How to Brine a Ham

That ham is from an uncut boar and a delicious Easter Ham he was. The first bite was mouth watering ecstasy. A true soothing of the pallet and soul as my taste buds gave thanks for this pig I had grown. His life enriched my family’s life, both in his living and his eating. He is a truly appropriate feast with which to celebrate this day as he rose again after brining to bake.

These hams and two sides of bacon have been brining for the two weeks. We are fortunate to live inside a giant cooler, and for many months a year, a giant freezer. In the shed at the far end of the house the temperature stays a nice 40F for much of the year. This is where we hang the sides of meat we slaughter for our own consumption and then store the pails of brining hams and bacons. These temperatures mean that I can let meat hang and brine for long periods which brings out its greatest flavor.

About this time of year the cooler starts to warm as the world warms into spring. This is a time when having a modern electric cooler walk-in would make a big difference in how we do things. But I don’t have one.

I do have an alternative in my plans. We get our water from a spring up the mountain from the house. That spring is an almost constant 45°F or so year round. In the summer it is deliciously cool. In the winter it warms the ground and melts the snows around it for a long distance in all but the harshest weather. This is the spring that fed the ice sculpture all winter. It also watered the pigs, sheep & chickens and provides us with our household water as well as water for all of our gardens. Later it flows to the upper and lower ponds where it nourishes frogs and many other denizens as well as cooling pigs and little boys in the summer. Ultimately if flows down to the marshes and then down the valley to join the Waites River, the Conneticut River and finally the Atlantic Ocean. Someday I hope to give this water flow another job, keeping an earth sheltered spring house cool through the warm months. Until then I’m only makin’ bacon during the colder months of the year.

The modern way of doing hams and bacon is to send it out to a smoke house where they’ll cure it for you in their massive electric cooler and then smoke it, preferably with maple syrup. That is rather expensive. I have sent meat there for customers but for our own needs I use a bit simpler method. We brine the hams and bacon in clean five gallon plastic pails. Perhaps someday I’ll experiment with smoking but that is for another year.

In brining, plastic pails are important. They are easy to sterilize with a bleach wash, have snap on lids with gaskets that make a good seal and the plastic does not corrode with the lengthy contact with the salts in the brining solution. You can get good food grade plastic five to seven gallon pails at many restaurants and bakeries. Be sure to do a good job of cleaning the buckets and their lids. I scrub with hot water and soap until they look spotless, then triple rinse. I then wash the lids with a bleach solution. Lastly I put about half a gallon of hot water in them with a strong bleach solution (1/4 cup) and snap the clean lid on tight. I tumble this around a little and let it sit until I’m ready to use it. This keeps it clean and sterile enough.

The brine I use is a variation of one I found on an excellent web site that has vanished. I make a few changes, the most important being that he uses Prague #1 Cure in his brine and I skip that. It contains Sodium Nitrate and Red Dye #3 which I would rather not have in my family’s food and can skip for home cooking since we’re not doing long term storage. The purpose of the nitrate is the long term storage. The purpose of the red dye is simply to make it look different from regular table salt which it could otherwise be easily confused with.

Let me be more specific: Sodium Nitrate is a poison. It is found in much higher concentrations in many common vegetables like spinach, celery and even your own saliva. It is supposed to poison things to preserve them. This is not a judgement – it is just what it does. That is how it cures the meat and kills bacteria to prevent botulism. The amount used in curing hams and other things is very, very tiny – way below the lab rat threshold that causes cancer. Some studies link some nitrate/nitrite to preventing stomach cancer.

