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.

 

How to Cure Corned Venison

With just a few ingredients and a little time, you can easily corn any meat.
With just a few ingredients and a little time, you can easily corn any meat.

One day, I was doing some random searching on wild game meals. I came across a recipe for corned venison. Venison corned beef? Mind. Blown. You can CORN venison?! I LOVE corned beef, so I had to try it out.

I’ve corned a good half dozen or so venison roasts, and learned a few things along the way. Once you corn it (soak it in a brine solution for a few days to a few weeks), there are two main ways to can prepare it. Boil/braise it and you have your classic corned “beef”. Coat it with various seasonings and throw it in a smoker, and you have pastrami. Yup, they are the same thing up till you get to the cooking part.

Here I’ll cover the basic brining, and I’ll cover the magical transformation to the end pastrami/corned beast in other posts. This may seem like a lot of work to some people, but in the end, there’s about 15 minutes of prep time, then a lot of letting time do it’s thing.

Corned Venison Sirloin Tip
The Sirloin Tip is a great choice for corning your venison.

The Cut
You can corn ANY cut of venison, however, it may be considered a crime if your corn the loins/tenderloins. Corning is brining. Brining is taking a tough cut of meat, chemically assaulting it, and turning it into something tasty that you can actually chew. You’ve heard of corned beef brisket. You have NOT heard of beef brisket steak. Hopefully. Now, the final cooking method will have just as much to do with the tenderness, this is the starting point. Venison brisket is just too small. Same for shoulder roasts – I want to be able to slice the end product thin and make a sandwich. So, hind quarters it is.

I like to use the sirloin tip or the combination of the rump roast muscles: top round, bottom round, eye of round  (all 3 kept together). The sirloin tip is a nice small football shape, and will not have any connective tissue in it – great for clean looking sandwich slicing. The rump roast is bigger in comparison, so even bigger slices of meat can be had. It also has a bit of grizzle in it, but nothing that is a deal breaker. It does NOT taste gamy – the fibers are just chewy. I’ll usually just pull out any obnoxious chunks when I actually make my sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • An up to 5 lb venison roast. Double the recipe for larger cuts.
  • 1/2 gallon distilled water
  • 2/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 3 teaspoons Instacure #1
  • 1 head of garlic chopped. If it’s small, go with 2

Process:
Put everything except the venison in a pot. Bring it to a boil to get the sugar and salt to dissolve.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. I like to stick it in the fridge because I’m impatient.

Once it’s cool, find a container that can hold the roast and enough brine to keep it submerged. I like to use the Briner Jr. You want something plastic or enameled, not metallic.

Put the roast in with the brine, make sure it’s covered, and put it in the fridge. Now the tricky part: timing.

Small roasts will need less time, large roasts more time. In my experience, you can’t go too long. A 5 lb roast will take about a week. A 2 lb roast may only need a few days. I kept a 7 lb roast in for 2 weeks. You need to keep it in the brine long enough for the salt/sodium nitrite to permeate the whole roast. If you take it out too soon, it’s not a problem – the flavor just may not be as strong, and you may end up with some brown sections in the middle when you cook it. The sodium nitrate keeps the meat a nice pink color. Where it doesn’t get to will just be the natural brown of cooked venison.

Swirl or stir the container everyday it’s in the fridge to ensure good spice/salt concentrations. Take it out and rinse it thoroughly after the appropriate number of days. Don’t leave any spices on. Discard the brine – do not reuse it.

That’s all there is to it! From here, you can follow your normal corned beef or pastrami recipe.