Curing Whole Meats – The 28 Pound Ham

In Curing Whole Meats on September 29, 2010 by fred

When curing and smoking whole meats, all meats follow the same basic steps:

  1. Make up your cure, either a brine (wet) or a dry rub / dry pack
  2. Put your whole meat into the cure for a long enough period of time for it to absorb the cure
  3. Rinse off the meat’s surface
  4. Dry, smoke & cook the meat

Neal Fraser and the Hog Butchering Class

From the Hog Butchering Event I ended up with a bone-in 28 pound ham, 2-3 times larger than the typical ham you would purchase in the store.  Just carrying it from the garage outside into the kitchen and then back out with an additional 25 pounds of brine was a real workout!  However, not letting the size intimidate me — I followed my 5 steps above, and have been eating and giving away loads of ham ever since.
  1. The Cure.  Because I intended to smoke and cook this ham bone-in, I used a brine to cure it.  The curing time for such a large piece of meat would be quite lengthy using a dry rub, and since this was not a piece that I planned on drying like prosciutto I believe it was the best method.

I have a 10 gallon brining bucket.  This time I was glad I have one so large, but you need whatever size will allow you to cover the meat with brine.  Taller than its width is generally the best, and a 5 gallon food grade bucket with lid is a good option.  The key to making brine is judging the amount you need to make to cover the meat.  Probably the best way to do this is to measure cold water into the bucket and put the meat in to see if it is fully covered before adding the salt, cure, sugar and spices.   Once you know how much water you’ll need, take the meat out and add the salt, cure, sugar and spices based on the recipe you are following.  In my case, I needed four gallons of water to cover the ham in a 10 gallon bucket.  If you are spray-injecting, make sure you have enough water in the bucket for complete coverage and for injecting into the meat.  I then added the following:

1400g Kosher salt
168g  (11 Tbs)  Instacure #1 [sodium nitrite]
500g  White sugar
540g   Brown sugar
360g   Dextrose
160g   Black pepper, cracked or ground
2/3C   Juniper berries, ground

This gave me a light level of salt yet still a savory ham not sweet at all.  Great juniper berry flavor and light pepper.  If I was to do it again, I would probably add 100g of white pepper and take the juniper berries up to a full cup for even more flavor and pepperiness.  I might substitute out the white sugar for more brown for even more flavor.  Feel free to change the variation on the sugars, but I would stick to the overall sugar amount (1400g) to balance out the salt.

I then added about a gallon of ice cubes to keep the brine temperature down.  The amount of ice is not critical, but you want the brine water as cold as possible so when the meat goes into it the temperature of the meat doesn’t rise above 40 degrees.

Once your brine is ice cold, the next step is to inject the meat with the brine.  Injecting the brine using a meat brine pump cuts the curing time in half.  This cut my cure time down to seven days.   The rule of thumb is to inject 10% of the green weight of the ham with brine.  Here I have a 28 pound ham, so it is calculated thus:

28 lbs x 16 oz = 448 oz                This gives me the ham’s green weight in ounces
448 oz x 10% = 44.8 oz                 This is how much brine I need to inject into the ham
44.8 oz / 4 oz = 11 full injections                      I have a 4 ounce injector, so I divide the total brine amount by the amount it will hold to get the number of injections

Don’t make the same mistake I did the first time — don’t weigh the ham and then try to increase the weight by 10% by injecting brine!  It gets messy and you’ll have a lot of holes in your ham.  The injection amount is meant to be a guide to injecting enough into the ham to give the meat inside enough contact with the cure.  Some will invariably leak out while you are injecting it — that’s to be expected.  Just try to get it evenly distributed through the meat and make sure you get a few up against the bone.

Once you’ve pumped the required amount of brine into the meat, submerge it in the brine.  You may need something heavy on top of the meat such as a plate or heavy pan to force the meat under the surface.  Cover the brine bucket, and stick the whole thing in the refrigerator.

Seven days later I took the ham out of the brine and scrubbed the surface with a nylon scrub brush.   Once scrubbed, the ham was ready for the next stage — wrapping it in cheese cloth to dry, smoke and cook it.

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Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker

In Equipment,Equipment for Smoking Meat on September 23, 2010 by fred

Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker

There are a lot of choices out there for smokers. Over the years I’ve used my gas barbeque (using indirect heat) with a wood chip box, and a 55-gallon food grade steel drum with holes drilled into it. Now I use a Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker with digital controls because I don’t want to constantly be checking to see if the wood needs to be replinished and I can set the temperature and not worry about it. The temp does fluctuate dramatically (10 degrees +/-) and there is room for improvement in its heat control, but at least it has a digital read-out on the exterior of the unit that I only have to check every once in a while and can be read from 20 feet away.