I would rather not use either in our meats more than necessary.[1] I grew up in the era when nitrates and nitrites were labeled as cancer causing. Research shows that many vegetables like spinach, celery and such have far higher levels of nitrates than were ever used in meats.[2, 3] Recent studies show that some levels are actually good for us and prevent stomach cancer and possibly other cancers.[4] I expect that we’ll learn more in the coming years about the relationships between these things. for thousands of years we have used nitrates/nitrites to prevent botulism and other food poisoning. The jury in my mind is still out. I prefer not having them in my food or to at least minimize them. See this article about How to Brine a Ham for how we brine at home without nitrates or nitrites. See this page for more interesting discussion on this topic. With our hot dogs, kielbasa and other sausages we have no nitrates or nitrites. The smokehouse who does our bacon and hams does use a minimal amount of sodium nitrate in them. There is also a ‘natural’ celery juice cure that some smokehouses use which I may look into but that is in truth nitrates so don’t be fooled by labels that claim no nitrates but then list celery powder or celery juice. Truth is, celery, spinach and other vegetables have far, far higher levels of nitrites/nitrates than hot dogs, ham or bacon.

This is a topic that can be quite confusing. It seems prudent not to use it in our meat if we’re not aiming for the long term unrefrigerated storage given that we are trying to produce healthy food for our families. Thousands of years ago it was developed because people didn’t have refrigeration. I’ll continue to read the research and until it gets more resolved I’ll just skip the Prague Cures.

Update 2017-12-23: Over the last year I’ve been experimenting with celery powder. Most of them on the market give wildly different nitrate/nitrite levels but there are metered versions. I like the flavor that results and the meat is red – after all this is nitrates/nitrites. So that is an option for those who want a ‘natural’ source.

Another ingredient of the Prague #1 Cure is Red Dye #3 which has been linked to breast cancer. Again, something I would rather not have in our food. The dye is there to warn you that the pink salt is not regular salt because if you used it in the same manner as regular salt it could kill you. Too much of a possibly good thing. Thus the red color.

In my personal opinion, if you are going to eat the hams soon, possibly refrigerating, or will freeze them, then you do not need the ‘cure’ part of the recipe. I have been brining without that ingredient and am very pleased with the results. It will be a grey color rather than the rosy pink of commercial hams.

Another change is I don’t have Pickling Spice per say. Rather I spice to taste. For lamb I use thyme. For ham and bacon I use cloves and black pepper. Spice to suite your tastes. Experiment. If you have it I would suggest adding one cup of maple syrup for bacon. If not I would recommend adding an extra cup of brown sugar.

Brine Recipe

  • 3 gallon Water
  • 3 cup Pickling Salt (I have also used table salt)
  • 1 cup Sugar / maple syrup / brown sugar (to taste)
  • 2 tsp Spice to taste (thyme for lamb, black pepper & cloves for ham)
  • Prague #1 Cure –optional!

    On the Prague, see the instructions that comes with it. From the web site:
    Use 1 oz. of cure for 25 lbs. of meat or 1 level teaspoon of cure for 5 lbs. of meat. Mix cure with cold water.

This does about 30 lbs of meat.

I boil the water to sterilize it as much as possible and to make it better dissolve the sugars. Empty the clean buckets of their sterilizing bleach solution and carefully pour in the hot water. Add the ingredients and stir. Once the ingredients are mixed, cool the brine to 40°F before you add the meat the to the brine.

When you add the meat, make sure it is completely covered by the solution. If you have a large piece of meat, like a ham, you may want to either debone it or inject the solution into the depths of the meat in order to get better penetration. You can get special syringes for doing this and they are worth having. Mine cost only $5 at a local store.

Finally snap the lid on and place the bucket in a cool place (38F to 44F is good) for four days to a week depending on how salty you like your meat. Higher temperatures risk bacteria growth – not good. Lower temperatures cause the brine to stop working. I keep a calibrated thermometer on one of the buckets.

Realize that I am telling you what I do. I’m not advising you on what you should do. I’m not an expert, licensed, certified or anything like that. Making your own cured meat carries a risk of food poisoning and all those nasty sorts of things. You are living life and taking risks. Be careful. Don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. Maintain good sterility and proper temperatures. Wash your hands and surfaces to keep your meat from getting contaminated. If the meat spoils, don’t eat it. If you are unwilling to take these risks for yourself and your family, don’t do it.

All that said, our Easter Ham was most delicious!

