Using Nitrites in Curing Meat

Sodium Nitrite, a.k.a. Instacure #1 is what gives your corned beef (or in this case corned venison) that nice red color.
Sodium Nitrite, a.k.a. Instacure #1 is what gives your corned beef (or in this case corned venison) that nice red color.

Nitrites and nitrates in curing meat have gotten a bad rap over the years. For everything you read out there telling you to avoid it, you can find just as many articles telling you it’s safe. I’m not going to go on here about what is right or what is wrong. What I will tell you is, based on the research I’ve done, I use it, it hasn’t killed me, and my cured meat products are MUCH better because of it. The important lesson to learn, and this applies to pretty much anything in life, is: moderation.

They are preservatives, so their general purpose is to kill things. Primarily microbial things. They can be toxic in large quantities to a person, but when used appropriately are quite safe, as indicated and regulated by various government agencies. Nitrites and nitrates are found in many things: celery, spinach, kale, and even your own saliva have significant concentrations of the stuff. So if you see processed meat in the grocery store that says it’s nitrate free, but instead it uses celery juice as a preservative – that is just a marketing scam.

Sodium nitrite goes by many different names: Instacure#1, Prague Powder #1, Pink Salt, etc.. It’s pink because they put coloring in it so you can tell it apart from table salt. The #1 will typically refer to sodium niTRITE and the 2’s are for sodium niTRATE. Nitrates are more commonly used in your cold curing processes, like hard salami and the likes.

You will not get the color or the flavor you want if you decide to not use nitrites/nitrates. A corned beef or pastrami without Instacure#1? Brown and ugly when you cook it. Bacon without it? I don’t even want to think about it.

Just remember, a little goes a long ways. Use it as described in the instructions on the package, or in your recipes, and you won’t have any issues. And you will get fantastic results with your cured meats.

 

Brining Venison – Add flavor and tenderize in one step.

brinerjr1
Use the Briner Jr to make Corned Beast!

When working with wild game, a common technique to “enhance” or “adjust” the flavor is to brine it. This is actually true with a lot of commercial meat as well, it just happens before you see it. For the most part, brining is soaking meat in a salt water/seasoning mixture for some time period. For squirrel or rabbit, it’s a day, for corning, could be a few weeks.

When brining, you need to keep the meat submerged. There are many ways to do this, but I use a container called the Briner Jr.

It’s a plastic bucket, about 10 inches tall and 9 inches in diameter. There are step grooves along the side that a plastic plate fits into that will push the meat down into the liquid and hold it there.

The lid does seal pretty well, but I like to cover the top with press-n-seal, then put the lid on. This cuts back on odors in the fridge (corning a venison roast for a week can tend to make your fridge smell like pickling spices – not bad, but kind of obnoxious after a while), and also makes it a bit more water tight. I’ll take the whole container and swirl it around once a day to “stir” the mixture.

brinerjr3
Easily fits in any fridge.

I’ve used this with roasts up to 7+ pounds, with room to spare. They do maker a bigger model – but it’s huge. You would need a big fridge to hold it. This smaller version fits nicely in my beer fridge. I just hate when I have to make room in the beer fridge…

After a number of uses, it may start to yellow a bit, but hey you only use it for brining. You can easily brine with containers you already have, but this is a reasonably priced container that simply makes the job easier.