Partially Burned Bradley Biscuit

The Bradley Smokers use proprietary wood biscuits but the benefit is that they have an autofeed tube that hold eight hours of wood (strangely, the digital controller can only be set for four hours at a time, an annoyance if you want to smoke anything overnight and don’t want to wake up half way through). The biscuits are fed into the smoker one by one and when spent they fall into the water dish below.

Inside the Bradley Smoker

Six racks in the smoker may sound like a lot, but the reality is I rarely use the racks. The benefit to the six rack smoker is the internal volume as I can hang more meat in the taller smoker. It also means the meat is further away from the heat source so the meat drying out during the smoking and cooking process is less of a problem than with a shorter smoker.


Nose-to-Tail Cooking from the Butchering Event

In Butchering,Meat Events on August 29, 2010 by fred

I received an email from Christina who attended the hog butchering event with Neal Fraser and enjoyed it so much I asked her if I could repost it.  Salud to Christina who is embracing nose-to-tail cooking — thanks for sharing!


Hey Fred! Got so caught actually cooking my pig parts that I totally forgot to email you.  Anyhow, wanted to send you a few photos about my progress with the “nasty/tasty bits.”

Pig Tail and Trotter

I made a fried pig tail, and cooked the trotter. Verdict: tastes delicious but the effort and resources that went into actually cooking it it might be better saved for the restaurants. I’ll eat mine at Lazy Ox from now on.  Shaving and burning bristles off were also a… treat? I made a handful of fried pig skins.   Super delicious and will definitely be making more. They’re like extra bad-for-you chips. And the Country Rib Roast I split apart and just did a basic rub with pan fry, and a panko fried chop.  It was excellent!

Fried Pig Skins, Pork Rinds, Cracklings, or Chicharrón

Currently 10-days in on the guanciale curing/drying process. Just strung it up to dry in my fridge this last weekend. It’s kind of hilarious because I ssentially have a hunk of raw meat drying in my fridge. Not sure how this is going to work out but it looks like it’s going along beautifully so far. I used a banana hook to hang up the meat in the fridge and put a bowl of rice grains underneath to help keep the air dry. My rationale was that if rice will dry a cell phone why not absorb humidity in the fridge? Yes? No? Hi.Larious either way. Would appreciate your advice if you’ve ever made guanciale. No clue what I’m doing here, just making it up as I go.

Guanciale in Christina's refrigerator

Haven’t tackled the porchetta di testa yet, it’s still in my freezer. Thinking about doing that in the next couple weeks. Not looking forward to shaving it.

Loved the class, had an amazing time!  Let me know if/when you do another class. Maybe Hog Butchering 201 is that we all get our own small pig to butcher?  Hands-on learning. :)


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Drying Chamber

In Dried sausage,Equipment,Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment on August 18, 2010 by fred

The most difficult issue to solve in making dry and semi-dry sausages as well as dry-cured meat  is how to dry the meat effectively controlling both temperature and relative humidity over a period of a few weeks to a full year.  If you aren’t in a climate where you can just hang your meat up in the cellar for the winter (most of us aren’t, especially those of us in Southern California) then you will need a drying chamber of some kind.

Drying Chamber (Right), Spare Refrigerator (Left)

I’ve chosen to utilize an upright freezer for my drying chamber.  I keep it in the garage next to a used refrigerator/freezer combo to store my raw materials.

When purchasing a freezer for a drying chamber, here is what I recommend:

  • Make sure it is a freezer.  This may seem counter-intuitive since you are striving for a temperature above normal refrigerator temps.  However, with some simple electrical work you can add an external thermostat to keep the temperature between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Refrigerators that have no freezer component but are full-size with a single chamber tend to be very expensive as they are not traditionally a consumer product.
  • Get a used one.  Craigslist is an excellent source, but you will most likely have to pickup, deliver and unload it yourself — not an easy situation without a friend, a truck, a dolly and some straps to tie it down (by the way — thanks, Joe!)   I also got one by going around to the used appliance places near me and seeing what they had in inventory.  Cheap or free delivery can usually be worked out easily with them.
  • Make sure it is a frost free model.  You can tell the difference simply by looking at the shelves — if they are metal and look like they have tubing attached to them, it is not a frost free model.  If they are plastic, it is.  You will also see a fan somewhere inside the frost free model, and it should say “frost free” somewhere on the tag inside the unit.  When I purchased my first, I couldn’t find any information on whether there was a downside to having a freezer that isn’t a frost free model.  As it turns out, there are a number of them.
  • Fully clean the freezer with a 10% bleach solution.  Drying meat at high humidity encourages yeast and mold, and unless it is mold you’ve sprayed on the meat purposefully you’ll want to keep it at bay.  Take the time to let the freezer dry out, spray it down, wipe it down.  Then do it again.  Make sure no visible signs of mold are left in the unit, in the door seal, or in any crannies.  If you find something and can’t get rid of it, spray it thoroughly and let it soak.  Then wipe what you can up with a clean rag.

