If you are interested in preserving meats, you will want to source the best ingredients for dry curing meats. The following are descriptions of the ingredients you may need, as well as what to look for when purchasing ingredients.
Choose the best quality ingredients you can find. You will want meat that is as fresh as possible in order to minimize initial bacterial levels. You could use grocery-store meat, but mass-produced, grain-fed meat will not give you the same quality of flavor (or nutrient profile) as an animal that came from a smaller, better-managed farm. Ideally, look for an animal that has had access to pasture, clean conditions, and has spent time in the sun. To find better quality meats, ask around at your butcher, buy online, or buy directly from a farmer. Higher quality meats can be more affordable if you are willing to buy half or whole animals, and especially if you are willing to learn how to process and package the animal yourself. Pork is the most common meat used. In a sausage, other meats may be combined, often with the addition of back fat or pork belly from the pig, for a higher fat content.
Fat is flavor. You will want a quality source of fat, just as you want a quality source of meat. If you are making sausage, it is common for a recipe to call for added fat. Pork gives the tastiest source of fat, though even within a pig, there are different options. Back fat is the very best, as it is hard and firm and has a high melting point. Make sure that you are using fresh back fat, rather than salted back fat. Pork belly is also an option, though it is softer and is more likely to smear. Beef fat is also a possibility. If there are no sources of fat available to you, choose a fattier cut of meat to ferment in your sausage.
Table salt (sodium chloride) is a key ingredient in cured meats. Choose a salt that has no anti-caking agents and is non-iodized. Kosher salt often fits the bill.
Sodium Nitrite/Sodium Nitrate
Also known as pink salt, this is the stuff that gives your meat its pleasant pink color (think corned beef color as opposed to roast beef color). It also changes the flavor of the meat and protects against bacteria (notably botulism). Pink salt is also literally pink, as a dye is added to differentiate it from table salt (definitely don’t use it in place of table salt—it can be dangerous if ingested accidentally). There are two types here, and they are not interchangeable. Please be aware: if a recipe calls for pink salt, you must use it. This is an important safety issue, and your fermented sausages will not be safe to eat without it.
- Cure #1 (also known as Insta-Cure #1, or DQ Curing Salt) is a mixture of table salt and 6.25% sodium nitrite. It is used in meats that will be cooked.
- Cure #2 (also known as Insta-Cure #2, or DQ Curing salt #2) is a mixture of table salt, 6.25% sodium nitrite, and 4% sodium nitrate. It is used in raw dry-cured meats that will cure over a longer time period. The sodium nitrate breaks down over time to form sodium nitrite.
Several types of casings are available, both natural and synthetic. You will want a casing that allows moisture to permeate through it. Casings with smaller diameters (such as sheep casings) will dry faster than those with larger diameters. Therefore, making your first fermented sausage with sheep casings may give you a greater chance for success. We generally recommend beef middles for fermented sausages, and protein-lined collagen casings for whole muscles, (or hog bladders if you can get them).