“We must become the change we want to see.” -Gandhi

44°F/21°F, Snow in the morning, Sunny.

Note there is the option of using curing salt (Prague #1 Cure) or celery salt (another source of nitrates/nitrites) in many recipes for corning, bacon, ham, etc but that isn’t necessary if you have refrigeration. If you’re just salting for flavor the amount can vary based on your tastes. Cure (Prague or celery) does change the color of the meat making it redder – this is a side effect of the chemical reaction and not due to the red dye used in the Prague. The red dye is to warn people that the nitrate/nitrite salt is not regular salt since a far lower dose can be toxic. The purpose of the toxicity is to kill bacteria. The color change in the meat doesn’t come from the tiny amount of red dye but rather from a chemical change in the meat. The coloration is really just a side effect that people have come to associate with the curing, it isn’t the goal. See:

Curing meat involves adding nitrite or nitrate among other ingredients such as salt, sugar and spices to fresh meat. Most commonly nitrite is added to meat because the cured color reactions occur faster and more reliably than nitrate. The nitrite, usually dissolved in water, causes metmyoglobin to be formed, which causes the meat to turn brown. Eventually, the brownish colored meat will form the cured meat compound, nitrosylhemocrome, when the product is heated. The nitrosylhemochrome is a pink colored pigment that is heat stable. This pink “cured meat” color will continue to be pink when it is cooked as well as if the meat product is reheated multiple times.
Cured Meat Color.

Also see this article on ham brining and this article on USDA cure regulations for more thoughts on the topic of curing.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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131 Responses to How to Brine a Ham

  1. Pingback: A few thoughts on sodium nitrate « pureandsimplelife

  2. Linda says:

    Hi Walter,
    I appreciate your site as there is so little info out there on home brining/curing without nitrates. I have two questions. Is there flexibility in the type of salt used? I have Redmond Real Salt, Celtic Sea Salt and Himilayan Pink Salt. Would any one be best to use or not? Also, instead of sugar or maple syrup, would it work to use honey? We are on a special diet and honey is the only sweetener we are allowed.
    Thanks A Bunch,

    • I have not experimented with different kinds of salts. Each would give it’s own flavor. Honey, maple syrup, cane sugar, molasses, brown sugar, corn syrup are all different sugars, each again with their own flavor, that I know are used in different recipes and regions. If you experiment, please do let us know the results.

  3. ECG says:

    Thanks for this how-to on the ham. I will use it on the bacon too. I would love more recipes from how your family cooks.

  4. Helen says:

    Thanks for the excellent stepbystep of how to do the brining. I’ve been watching your big project progress and look forward to when you get to the smoke house part!

  5. Heather says:


    Thanks so much for an excellent guide to brining + your regular feedback to people writing in – just started a 16 lb boneless ham with your recipe + a variety of herbs tonight – very excited to see how it turns out.

    Since I won’t be using the pink salt, I began researching the alternatives mentioned for coloration. I looked at brown sugar& honey added in after the brining, vitamin C and beet juice. It would appear that:
    – Vitamin C loses most of its antioxidant efficacy when heated. So, it might work fine for the pink coloration, but will not provide much of an antioxidant boost (which just isn’t a big problem, but was interesting to read about.) From a quick review of materials, it would appear that the only cautions would be to make sure that the powder used is not mixed with anything that would turn bad for you in brine or while cooking it and to not use the sodium erythorbate (synthetic vitamin c) form if people eating the ham might have GI sensitivities. I found this pdf on ascorbic acid to be particularly interesting: – especially if you like to get into the chemistry of these things.

    – The brown sugar/honey injection won’t, as the restauranteur mentioned, garner that pink flavor. However, it sounds like a solid and tasty way to get a nice caramel’ish color for people who like a sweeter ham.

