I see recommendations on this forum for marinating meat for jerky in a mixture that contains a sodium nitrite cure. I've read that some retail jerky seasoning mixes also contain sodium nitrite.
I've never used a cure on my jerky. Drying meat to remove moisture makes it shelf-stable. It doesn't have to be refrigerated, and it doesn't require a cure. It is important to get the meat to 160 degrees first, according to the USDA, then dry it at temperatures above 130 degrees.
Here is what the USDA has to say about it: Jerky and Food Safety
Here are the USDA recommendations from that link above:
By all means, use a cure if you feel more comfortable doing so, or if you prefer the flavor and texture of the cured meat. But if you prefer to simply dry the jerky without using a cure in your marinade, the USDA says its safe if you follow their guidelines.
My only reason for posting this is to ensure accurate information is available to people on this forum.
You can make good jerky without a cure. But if you plan on keeping the jerky a long time or not in the fridge, a cure is not a bad idea. I plan on using it especially when it will be in shipment for 5-10 days.
I've also made it without a cure but store it in the fridge and eat it relatively fast. I've also had non cured jerky turn moldy/rancid within 2 wks. So think good food storage/fridge when not using a cure. Now, it could have been my problem that the jerky turned bad, but I don't worry about it with a cure.
The cure is more to prevent Botchulism when cold smoking. Botchulism is an anerobic spore that thrives in a low or zero oxygen environment like your smoker. If you are cold smoking your jerky use sodium nitrate/nitrite to ensure that you don't inadvertently kill someone who samples your products.
There is always a reason why commercial kitchens use cures, and people should do more research or take a food safety course like Serve Safe before handing out advice. Do you think a business would go to the extra time and expense of curing if it was not a food safety issue?
Notice your link does not say anything about SMOKING jerky meat? Only dehydrating which is a different deal.
Skip, the USDA info you posted deals with fully cooking and drying. I think you'll find most folks use cures with combinations of wet or dry brining and cold or hot smoking. The USDA does have some detailed data on curing; an example is this PDF: PROCESSING PROCEDURES: DRIED MEATS.
Frankly, you'll get much more useful and relevant info here reading thru the Jerky and Sausage forums. You might also do some research on Botulism (Clostridium botulinum toxin) on the USDA and other web site.
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We'll never recommend anything risky. Pointing out the USDA stuff is great, good education point.
Those last two items are CRITICAL.
Are you steaming/cooking it before Dehydrating it?
If you're doing cold smoking or not achieving a high enough temp, then there are food safety risks.
If you stay above 130 (the last bullet) you'll have less issue, but you can still have issues.
If you go below 130 and cold smoke to get more penetratation and a different type of jerky, then beware.
Everyone just needs to learn what it's there for any why.
TN Q, I understand about botulism, and about home preserved food safety. My experience with jerky and sausage are both recent, but I've been canning for years.
That's an interesting and informative PDF document you linked. Thanks.
No one is cold-smoking in their CS. The link does mention smoke in the context of commercial products. It isn't relevant to food preservation, so I imagine that is why it isn't mentioned otherwise. The critical information is the temperature of the meat during the drying process and the amount of moisture left in the meat when it is done, regardless of whether or not smoke is used.
I haven't ever steamed or roasted the meat to 160 before drying it, but I plan to try it that way. Up until now, I've just dried the meat in my dehydrator at the 140 settings, which actually gets a few degrees hotter than that.
Here is my point. Most of the jerky methods described here call for a cure, and then smoking at anywhere from 180 degrees to 250 degrees for anywhere from 5 to 10 hours. That's not cold smoking. That is raising the temperature to a level that fully cooks the meat. If in the process you also dry out the meat sufficiently, just as you would in a dehydrator, then the cure isn't required, and there's no justification for making the claim that it is.
As I said before, use a cure if you like it, but you don't need a cure for jerky so long as you get the meat temps up to 160, then dry at 130 to 140 (with or without smoke makes no difference as far as safety is concerned) until the meat is dry.
I agree that most of us don't cold smoke jerky but if we do something wrong (like not drying the meat sufficiently) then the cure adds a safety step as far as I'm concerned. It also prolongs the shelf life of the jerky. Here's a quote from TN Q's PDF:
"To prolong shelf-life and slow fatty acid oxidation, antioxidants (ie.g., BHA, BHT, TBHQ, rosemary extracts) are commonly used. Smoke components can have an antioxidant effect. Antioxidants are not used in some processed meats that contain nitrite, since nitrite is a potent antioxidant. Vacuum packaging of meats removes oxygen, reducing rancidity. Cured items have a longer shelf-life than non-cured items due the antioxidant effect of the nitrite (e.g., ham versus pork roast). Rancidity is a quality issue, not a safety issue."
Smoking, drying, cures all provide antioxidant effect to prolong the shelf life of the jerky. If that's not enough, I also vacuum packed my last batch of jerky and threw it in the fridge since it would be sitting around for a couple weeks waiting for my Chicago crowd to come in starting Sat. Overkill? Yes. But I probably won't change.
I also just opened one of the sealed packages and threw the jerky into a zip lock bag. Tried a piece. Boy, that stuff turned out really well.
I understand what you saying about extra safety assurance Pags. I'm also not suggesting to anyone that they stop using a cure if they are comfortable with it.
Cures contain sodium nitrite, and that is something I try to limit my consumption of. I don't know if scientists are right or wrong, but right now they seem to believe that excessive sodium nitrite can increase your risk of various kinds of cancer.
