Curing salt is an ingredient added to jerky for the functional benefits of increased shelf life, flavor enhancement, and color retention. Curing salt is not required to make jerky, but it is an important tool.
The key ingredients in curing salt inhibit the growth of unwanted bacteria, specifically Clostridium botulinum, that can cause potentially lethal foodborne illnesses.
Think of curing salt as an insurance plan. It’s not mandatory, but it’s a great idea to create a safe, wholesome, and appetizing jerky in case things don’t go exactly as planned.
Make sure to check the usage instructions on your specific cure, but as a general rule of thumb, standard usage is 1 teaspoon of cure for 5 pounds of meat.
The primary ingredient of curing salt, sodium nitrate, is surprisingly controversial. Splashy headlines made from recent studies indicate potential health risks associated with the heavy consumption of nitrates. As of right now, however, there’s nothing that conclusively shows that curing salts are unsafe.
This article will explore all things curing salt and beef jerky—including an in-depth presentation of all sides of the debate around nitrates.
Looking to spice up your jerky making game? Check out our beef jerky seasoning blends (Coming Soon! Sign-Up For Early Access). Each blend comes with a pre-measured packet of jerky cure.
After reading this article, you’ll be equipped with everything you need to know to make your own decision on this food ingredient and making homemade beef jerky.
- What is Jerky Cure
- What Does Curing Salt Do to Jerky
- Are Curing Salts Safe
- Jerky Cure Alternatives
- Difference Between Cure #1 and Cure #2
- How to Store Curing Salt
- Where to Buy Curing Salt
- Curing Salt FAQs
What is Jerky Cure?
Jerky cure is an ingredient added to beef jerky that is a blend of salt (sodium chloride), sodium nitrite, and a food coloring.
What Does Curing Salt Do to Jerky?
Curing salt has three primary functions when it comes to beef jerky.
1. Jerky Cure Enhances Flavor
Think of a jerky cure as a super-charged salt. It enhances the natural flavor of the marinade and beef.
Warning: Jerky cure is toxic at high levels. It’s imperative that usage instructions are closely followed. As an example, the jerky cures in this guide recommend a teaspoon for five pounds of meat.
To prevent potential confusion, red food coloring is added to curing salt to give it an identifiable pink color.
Jerky cure adds a cooked-ham flavor to jerky when used as a primary flavoring agent. When used sparingly and in combination with robust seasonings, the jerky cure fades to the background and is barely perceptible.
2. Jerky Cure Aids in Color Retention
Curing salt acts as an antioxidant. It preserves the pink color of meat and prevents premature graying. As dried meat is exposed to oxygen, it begins to lose its color.
Jerky treated with cure will retain a look of vibrancy and freshness.
3. Jerky Cure Wards Off Bacteria
Curing salts inhibit the growth of unwanted bacteria. For an amateur jerky maker, this is an important tool to create a safe jerky, free from any problems.
Are Curing Salts for Jerky Safe?
As of right now, there’s nothing that conclusively shows that curing salts are unsafe.
Numerous scientific and academic studies have evaluated sodium nitrite and the conclusions have been the same—when used at the appropriate levels, sodium nitrite is a safe and effective ingredient to prevent the growth of bacteria. The National Toxicology Program, an agency within the USDA, completed a multi-year study that found that sodium nitrite is safe at recommended uses.
Nevertheless, curing salts, and specifically, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, have become hotly contested ingredients. A 2015 study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer suggests that processed meats can cause cancer in humans. The study classified processed meats as those that have been cured with sodium nitrate.
The research, however, failed to isolate the impact of nitrates, and any single aspect of meat consumption, on overall health.
A surprising fact about nitrates is that they are primarily found in fruits and vegetables. An interesting study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that “approximately 80% of dietary nitrates are derived from vegetable consumption; sources of nitrites include vegetables, fruit, and processed meats.”
Here is a great article from the BBC on the topic.
Ultimately, it's up to each individual to consider the risks and benefits of curing salts. For those that prefer to avoid curing salts, there are natural alternatives.
Jerky Cure Alternatives
For those looking for the benefits of jerky cure, but in a more natural form, there are vegetable-based ingredients available to the homemade jerky maker.
Celery juice and celery juice powder contain natural nitrates which deliver the color, flavor, and functional benefits of cure.
When the sodium nitrate in celery is exposed to certain types of bacteria, the nitrate is converted to sodium nitrite, which achieves characteristics similar to jerky cure.
Natural jerky cures, however, can be harder to work with because of difficult to measure nitrate counts. Additionally, natural curing agents, such as celery juice powder, are significantly more expensive than traditional jerky cures.
Care should be taken when working with natural jerky cure. Just because it is natural, doesn’t mean it can’t be toxic when used improperly.