    – The beet juice is filled with nitrates. Nitrates turn to nitrites when heated (or acted on by bacteria in our mouths and guts.) So, while beet juice is potentially anti-carcinogenic as well as potentially excellent at improving endurance in the right doses, it would potentially have issues similar to the sodium nitrate that would be compounded by its being heated pre-ingestion – which is basically it might be carcinogenic in large enough amounts. – doubt this matters much, but we do have an awfully large # of sources of nitrates in our diet, so maybe it’s best not to up the cumulative dosing where possible ; – )

    Ham on!,

    • Heather says:

      Quick update on the color agents:
      Not finding any of the synthetic derivatives of Vit C completely to our liking, we ended up simply crushing up 1/2 an orange and tossing that in with the ham a day after the ham had started brining. This worked great. The ham was not bright, supermarket ham shades of red and pink. However, neither was it fully greyed from the salt leaching out the colors. Rather, it looked like a really nice roast, with a very natural shade of pink in the centering, tapering off to greyer edges. (It might of been more pink had we had coloration in mind when first we started to brine, but even starting it a day late, this worked out well.) The 1/2 orange did not particularly effect the flavor, as far as we could tell.

  6. Anna says:

    After using this brine, can the ham then be cold smoked?

    • I’ve never smoked so I can’t speak from experience but my understanding is that is how it is done. Cold smoking is a little tricky as you’re doing it at the temperature bacteria grows so be careful not to develop food poisoning. There is a good book “Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design” by Marianski.

  7. Parandoush West says:

    I am about to attempt my second try at curing a ham for Christmas (last Xmas it was a disaster).

    First of all I am going to use Prague No 1 cure. Say my meat weighs c6.6 lbs. If I use the prague cure at the rate of 1 level teaspoon of cure for 5 lbs. of meat do I need to add any extra normal salt?

    The reason I am asking is that I have been on many sites and some of the recipes call for the use of 1kg of salt mixed into 6.5 litres of water (for a 6.6 lb meat) as well as adding the cure?

    Any advice would be gratefully received.

    From an English lady living in Spain

  8. Shane Smith says:

    I recently purchased a whole pastured hog, we ended up with fresh hams…..I have a smoker and wanted to try and smoke my own, what process do you recomend for me to “cure”/”brine” then smoke and freeze to eat later during the holidays? Thanks for any advice you might have.

    • This article describes how we brine for our home cooking. I have not yet smoked other than a tiny bit of test smoking in the kitchen oven. There is a very good book by Stanley Marianski on this topic that I would recommend. My son would like to learn to smoke and we’re building a smokehouse into our facility for this. In a year or two I hope to have done more.

  9. Annie Low says:

    You are so thoughtfully careful that I am very impressed. I live in Malaysia and want dearly to make my own hams. 4 slabs of belly pork are already in the ‘fridge for 4 more days then I will smoke them. Exciting! The ‘fridge is too cold to store the hams in brine and its too meltingly hot any where else in my house. Air conditioning a room to store the brine plus hame will be a tad costly but if that is what it takes…….. why not, right?

    • You could use a picnic cooler with ice to get the temperature you want. That in an air conditioned room should bring you to the right point. Remember to keep it below 41°F for food safety. A remote thermometer is helpful.

  10. Heather says:

    Dear Walter,

    We were so pleased with how the ham came out that we are thinking of hamming up our family holiday gifts this year. We have people scattered over the place that we’d probably want to send these porcine packages of deliciousness to. Might you have any recommendations regarding the best ways to ship them?

    Heather n Crew

    • Yes! In fact I’ve been experimenting with shipping meat. Get a USPS Priority or Express Mail box and line it with insulation. Pack the frozen meat inside in a plastic bag and put several pounds of dry ice ($2/lb). Tie the bag loosely so the CO2 can escape – you can even poke a small hole in the bag. Don’t tape the box completely shut as the CO2 needs to outgas as the dry ice melts. Caution handling dry ice – of course – as you don’t want to get frost bite. For insulation I have used the pink foam board and I’ve also used that with a metal foil outside it which helps reflect out heat. There’s a special shipping label that goes on the outside to indicate that dry ice is in the package. This has worked very well for us.

