Modern Wet-Cured Meats

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Salted meats continue to be popular even in the age of refrigeration, when salting is no longer essential. But because we now salt meats for taste, not to extend storage life, industrial versions are treated with milder cures, and generally must be refrigerated and/or cooked. And they’re made very quickly, which means that their flavor is less complex than dry-cured meats. Industrial bacon is made by injecting brine (typically about 15% salt, 10% sugar) into the pork side with arrays of fine needles, or else cutting it into slices, then immersing the slices in a brine for 10 or 15 minutes. In either method the “maturing” period has shrunk to a few hours, and the bacon is packed the same day. Hams are injected with brine, then “tumbled” in large rotating drums for a day to massage the brine evenly through the meat and make it more supple, and finally pressed into shape, partly or fully cooked, chilled, and sold with no maturing period. For some boneless “hams,” pork pieces are tumbled with salt to draw out the muscle protein myosin, which forms a sticky layer that holds the pieces together. Most corned beef is now injected with brine as well; the briskets never touch any actual salt grains.