How to Cure Beef – A Step-by-Step Guide

Curing beef is a traditional process of preserving meat by heavily salting it or packing it in a salt mixture, which draws moisture out of the meat. This creates an environment where bacteria can’t thrive, allowing the meat to be stored for longer periods without spoiling. While refrigeration has made curing less necessary, the unique flavors and textures of cured beef make it a delicious delicacy.

Cured beef like corned beef, pastrami, and beef jerky can be made right at home with basic ingredients and techniques. Here is a complete step-by-step guide to curing beef yourself to enjoy flavorful charcuterie, sandwiches, snacks and more.

Overview of Curing Beef

Curing has been used for thousands of years to preserve meats before refrigeration. There are several ways it works to extend the shelf life of beef:

  • Removing Moisture – Curing salts and spices draw moisture out of meat through osmosis. With less moisture, bacteria can’t grow as rapidly.

  • Salt Content – The salt added during curing further prevents bacterial growth.

  • Nitrates – Curing salts may contain sodium nitrate or nitrite which inhibit bacterial growth, especially the bacteria responsible for botulism.

  • Drying – Air drying beef after curing further removes moisture and increases preservation.

While beef can be cured with just salt, most methods also incorporate other spices, sugars, and curing salts containing sodium nitrite or nitrate for flavor and safety.

Below are some popular types of cured beef and the basic curing process for each:

  • Corned Beef – Beef brisket cured in a brine of salt, spices, and nitrates.

  • Pastrami – Brined brisket later covered with spices and smoked.

  • Beef Jerky – Sliced and spiced raw beef that is dried.

  • Bresaola – Beef eye round that is salt-cured and air-dried.

Now let’s look at how to make each type of cured beef at home with step-by-step instructions.

Ingredients/Equipment Needed

Curing beef requires only a few ingredients:

  • Beef cut like brisket, round, chuck shoulder, etc

  • Curing Salt – Contains nitrites/nitrates

  • Spices – Peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves, coriander, etc

  • Sugar – Brown sugar or molasses

  • Herbs (optional)

  • Wood chips (for smoking)

You’ll also need:

  • Large container or food-grade bucket for wet brining

  • Cheesecloth

  • Meat injector (for dry curing)

  • Butcher twine

  • Meat grinder (for ground beef)

  • Food dehydrator or oven (for making beef jerky)

Step-By-Step Instructions

Follow these basic steps to cure various types of beef:

Wet Brining Corned Beef

  1. Make brine – Dissolve 1 cup salt and 1/2 cup curing salt per gallon of water along with any spices like coriander, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.

  2. Submerge brisket – Place brisket in brine solution, weighing down if needed to keep fully submerged.

  3. Brine for 5-10 days – Let brisket cure in brine for 5-10 days refrigerated. The longer it cures, the saltier it will be.

  4. Rinse and rest – Rinse brisket after brining and let rest overnight in the refrigerator before cooking.

Dry Curing Pastrami

  1. Brine brisket – Make a brine and submerge brisket for 8-10 days as above. Rinse brisket.

  2. Apply dry rub – Pat brisket dry. Combine coriander, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder. Rub mixture evenly over all surfaces.

  3. Inject brisket – Use meat injector to inject brisket with water in several places to evenly distribute moisture.

  4. Rest 3-10 days – Wrap brisket in cheesecloth and place in refrigerator for 3-10 days until firm.

  5. Cold smoke – Smoke brisket for 8-12 hours at temperatures less than 90°F using your preferred wood chips.

  6. Steam – Before eating, steam pastrami for up to 2 hours until tender.

Making Beef Jerky

  1. Slice beef – Slice beef against the grain into long 1/4” thick strips. Trim off all fat.

  2. Make marinade – Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.

  3. Marinate strips – Place strips into marinade, cover, and refrigerate for 8-24 hours, stirring occasionally.

  4. Dehydrate – Place marinated strips on dehydrator trays without overlapping. Dehydrate at 155°F for 4-8 hours until dried.

  5. Rest – Let jerky cool and dry for 1-2 hours after dehydrating before eating for best texture.

Dry Curing Bresaola

  1. Make curing salt – Using a ratio of 3% of meat weight in salt and 0.25% in sodium nitrate, combine salt, nitrate, spices, and sugar.