      • Heather says:

        Thanks so much, Walter! This sounds very doable. Our extended family’s tummies pay you many happy hammy homages in advance. : – D

        – Heather n’ crew

  11. Heather says:

    Dear Walter,

    Would you recommend leaving the skin on or taking the skin off before brining a cut of ham?


    • I’ve done it both ways and like both. For long dry aging skin on is better. I inject brine through the vascular system. You can get an injector at a cooking store or make your own. I also inject brine along the bone if I leave the bone in. Bone out avoids the problem of bone rot which can happen if the brine doesn’t get in properly.

  12. Trista Sigler says:

    Hi Walter!
    I have read every word on your site. I bought a fresh hind quarter and followed your instructions on brine curing without using nitrites, etc. It is 24 lbs. I put it in the brine in November 23. Is it ok to leave it in for a full month? Timing makes more sense for me to take it out on Dec. 22. I plan on rinsing, smoking and then baking with a glaze.
    Also, can I check it for bacteria before serving it to all my friends and family? I’m nervous…
    Please help!

    • Yes, it is okay for the meat. It will get very salty. You might want to swish it around and possibly change the brine part way through. Be sure the meat stays completely under the brine. A weight on a plate works well to accomplish that. When it comes out of the brine, take a small sliver and cook it up. If it tastes too salty then boil the meat a bit to reduce the salt content before smoking. The resulting broth is a good soup starter.

      I suppose there are some lab tests you could do to test for bacteria. What I do is use my nose and eyes. A proper salt solution and keeping it at the right temperature should do the job fine. Cooking kills any bacteria so then any concern would only be toxins produced by bacteria like botulism but they are anerobic that come with canning, not brining.

  13. Jacquasha Crawford says:

    i have a fresh ham and no smoker…how do i cook this with the pink color and sweet/salty flavor…help…this is my christmas ham…

  14. Jerry says:

    Walter I am putting my ham in the brine tonight , but will have to take out in about 50 hours so that I can put it in my smoker Christmas Eve to be ready Christmas Day , was wondering how much salt should I use for this short of time and do you think that brining that short of time is OK

  15. Brian G. says:

    Walter I’m confused… Do you add one cup of sugar, one cup of syrup, and one cup of brown sugar?! Do you select one of the three and add a cup of it?

  16. Ken in NH says:

    One question about brining/curing ham. I just sent my second pig to the butcher and will be curing/smoking it myself this time around. I’ve read that there is a period of time (about a week, if I recall) that the meat must sit before curing to allow for a natural process to occur that will allow the meat to “take the cure”. Sorry, I forget the technical name of this process. Is this anything you are familiar with? If so, could you elaborate on the need (or lack thereof) and the time it takes for this process to occur?

    We’ve got quite a bit of coin invested in this pig and some folks have pre-paid for some pork. I’d hate to screw anything up, with this being my first go at it. Thanks!

    • I suspect you may be thinking of the aging. Meat is better if it has had a chance to chill and then age after slaughter and before cutting or any other processing. There is a breakdown in the meat that tenderizes it. We age our pork hanging whole for a week. You might be interested in this article about Hanging Around where I discuss my experiment with aging pork.

      As a general rule I would suggest doing something the first time or few for one’s own table so as to get the experience and get to make the mistakes before selling. Practice makes perfect and all that! :)

  17. Ken in NH says:

    Thanks for the quick response. Yes, I will definitely be doing some trial runs before working any pork that I’ll be selling. In fact, tomorrow I plan on brining and smoking one or two of the chickens I slaughtered this past weekend to test out the smokehouse I just built.

    I went back through countless websites trying to find more info on what my original question was about. Of course, to no avail. Perhaps I was suffering from information overload – where all the bazillion articles I’ve read just sort of melded together in an incomprehensible mess. None-the-less, you’ve put my mind at ease.

    I’ve been going through your pages and learned some things already. My sow (Duroc & ?? X) may be pregnant (from our Landress(sp?) X Yorkshire hog) for the first time. I’ll be looking out for the downward arching back as you described in one of your articles.

