We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Salt Cure?

By C. Mitchell
Updated Feb 26, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Fresh meats have a very limited shelf life: they must remain refrigerated or frozen until cooked, and even then, they must be consumed quickly to avoid bacterial growth. One way to extend the longevity of meats is to cure them with a salt cure. A salt cure is a process through which meat is preserved. Salt cures can either be salt rubs or brining solutions that alter the chemical composition of the meat, tenderize it, and dry it. Cured meat does not require refrigeration, and remains edible for months or even years after curing.

Salt cures are an ancient method of food preparation practiced by many cultures, and the process is still performed in the modern day. Meat curing was particularly important before refrigeration was widely available. In Medieval Europe, for instance, meats were often kept cool in underground caverns, but this practice was not always sustainable. Meat mongers began curing excess meat and meat to be consumed in the winter months in salt to keep it from decomposing. Fishermen, particularly those in Scandinavia, developed salt cure processes to preserve fish around the same time.

An early salt cure was as simple as storing slabs of meat in a barrel of salt. Chemicals in the salt dry the meat by wicking out moisture. This eliminates the chance for bacterial growth. Bacteria thrive in moist environments, but most cannot tolerate high concentrations of salt.

Meat was commonly stored in salt barrels on early ship explorations, including European trading vessels and the British sea voyages that landed settlers in the United States, Canada, and Australia. The ships were gone for months at a time without the ability to procure fresh food, or keep stored food refrigerated. Salt-cured meat, including cured poultry, pork, fish, and beef, was a staple of early ship life.

How long meat must stay in the salt cure before it is preserved is largely a matter of what kind of meat it is, its size, and the potency and concentration of the salt. Curing can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The length of time a piece of meat remains in the salt cure can also affect its taste. Cured meat has, perhaps not surprisingly, a very salty flavor, but how much that flavor overpowers the original flavor of the meat varies with time.

Brining is another variation of salt cure. Brine is a saltwater solution in which meats are submerged. If left long enough, a brining solution will preserve meat in much the way that a direct application of salt will. Brining requires refrigeration, however, as the water in the brine will breed bacteria if left too long at room temperature.

Cured meats remain, an important part of many cultures' culinary traditions, although the methods of salt cure have advanced from early times. More sanitary curing containers have largely replaced wooden barrels, and chemicals such as nitrate and nitrite are frequently added to curing salts to speed the process and to ensure that meats are completely dried and preserved.

Home curing is also a popular way of either preserving or flavoring meats, particularly poultry and pork. Home cooks should be cautious of simply using table salt to preserve meat, however. Many of the table salts that are commercially available do not have the same potency or composition as salts had in the Middle Ages. A salt cure made with ordinary table salt may not actually cure meat. Many companies sell curing solutions and curing kits that are generally a safer option. These cures can either completely preserve meat, or, if left to cure for a shorter time, tenderize the meat and add flavor before cooking. Partial cures are a relatively easy way to enhance the flavor of meat destined for the frying pan or baking tray.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.