Salted Meats: Hams, Bacon, Corned Beef

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Like drying, salting preserves meat by depriving bacteria and molds of water. The addition of salt—sodium chloride—to meat creates such a high concentration of dissolved sodium and chloride ions outside the microbes that water inside their cells is drawn out, salt is drawn in, and their cellular machinery is disrupted. The microbes either die or slow down drastically. The muscle cells too are partly dehydrated and absorb salt. Traditional cured meats, made by dry-salting or brining large cuts for several days, are about 60% moisture and 5–7% salt by weight. The resulting hams (from pig legs), bacon (from pig sides), corned beef (“corn” coming from the English word for grains, including salt grains), and similar products keep uncooked for many months.