    Thanks again!

    • Nice looking smokehouse! Have fun with it. I have never done smoking, other than a little in the kitchen oven. It’s on my to-do list for learning as we’ll be building a big smoker for our on-farm butcher shop – that’s a while down the road.

      I have read several books on smokehouses and the best is Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design which I highly recommend if you’re interested in getting into smoking. Check it out if you don’t already have it. The authors have several other very good books too about sausage, etc.

      For anyone looking to explore smoking I would suggest Build a Smokehouse as a good quick intro.

  18. Rob says:

    We purchased a pig that was butchered; and hams cured. After, tasting the first one cooked, I’m wondering if the butcher had a problem with the brine. The flavor of the ham is less than appealing. Nobody got ill…but something is just not right. May I do something to improve the taste…after it’s been cured and frozen… what recipe might enhance the flavor? Adding a honey glaze? Re-curing?

    • I don’t think that ‘recuring’ would work well although I’ve never tried – just thinking about it. Spicing it may help. When I have oven cooked generic commercial hams I like to do maple syrup, honey or brown sugar on them, additional salt and cloves in a pattern on the surface to bring them to my taste. Perhaps that would help. If the ham is initially too salty then try boiling it to reduce the salt content – non-nitrate/nitrite meats are often saltier than those done with nitrates/nitrites.

  19. Rob says:

    Thanks for the speedy reply… I just found an article on BBQing with indirect heat, apple juice or beer to provide moisture while cooking, and an apricot glaze. None can hurt it that’s for sure!
    Thanks again.

  20. Tim says:

    I’ve been working on creating my own specialty meats lately for my family. And I butchered our first set of pigs this spring. The hams have been in the freezer since then and I’m ready to get them going for Thanksgiving (sorry turkeys!). I used a similar process for corned beef. Brined it for three weeks and changed the brine each week. Then slow cooked it in the last batch of brine. Which was a simmer on low temp for 8 hours. How do you do your cooking step on this ham? Slow cooked? Covered so it steams or no? Any liquid in the bottom? What different ways have you tried cooking the ham and which worked best?

  21. Ray Reynolds says:

    Well, here goes nothing. I just mixed the brine and will add the wild boar hams when it cools.

  22. Allena says:

    wow! What a well written and informative article. Thank you for the time it took to share that.

    I too have raised three red wattled hogs. I’m almost ashamed to eat them as they are SUCH nice tempered pigs and so rare. Since I have to pen them in the freezer they go! We have fed them non gmo natural raised corn(non cert organic) soaked in our extra goat milk. It is supposed to be very good and im grateful we can do it.

    I’m going to try your method and I wondered how the vitimin c worked? I also wondered how much was used etc.

    I wanted to share my favorite glaze, cranberry spice. Take cranberry juice, add cloves, cinnamon and a bit of ginger. A few orange peel pieces and heat it. Add brown sugar and some apple cider vinegar to make a nice sweet and sour taste. Bring to a simmer and add cornstarch mixed with water to thicken. I hope you enjoy it. the amounts are pretty flexible but I never measure anything I make up or i would share that.

    Thanks again!

  23. Rebecca Martinez says:

    Please help! I have a ginormous (my scale only goes to 11 pounds….so bigger than that), whole ham thawing that I was hoping to brine and then smoke. I’ve done chickens and turkeys, and thought it would be similar. Well….now I am scared to death. I don’t want to use cure, but will it still taste like a ham without it? I don’t mind the lack of pink color, but I don’t want a pork roast flavor.

    I am thinking of this:
    Brine using your recipe, in the fridge (only place I have), for a week….including injecting the 10% of weight brine into the interior. Then rinsing and patting dry before smoking.

    • The cure does impart some of the taste but most of the taste comes from smoking, the pork itself, the fat (determined by what the pig ate in its last one to three months), the sugar, the salt and the other spices. If you’ve done chickens and turkeys before you have a good basis.

  24. Farmerbob1 says:

    Found another instance of ‘dizens’ instead of denizens here Walter.

