This was the first post I had done on my blog and I rushed thru it. I have had many requests to get more detailed and show where you can get the pieces parts to make your own cure chamber. Let me say this first, I got all of the ideas for my project here from people around the virtual world! Jason over at Cured Meats and Matt over at Wrightfood. These guys paved the way for me, and I have relied on their advise as well. So here we go.
In order to cure meat you have to be able to control three conditions, Temperature, Humidity, and Air flow. We will dive into each condition separately and see what we can do at home to control this.
Temperature- This must be very well controlled. Above 60F bacteria tends to grow to fast. (yes bacteria is needed in making fermented sausages they are a good thing). We want to keep the temperature between 50F and 60F. If you get to cold and below 50F the curing process will be to slow meaning that it will take much longer for proper water loss. Some people will be lucky enough to be able to use the corner of the basement for charcuterie, with me living in Memphis I defiantly need to have a cooler area.
Humidity- The majority of curing is done between 70% RH(relative humidity) and 75% RH. Below the 70% mark and you run the risk of case hardening, where the outside of your meats or salumis dry out way to fast, leaving moisture trapped inside the meat and tending to spoil and make people not feel so good. If the humidity is to High your meat will not dry out and you run the risk of funky molds. White mold good, colorful mold bad.
When an item first hits your cure chamber you will see that the humidity will rise due to the meat having a higher water content. Most people will have to ad moisture to the air instead of removing it, a cool mist humidifier is perfect for this.
Air flow- A little airflow is critical here. If you do not have airflow the dank air in the cure chamber will not be moving around and helping the surface moisture dissipate. It will also prevent the bad molds from forming, the green, blue, and black molds. What I have done is to cut a 4in diameter hole in the front of my cure chamber, and a small hole in the bottom left side to encourage airflow around my meat.
So how does the average person put this plan into motion. Unless you live in southern Italy, or have a cool dank basement, you are going to have to build yourself a cure chamber.
First order of business is to acquire a Chamber. You can probably get a used one on Craig's list, or at a yard sale, but since I run an appliance store I opted to get a new 14cuft Freezer. Make sure what ever you get is a frost free model. Below you will see a picture of the Fridge before I broke out the Dremel tool and voided my warranty forever!!
I removed all of the shelves and got ready to get creative. The definition of a freezer is that it freezes. Duh I know. So the first order of business is to control the temperature. Remember we need to keep the temperature between 55F and 60F. The controller I settled on was recommended by Matt. It is made for working with Home brewing. It has a great external thermocouple to mount inside of the chamber. Set the Temperature for 57F and you are good to go. This unit gets plugged into the wall, and your chamber then in turn gets plugged into it. When ever it is activated your chamber will activate. You can order this unit here.
The next step is controlling humidity. There are a couple different ways to control humidity, in almost all cases you will have to add humidity instead of removing it. The way a fridge or freezer works, is that it pumps cold very dry air into your cure chamber, the opposite of what we need. What some people do is put a bowl of salty water in the chamber. It can be that simple if you are lucky but it is not very accurate. The salt in the water prevents bacteria from growing in the water. But I was not going to risk losing my fancy pork treats to a bowl of water so I decided to get a humidity controller (hygrostat) and a humidifier. This will set you back a few dollars. The humidity controller works very much like the temperature controller, you set the dial to the humidity you like and the controller turns on whatever is plugged into it.
Here is the Hygrostat by Dayton that I purchased. Easy part here is that any thing that is plugged into it will turn on when the hygrostat is activated. This is going to take care of our humidity and airflow. What I did is purchase a cool mist humidifier, a very simple one that just has an on and off dial and oh yeah it looks like a little piggy!! Gotta love it. And also plugged in a small fan, so when the humidifier turns on the fan turns on to cycle the air through out the chamber. I did all of this by wiring a pig tail to an outdoor rated plug and box. I cut a 1.5 in hole in the bottom left side of the unit and ran the pigtail thru there. This will ensure my door closes properly and that I get airflow. Below you will see the completed cure chamber with some tasty treats in it. Notice that I used a louvered vent for a dryer on the outside of the fridge, that way if I don't think it is getting the proper airflow I can adjust the vent.