  2. Coat beef – Rub curing mixture thoroughly over all surfaces of an eye round roast. Wrap in cheesecloth.

  3. Cure – Refrigerate beef for 7 days per 2 lbs, flipping regularly. Weigh to ensure 30% moisture loss.

  4. Rinse and rest – Rinse then hang beef to air dry for 4-6 weeks in cool storage around 55°F.

Tips for Perfectly Cured Beef

Follow these tips for the best results when curing beef at home:

  • Use fresh, high quality beef with good marbling for the most flavorful cured meat.

  • Trim beef thoroughly of excess fat which can turn rancid during long curing times.

  • Weigh beef before and during curing to ensure proper moisture loss for food safety.

  • Cure beef in the refrigerator at temperatures less than 40°F to prevent bacterial growth.

  • Rinse beef after curing and before cooking to remove excess surface saltiness.

  • Use cheesecloth to wrap brisket when dry curing to allow air circulation.

  • Allow beef to rest in the refrigerator after curing for fuller flavor distribution.

  • Cook corned beef and pastrami low and slow in moist environments until fork tender.

  • Use an accurate food dehydrator and long enough time for beef jerky to fully dry.

  • Test beef jerky for dryness and stiffness before removing from dehydrator.

  • Slice bresaola paper thin across the grain after air drying for best texture.

Serving and Storing Cured Beef

The longer curing and drying times result in beef that can be stored for longer than fresh beef. Follow these guidelines:

  • Fully cooked refrigerated corned beef and pastrami keeps for up to 2 weeks. Freeze for up to 2-3 months.

  • Uncooked corned beef lasts up to 2 weeks refrigerated. Freeze for up to 6 months.

  • Beef jerky will last for 1-2 months stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Refrigeration can extend its shelf life even longer.

  • Bresaola can be stored for several months refrigerated once fully cured. Freeze for up to 6 months for longer storage.

  • Serve corned beef and pastrami warm. Let rest before thinly slicing across the grain.

  • Enjoy beef jerky as a snack or diced in salads, rice bowls, trail mix, or other dishes.

  • Slice bresaola paper thin and serve with bread, olive oil, mustard, or fruits and nuts.

Favorite Beef Curing Recipes

Here are some fantastic recipe ideas for enjoying cured beef:

  • Corned Beef Sandwiches – Pile thin slices of corned beef with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing between rye bread.

  • Reuben Casserole – Combine corned beef, sauerkraut, and cheese sauce and bake til bubbly. Top with rye bread crumbs.

  • Pastrami on Rye – Layer shaved pastrami, spicy mustard, and pickles on marbled rye bread for an iconic deli sandwich.

  • Beef Jerky Trail Mix – Toss together almonds, dried cranberries, mini pretzels, and teriyaki beef jerky strips for a protein-packed snack.

  • Bresaola Arugula Salad – Top peppery arugula with shaved bresaola, shaved parmesan, lemon, and olive oil.

Key Takeaways

  • Curing beef develops unique flavors and textures while extending its shelf life.

  • Salt, sugar, spices, and curing salts containing nitrites or nitrates are essential ingredients.

  • Basic curing techniques include wet brining, dry rubbing, and air drying.

  • Corned beef and pastrami are made from brisket cured in a brine solution.

  • Beef jerky is made from raw beef that is sliced, spiced, and slowly dehydrated.

  • Bresaola is made from dry salt-cured beef that is air dried.

  • Allow ample time for curing and drying beef for food safety.

  • Store cured beef properly refrigerated or frozen to maximize its long shelf life.

With some basic ingredients and a bit of patience, you can achieve delicious cured beef at home. Experiment with different cuts, spices, woods for smoking, and lengths of time to find your favorite cured beef recipes.

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What are the methods of curing beef?

Cure type
Time period
Dry sugar cure
1 oz/lb
7 days/inch
Cover pickle cure
9 days/inch
12 days/inch
Injection cure (8 to 15%)
7 days/inch

How long does it take to cure beef?

The Curing Process. The old-fashioned way to cure meat simply involves completely covering the meat with salt for one to five days. The size of the piece of meat and the curing method you choose will determine how long the process takes.

How to make cured beef at home?

Dry curing: The most traditional dry curing method involves submerging a piece of meat in a container of salt (and occasionally other herbs and whole spices) for an extended period. Moisture leeches out of the meat during the salting process, preserving the ingredient while cultivating an intensely savory flavor.

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