat, the water inside will escape too rapidly (water travels from high to low). If you keep the water content of the air less than what is in the meat, but not too much less, you will let the water escape slowly, which is what you want.
Finally, when that water escapes, you don't want it just sitting on the surface on the meat. That will lead to dangerous mold. Air flow will help to draw that water all the way out of the meat and into the air. It's all about controlling the flow of water.
Generally, you will want to keep humidity at 60 to 70% and the temperature at 50 to 60 degrees F. Proper conditions for the particular dry cured meat you are preparing may vary.
So how in the heck are you going to manage such a meticulous environment for days on end? ...By building your own curing chamber!
Here's what you'll need:
-Refrigerator (size will depend on just how much meat you plan on curing at a time)Hygro Thermometer
*The atmospheric controller will take care of the temperature and the humidity. In this case, you won't need a hygrostat or temperature controller as this will double as both. We used both though, just in case.
Now you have all of these gadgets, but where do they go? You will need two open electrical outlets.
|The Refrigerator is plugged into a Temperature (and Humidity, in our case) Controller|
Start by plugging the refrigerator into the temperature controller. Plug both the humidifier (be sure to fill it with water) and the fan into the hygrostat inside of the refrigerator. Now, plug the temperature controller into a wall outlet, and the hygrostat (we used an extension cord to achieve this) into a wall outlet.
|Fan and Humidifier plugged into the Hygrostat|
Set your temperature controller to 55 and the hygrostat to 65%. Place the hygro thermometer's reader into the fridge, crack the door, and let it be. The hygro thermometer is just a check that your hygrostat and temperature controller are reading accurately.
Let your refrigerator run for at least 24 hours, check the hygro thermometer, and if conditions are within the recommended ranges, you're ready to hang your meats. If you're doing sausage, it wouldn't hurt to purchase some hooks as well. Our Weston Smoker Sausage Hangers are shown above.