Difference between Cure #1 vs Cure #2
Curing salt can be confusing because it goes by many names–instacure, pink salt, and Prague powder to name a few. All of these products are interchangeable. What’s important is the type of cure.
There are two designations that are important to understand — #1 and #2.
Cure #1 contains salt and sodium nitrite.
Cure #2 contains salt, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate.
Curing Salt #1 (with sodium nitrite) is intended for any product where the processing time is less than 30 days such as jerky, sausage, and corned beef.
Curing Salt #2 (with sodium nitrate) is used for any product where the processing time is more than 30 days such as salami and prosciutto.
When To Use
Instacure #1, Prague Powder #1
Sodium Chloride (Salt), Sodium Nitrite (6.25%)
Total processing time is less than 30 days.
Jerky, sausage, bacon, pastrami, corned beef, ham, hot dog
Instacure #2, Prague Powder #2
Sodium Chloride (Salt), Sodium Nitrite (6.25%), Sodium Nitrate (1.00%)
Total processing time is more than 30 days.
Salami, prosciutto, pepperoni
How to Store Curing Salt
Keep curing salt in a cool, dry location away from any direct light. To maximize the shelf life of curing salt, keep it away from any moisture. When stored properly, curing salt will last indefinitely.
It’s important to clearly label all curing salts to prevent confusion and misuse.
Where to Buy Curing Salt for Jerky
Curing salt can be purchased from most online retailers that sell spices, herbs, and seasonings, as well as outdoor, hunting, or sporting goods stores, and meat processing websites. It’s also available on Amazon.
Each of our beef jerky seasoning blends (Coming Soon! Sign-Up For Early Access) for sale contain preweighed curing salt packets that can be easily used for specific amounts of meat.
For those looking for bulk curing salt, here are our top three picks for the best curing salt options to buy for making jerky.
As long as you purchase curing salt from a reputable producer, the quality should all be the same.
A pound of cure will last for several hundred pounds of meat based on the general usage of 1 teaspoon of cure per 5 pounds of meat.
1. Anthony’s Goods Premium Pink Curing Salt #1
Anthony’s Goods offers bulk quantities of herbs, spices, seasonings, and specialty ingredients such as curing salt. They batch test everything they produce, guaranteeing purity and quality.
- Size: 2 LB
- Usage: 1 teaspoon for 5 LBS meat
- Price Per Pound: $6.99
2. The Sausage Maker Insta Cure #1
The Sausage Maker is an online retailer that sells ingredients, equipment, and tools that make large volume home processing and preservation easy. They are a great resource for hunters, gatherers, anglers, farmers, and anyone that works with game, meats, fruits, and vegetables.
- Size: 1 LB
- Usage: 1 teaspoon for 5 LBS meat
- Price Per Pound: $8.25
3. Hoosier Hill Farm Prague Powder Curing Salt #1
Hoosier Hill Farm offers a variety of baking and meat processing ingredients, as well as nuts, fruits, and snacks.
- Size: 1 LB
- Usage: 1 teaspoon for 5 LBS meat
- Price Per Pound: $10.99
Curing Salt for Jerky FAQ
Can beef jerky be made without curing salt?
Yes, beef jerky can be made without curing salt. As long as beef jerky has been properly cooked and dried, it does not require the use of a jerky cure.
It is a good idea to include a jerky cure, however, as it serves as an insurance plan. It inhibits the growth of unwanted bacteria in case the jerky hasn’t been perfectly cooked or stored.
What is a substitute for curing salt?
Celery juice powder and celery powder are natural substitutes for curing salt.
Is curing salt the same as Himalayan salt?
Curing salts are different from Himalayan pink salt, which is a table salt with trace elements of minerals that give it a distinctive pink color.
Is curing salt the same as regular salt?
Curing salt is different from regular salt. Curing salt contains sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate which regular salt does not.
Can I make my own curing salt?
If you have access to sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, you can make your own curing salt. These ingredients can be hazardous when not properly handled or mixed, so we recommend purchasing curing salt from a legitimate supplier.
What ingredients are in curing salt?
Curing salt contains a combination of salt, sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate.
Curing salt has gotten a bad rap over the years, but it plays an important role in the processing and preservation of food. Curing salt is not required to make jerky, but it is an important tool to inhibit the growth of unwanted bacteria. Plus, it has other benefits including color retention and flavor enhancement.
Ultimately, the decision to make homemade jerky with jerky cure is up to you. Just make sure to use the exact measurements to ensure proper usage and application.
Our custom blends of jerky seasoning come with preweighed jerky cure packets that can be included or avoided.
Shop Beef Jerky Seasonings (Coming Soon! Sign-Up For Early Access).