I don't live my life in fear of cancer. I'm over 50. I'm more concerned with enjoying my life. To be honest, I don't worry so much about how much sodium nitrite I eat, but only whether or not it is truly a necessary ingredient in anything that I eat or consume. I make these same judgments about all kinds of food additives. Do I really want 2% silicon dioxide in my Brisket Rub? No, not really. I don't put it in any of my homemade rubs. I know that it is not a necessary ingredient, and it is one that adds nothing to my enjoyment of flavor. I'm going to use the CS Brisket Rub I bought with my AQ, but now that I know it has stuff in it that isn't food, I'm not going to buy any more of it.
That idea more or less points to the underlying reason why I started this thread. Sodium nitrite is not a necessary ingredient in properly prepared dried meat. It may make some folks feel more comfortable, but it isn't something that you have to put in your properly prepared jerky to make it safe for room temperature storage and consumption.
I'm a sausage lover. I have made sausage, and now that I have my Amerique, I plan to make a lot more. It goes in so many things that I cook. Now I'm not going to make smoked sausages without sodium nitrite. I'm not willing to take a chance on food poisoning. Sausage is a case where sodium nitrite is necessary "in my opinion". I say it that way because I know folks who make sausages without it. That's their choice. Based on my research I will not skip the pink salt for sausages.
But I'm not going to cure my jerky because it adds no benefit that amounts to a hill of beans in my estimation, and I don't agree with the numerous warnings that I see in threads on this forum to newbie jerky makers to cure their meat. What I think newbies need is to learn safe drying practices, which the USDA explains.
I reserve my sodium nitrite consumption for sausages. I am not putting it in my jerky.
To all you new jerky makers out there, please be advised. You have a choice. You don't have to cure dried meat, so long as you heat it and dry it sufficiently during processing.
Yes. It makes me feel comfortable using a cure. And the cure does extend the shelf life of the jerky. I suppose there's a reason why manufacturer's use cures in their jerky. They probably don't want rotten jerky hanging on the shelves. Not good for sales. And if something went wrong with their cooking process, it would also take care of the botulism, which also isn't good for sales. I'm sure they're using it for shelf life and as a precaution. Is it necessary? No.
Now, I'm the opposite of you. I get fresh sausage with no nitrates and either hot smoke or immediately freeze it for use later. I guess we all get our nitrates from somewhere.
I have never tried cooking beef,pork,or chicken first. But I have tried turkey Breast, followed the directions that came with the Cabelas dehydrator.
Allow me to tell you it was messy and the finished product was horrible.
The next turkey breast was done as normal with cure and seasoning then dried. Far better.
Actually, I should clarify. I was referring to using nitrites (pink salt) in smoked sausage. I don't put it in fresh sausage either.
I'm beating a dead horse here, but Sodium Nitrates occur naturally in Sea Salt. The Romans used to bury pieces of meat in sea salt to preserve it AKA the "Corning Process" or Corned Beef.
There are studies out there that show nitrates causing cancer in mice after they consumed the equivilant of 100 lbs of sausage per day over an extended period so don't believe everything you hear. Lots of Fear Mongering in the food world these days, usually to get consumers to buy their "safer" product. One pound of Curing Salt usually contains about .004% Nitrates and one tablespoon will cure around 100 lbs of meat in a dry cure so a little goes a long way.
FWIW, all salt is sea salt. Some just more recently than others.
Mineral content in salt made from seawater or unrefined rock salt varies greatly. One source I found says that "sea salt" may contain anywhere from 40 to 57 percent less sodium chloride than refined table salt. That's a good thing if you are interested in reducing you sodium intake (I count myself in that group) and if you like the flavors introduced by the other minerals that may be present in unrefined sea salt (I count myself in that group too).
Not all sea salt has sodium nitrate or sodium nitrate in it. Unrefined salt may have trace heavy metals too, such as mercury, strontium, cesium, etc.
I like Real Salt, mined from Jurassic era salt deposits in Utah, for my normal table and cooking salt, and right now I am also using a greenish colored French rock salt from Brittany.
Real Salt doesn't contain any sodium nitrite (or sodium nitrate), but the list of trace minerals is surprising. http://www.realsalt.com/images/realsalt_analysis.pdf
Note that the most commonly used curing salts contain sodium nitrite, not sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrite oxidizes to sodium nitrate.
But none of this has anything to do with my reason for posting this thread, which is simply that the advice found on the forum stating that jerky must be cured to be safe is wrong. Jerky can be safe without curing it.
I'll still cure mine. Maybe you will learn the hard way...........
I do agree you don't really need the curing salts, look at the recipe that has been used for years by many, soy sauce, salt,pepper,garlic and onion powder, then laid out on the racks of your nice new shiny Ronco Food Dehydrator, I used one of those things for many years, because the only smoker I had was the old Brinkman barrel. I had 12 or 15 trays for the Ronco, I forget how much meat I could do at one time, but it took 2-3 days til it was all finished never got sick, it would kept some on the counter and some in the fridge and freezer.
I usually use the seasoning kit for jerky now, either High Mountain or Cabelas mostly and I use the cure because it is packed with the kit and I will mix everything and allow the slices meat to marinade in this mixture for 4 or 5 days in the bottom of the fridge before drying. So I like to use it.
I don't usually use it when making sausage, most fresh sausage is used or vac-packed and froze or I will hot smoke and cook to 165 and then cool and freeze, I would use cure if I were cold smoking it though.
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