Curing salt, as the term itself implies, is a particular kind of salt used specifically for curing meat. While some people may use regular table salt, curing salt is designed specifically for this process, and it is a much more effective option.
In case you’re new to the curing process, or you’re looking for more information, you may wonder if curing salt has any adequate replacements. The answer is yes, and we’ve gathered the best options into a detailed guide.
Keep on reading to learn more about curing salt, its types and uses, as well as the best curing salt substitute!
The best substitutes for curing salt
The main role of curing salt is to cure and preserve food, which is also the main difference between curing salt and table salt we use in our everyday cooking.
While regular, table salt is almost 100% sodium chloride, in curing salt you usually get a mix of sodium chloride (table salt) and sodium nitrite. In most curing salt, you’ll find the ratio of 94% table salt and 6% sodium nitrite.
There are different types of curing salt on the market, but perhaps the most common one is pink curing salt which contains a characteristic red dye that gives it that pinkish hue. The main purpose of this coloring is to make it easier to distinguish between curing and table salt.
The main purpose of curing salt is to preserve the quality of the meat and also to prevent any spoilage that may occur due to exposure to fungus or bacteria. Curing salt is mostly used in sausages, as well as when curing pastrami, bacon, ham, and corned beef.
Curing salt is also known under different names such as pink salt, InstaCure, and Prague powder. However, it is important to distinguish between pink curing salt and pink Himalayan salt, as the latter does not have the curing properties we’ve mentioned.
Another important piece of information regarding pink curing salt is that it is not safe for consumption in its raw form. The sole purpose of this salt is meat curing, and the toxins vanish during the curing process, so it cannot be used in place of table salt.
The nitrite in the curing salt, which preserves the meat, is converted into nitric oxide in the curing process, which is 100% safe for human consumption. Therefore, there’s no risk of any side effects when using this kind of salt in meat curing.
Curing salt is usually classified into two main types: cure No. 1 and cure No. 2. For all curing methods that require cooking, canning, smoking, or brining, you’re going to use cure No.1. This entails pates, corned beef, fish, bacon, ham, and similar products.
Cure No. 2, on the other hand, is the curing salt you’ll choose for dry-cured meat products, including dry sausages, hard salami, pepperoni, prosciutti ham, and basically any product that requires no cooking as a part of the curing process.
Without further ado, let’s jump right into the best pink curing salt alternatives!
Saltpeter, also known as cooking curing salt, is essentially an ionic salt, and it is a rich source of nitrogen. It is mainly used as a food preservative, but it has numerous other uses, as it can be found in fireworks and fertilizers.
Saltpeter is basically potassium nitrate, and it is commonly used for salted, cured meats. As a curing salt alternative, it is certainly one of the most reliable since it has been used in this process since the Middle Ages.
Saltpeter is commonly used for corned beef, as well as a food additive as a preserving agent. It can also serve as a food thickening agent, especially in African cuisine. Since it softens food, saltpeter is also used to reduce the cooking time of meats and beans.
2. Celery powder
Since celery powder is very rich in nitrate (an element very close to nitrite, which is the essence of the curing powder of pink salt) it is no wonder it can be used for curing different kinds of meat.
Celery powder is often used for curing different kinds of sausages and deli turkey. Since it is an organic, natural curing salt, it may be a healthier substitute for the store-bought, manufactured curing salt such as pink salt.
Celery powder is produced from fresh celery sticks which have been dehydrated, concentrated, and then ground into fine powder. Not only is it used for food preservation, but also for coloring, seasoning, and disinfecting.
3. Non-iodized sea salt
When it comes to non-iodized sea salt, it basically means that no iodine has been added to this salt. Iodine is a chemical compound that humans are unable to manufacture on their own, which is one of the reasons it is added to the regular table salt we use.
Iodine is used to fortify the regular salt we use in cooking every single day. On the other hand, pure non-iodized salt is just sea salt without any additions or processing. While it is usually rough and chunky, some brands may create a finer texture.
Sea salt is a great choice for seasoning all your foods, especially when added to dry rubs and baked goods, as it creates a salty texture on top of the food. While it may not be the best curing agent, it will still preserve the quality of the food longer than the regular salt.
4. Himalayan salt
As we already mentioned, Himalayan salt often has a pinkish shade similar to pink curing salt, which can make it hard to distinguish between the two. While the curing salt cannot be used in regular cooking applications, Himalayan salt is very commonly used in households.
Himalayan salt is great for culinary techniques using high temperatures, as it holds up well in this kind of condition. It is ideal for baking, grilling, and even deep-frying, but you can use it for other cooking methods, as well.
This type of salt can be used as a substitute for pink curing salt if you’re simply looking to slightly prolong the shelf life of your foods. For actual curing purposes, you will need to use some of the alternatives we’ve mentioned above.
When it comes to this curing salt substitute, it is clear that you’ll have to add salt additionally for flavoring purposes. However, as far as the curing process is concerned, vinegar is surely a common choice in meat processing.
As you may know, vinegar is often used in meat marinades, since its acidity has been found to tenderize the meat and therefore shorten the cooking process. Since vinegar contains hydrogen ions, it has the ability to turn even the toughest meat into soft, tender cuts.
While vinegar isn’t used for actual meat curing, it can certainly be used in the meat preparation process, especially when working with tougher pieces of meat. What’s more, vinegar will also enhance the flavors and add a unique acidic aroma to your meat products.
6. Kosher salt
Kosher salt may not be as powerful as pink curing salt, but it is quite similar to non-iodized sea salt in this process. It has been used for food preservation for centuries, especially in pickled foods, but for meats, as well.
Kosher salt is non-iodized just like regular sea salt, and it is safe for consumption both for conventional uses and curing purposes. It is actually one of the most commonly used types of salt for food seasoning and baking.
It is also an excellent choice for meat brining, as it has been shown to make the meat softer and more flavorful. Use one cup of kosher salt for every gallon of water to make the brining mixture, and refrigerate your meat in this mixture overnight.
7. Raw sugar
Even though it may not be the most obvious answer, raw sugar is definitely a great choice when it comes to food preservation. Raw sugar, also known as turbinado sugar, is a natural curing agent extracted from the sugar cane juice, without the molasses.
Raw sugar is an excellent solution for meat curing, especially when it comes to cuts such as pork belly bacon. For an extra punch of sweetness, you can combine it with maple syrup. Besides the flavor, it will also enhance the aroma and give the bacon a beautiful golden color.
How to choose a curing salt substitute
Curing salt is, without a doubt, the best ingredient to use when it comes to curing meat. However, the alternatives we’ve discussed can do a pretty decent job in food preservation, while some of them can replace curing salt in the actual curing process.
The top two options for meat curing if you don’t have any curing salt are saltpeter and celery powder. Both of these curing salt substitutes are extremely powerful, so you can expect similar results.
Options such as non-iodized sea salt, Himalayan salt, and Kosher salt can do a decent job when it comes to preserving the quality of the food, but they’re not as powerful as curing salt in meat curing.
Go with vinegar if your main concern is tenderizing the meat and preparing it for the actual curing process. Raw sugar, on the other hand, is a pretty efficient curing agent, and you should definitely give it a shot, especially if you enjoy a sweet glaze over your bacon.