How to Cure Ham and Bacon the Old-Fashioned Way

Cure ham without nitrates.
Cure ham without nitrates. (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Without refrigeration the dilemma facing our ancestors was how to keep freshly butchered meat from spoiling. Hogs were butchered in the late fall when the temperature went down into the 30s. While fresh the meat was salt cured and stored until the following spring. With home curing, you can recreate these cherished flavors in the same time-honored tradition.

Things You'll Need

  • Fresh leg of pork or slab of pork belly
  • 1 cup pickling salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup Prague Powder #1
  • 1 tsp. pickling spice
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • Large stock pot
  • Large storage container

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Purchase a fresh ham or leg of pork. It will be labeled fresh to indicate that the ham has not been cured. If you are curing bacon, use a slab of pork belly with the skin still on. Trim any excess fat, as a fatty cut of meat will more readily spoil.

Prepare the brine by adding the pickling salt, sugar, Prague #1 Powder, pickling spice and cloves to a large stock pot filled with water. Prague Powder #1 is an all-purpose cure that gives the ham its pink color. Without it the ham will be gray in color and more susceptible to spoilage from pathogenic organisms. Boil all the ingredients for 20 minutes and cool. The solution will cure about 10 lbs. of meat. This size works well for storage purposes.

Pour the brine into a container that is large enough to hold the meat completely submerged but small enough to fit in your refrigerator. Place the brine in the refrigerator and cool to about 40 degrees. This temperature should be maintained throughout the curing process.

Add the meat to the chilled brine. Lay a heavy plate over the meat to keep it submerged.

Keep the meat in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. It will cure at the rate of about 2 lbs. per day. The longer you cure it, the longer it will stay fresh. It will also get saltier with longer curing times. Ham is done in 10 to 14 days. Bacon is done in five to seven days.

Remove the meat from the brine. If you prefer a less salty taste, soak the meat in cold water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Squeeze as much liquid from it as you can and dry. The meat is now ready to bake, fry or smoke.


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