Coming Soon: how to install the rest of the equipment.


Additional Equipment for Making Salami and Other Fermented Sausages

In Dried sausage,Equipment,Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment on August 18, 2010 by fred Tagged: , , , ,

Fermentation Box

Inside the drying chamber

What I use:

The key to dry curing meat is controlling the fermentation process and the drying process.  As you can see from the list above, it doesn’t take much more equipment to ferment sausages than to make fresh ones.   There are some big ticket items in here, a drying chamber and hygrostat are the most expensive on the list, but there are cheap alternatives to most of the items (I’ve listed them below).  It really depends on your environment and what kind of controls (or lack of) you are comfortable with.

Cheap Alternatives:

The only way you’ll know if these cheaper alternatives will work in your environment is to test them out.   I would only try them if I had both hydrometer and thermometer so you can see if they are viable solutions.  Test all of your equipment solutions before you start a batch of meat and take the time to dial it in before so you don’t lose a batch like I did.

Coming soon:  how to assemble everything


Hog Butchering Event a Success!

In Butchering,Meat Events on August 17, 2010 by fred Tagged: , ,

The hog

The hog butchering event was quite successful Sunday, with more people waiting in the wings to get into the next one!  A fantastic group from all over Los Angeles got to watch Neal Fraser butcher a 120 pound local hog while enjoying some charcuterie from Neal’s Restaurant BLD and cold drinks.  The event was held at good friends of Neal’s home near the top of the hill at Coldwater Canyon.  Picturesque, even with the pig.

Neal Fraser and the class

 After discussing why we thought the event would be a great idea, Neal proceeded to carve up the pig one primal cut at a time.  The group discussed what you might use each piece for and it became apparent to me why having a top chef lead the class is probably bettter than having your butcher do it — we got a lot of great tips on how each piece could be cooked exquisitely as Neal moved through the butchering process.

Being local, the price for the pig itself was substantially higher than you might pay for a hog purchased on the commodity market — $5.00 a pound rather than $1.20 a pound.  But what we got was incredible.  We know the farm where the pig was raised and the farmer who raised it.  We know it was fed black beans and waffles to finish its flavor (don’t quote me on this, but apparently these provide the pig with additional lycine and lactic acid.)  And we know it was killed and dressed out Friday morning before being brought into town for the event.  It doesn’t get any fresher than that, and knowing all of this about the pig made it that much more interesting and special. 

A stack of primal cuts

On a side note, what brings the price of local meat down?  Seeking out and purchasing locally raised meat products.  The more we start asking our butchers and grocers for locally raised meat, the more they will realize the demand for it is out there.

So, to everyone that was able to attend, thank you so much for your interest and we hope you enjoyed the class and the free takeaway pork!  If you did anything special with it or you’d like to share how it tasted or provide comments or suggestions about the class, please submit a comment on the site.  I’d love to hear it!


The Fermentation Box

In Fermented sausage,Fermented Sausage Equipment on August 11, 2010 by fred

Typical temperatures for fermenting sausages are between 78-90 degrees.  The ideal temperature is whatever is required by the type of starter culture you used to make the sausage because that is what you are trying to grow.  However, nearly all cooking equipment is designed to keep food under 40 degrees or over 140, otherwise it falls within the “danger zone” and bad bacteria are likely to develop.  What do you do when you actually want to encourage bacteriological growth?

I use a Princess International MR-148 Deluxe Digital Mini Fridge Cooler & Warmer.  

This is not the cheapest option by any means, but it is the only option I’ve found that holds the temperature I set it to within a degree.


  • Set it and forget it – the temperature is digitally controlled and has a nice display on the front that I can see from a distance.
  • Door seals tight.  Not liquid tight, but tight as any normal refrigerator
  • Heat is evenly distributed using the built-in fan
  • Easy to clean – I just spray it with a bleach solution, wipe it down and let it air dry with the door propped open
  • As long as the back isn’t covered up you can run it in any position you like
  • Standard 120v AC power, or 12v car lighter plug (both included)


  • Difficult to hang the sausages without modifying the shelf rails.  By adding two shelf rails at the top you can slide in the included plastic grate shelf in and hang the sausage from it.  Until I do that, I’ve resorted to turning the unit upside down and hanging the grate from the shelf rails the removable catch pan normally slides into.  While unstable, it works if you’re careful.
  • It is much smaller than my drying chamber.  I can fit a 5-pound batch in the fermenter, but the sticks can’t be longer than 12-inches.  I think I could squeeze nearly 10-pounds into it once I make the shelf rail modification above and the grate is stable.

I run it outside since fermenting meat is not the most pleasant smell.  Since the door seals so well I don’t need a pan of water to keep the humidity high — you can see all the moisture collecting inside through the clear plastic window.