Every now and then at Stoltzfus Meats we have customers ask for fresh pork bellies so they can cure and smoke their own bacon.
It doesn't happen very often, in part because our bacon is so flavorful and amazing that most amateur meat artisans recognize perfection when they taste it and simply give up.
Curing and smoking meats is both an art and a science, and there is a big difference between dry curing and wet curing, two popular methods employed to transform raw bellies into delicious, delectable bacon.
In this blog post, we'll dive deep into the world of curing bacon, exploring the differences between dry and wet cure, their processes, and how they impact the final product.
Understanding the Basics of Curing
Before we delve into the specifics of dry and wet curing, let's understand what curing is all about. Curing is the process of preserving meat by adding salt and other flavorings, such as sugar, herbs, and spices. It serves multiple purposes, including extending the shelf life of the meat, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, and, most importantly, imparting unique and enticing flavors as the cure reacts to the smoking process.
Dry curing, as the name suggests, involves rubbing the meat with a mixture of salt and other seasonings. This method relies solely on the osmosis process to draw moisture out of the meat. The salt penetrates the meat, effectively dehydrating it and creating a concentrated and intense flavor profile. The process also promotes the development of natural enzymes that further enhance the taste.
Key steps in dry curing:
- Preparing the curing mixture: A combination of salt, sugar, and optional herbs/spices is prepared to coat the meat.
- Applying the mixture: The meat is thoroughly coated with the curing mixture, ensuring an even distribution.
- Time and patience: Dry curing is a slow process, and the meat needs to be left untouched for an extended period, usually weeks or even months, depending on the size and type of meat. At Stoltzfus Meats, we allow our bellies to dry cure for seven days before hanging for smoking. We also tumble our bacon in vacuum tumbler, which draws the cure into the bellies.
- Rinsing and air-drying: After curing, the excess salt is rinsed off, and the meat is air-dried to form a protective pellicle on its surface.
In contrast to dry curing, wet curing, also known as brining, involves submerging the meat in a liquid solution, commonly made of water, salt, sugar, and additional spices or aromatics. The brine is typically more diluted than the dry curing mixture and acts as a medium to infuse flavors and moisture into the meat. The brine is injected into the bellies, which allows for the flavor to be absorbed quicker. This also allows for the bellies to be smokehouse-ready.
Key steps in wet curing:
- Preparing the brine: A mixture of water, salt, sugar, and seasonings is combined to create the brine solution.
- Immersing the meat: The meat is fully submerged in the brine solution, allowing it to absorb moisture and flavors.
- Timing: Wet curing is generally quicker than dry curing and usually takes a few hours to a few days, depending on the size and thickness of the meat.
- Post-cure preparation: After the curing period, the meat is removed from the brine, rinsed, and patted dry before smoking.
- Flavor and Texture Differences:
The choice between dry and wet cure significantly impacts the final flavor and texture of the meat. Dry curing results in a more concentrated, intense flavor, while wet curing tends to produce a milder, more evenly seasoned taste. Additionally, dry-cured bacon often has a firmer texture due to the extended drying process, whereas wet-cured bacon is moister and sometimes more succulent. Wet-cured bacon also retains more water (because it is injected with brine). This is why wet-cured bacon shrinks significantly more than dry-cured bacon when cooked.
In the world of curing, both dry and wet curing methods offer unique advantages and produce an array of mouthwatering flavors. While dry curing imparts intense tastes and textures through slow dehydration, wet curing brings forth moister and more subtly flavored meats through brine infusion. Each method has its place in the culinary landscape, and mastering both can open up a world of possibilities for creating delightful, cured delights that will leave your taste buds begging for more. When it comes to bacon, we prefer dry-cure for a more robust taste profile. The next time you embark on a curing adventure, use this handy blog post for deciding whether dry or wet cure is the perfect fit for your meaty masterpiece!