    Good stuff. I suppose you will soon have plenty of meat-hanging space!

    That does bring up a question though. You clearly don’t need to have a USDA inspector on site to process your own meat, but at the same time I can imagine the inspector getting a bit irritated if you process an animal for your own use in the new butchering facility that was built for commercial purposes.

    How is that going to work? Will you just slaughter and butcher for your own use when the inspector is on site, or is there another plan?

  25. Christy says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to post this. Due to a health condition I have to avoid most processed/prepacked foods including ham and Prague, so I was delighted to find your site with instructions on making ham without the Prague.

  26. Andy says:

    I understand why you put a lot of effort into sterilising all your equipment, but how do you make the skin of the pig clean? We gave ours a hot bath, and scraped off the hair, hung it overnight, then cut it up and froze it for later brining. We did our best to keep things clean, but I imagine the skin of the pig is far from sterile.

    • The scalding process is a CCP in the HACCP Plan [1, 2, 3] which sterilizes the pig’s exterior, all of its skin, in addition to scraping off the hairs and the outer millimeter or so of skin. Our pigs are scalded with this machine discussed in the article Stainless Steel Convertible.

      • Andy says:

        That is a very nice piece of kit! It makes me laugh when I think of all the effort we put into scalding the pig in a fire bath, then scraping it down by hand LOL! I just needed one of those shiny things. I’ll proceed with the assumption that we sterilised the pig when we scalded it, until botulism (not necessarily fatal) proves me wrong.

  27. Linda says:

    Thank you for your wonderful information again. My first pig ever just went to butcher and I am excited and nervous at the same time. I was raising him for someone and then she decided she did not want him and I do not need 2 boars. I am worried as she said he HAD to be castrated so he would not have boar taint. I did not have him castrated at the time as 1 I do not know how to and 2 one of my friends said it was not necessary and he was far to old. I have keep him on pasture corn and other goodies, in any case I do not want to spend a lot on the meat as I am not sure it will be good or not as I may want to do a ham for Christmas it was good to see this article and the information about toxins was good to find out. I try to live as chemical free as possible so I will not be adding the cure to my meat if it is ok and does not have taint. If for some reason it does have taint after it is processed is it possible or even reasonable to have to turned into sausage ? I have to waste anything if possible. Even if it has to become dog food for the guardians.

    • Taint is real although not common. Taint is caused by a combination of poor tainty genetics, low fiber feed and confinement raising. Research has shown that using low taint genetics, high fiber diets (e.g., pasture), feeding chicory (a pasture plant) and extensive management or very clean pens all help to reduce taint even in pigs that are genetically predisposed to taint. See this article for more on taint. It is possible to biopsy test live pigs.

      If you do have a pig with taint there are a number of options. The taint is in the fat more than the meat. Discarding the fat and using the lean in a spicy sausage is a traditional method of using tainty meat. It also can be used for dog food. About 25% of the human population can’t smell taint so it isn’t an issue for everyone.

  28. Linda says:

    Thank you for the reply as I had been following your blog all spring and summer my hopes is no taint, the butcher said that it looked like he did not have a lot of fat on him and as he was pastured his whole life not in pens just running around my pastures,( and eghmm everyone else’s fields as I was figuring out pig fencing :) and well fed with no chemical food just corn natural grains and goodies from the kitchen so hopefully I will be brining my own ham’s for Christmas dinner

  29. Brett says:

    Is it ok to freeze the hams first and then brine them later when it is closer to when you want to use them?

  30. martin says:

    I just used this method on a 22lb ham. I did boil afterwards for 1 hr just to lose some of the salt.
    When it was done it does not taste like Ham. It taste like pork.
    Only the outer part taste like ham. I did a good job injecting the brine.
    Why is that?

  31. Michaella Sand says:

    Hi. Thanks for your curing information. After curing, we would like to smoke our ham. Not sure at what temperature to do this and do we smoke it and then bake it, or just smoke it?

    Much Appreciated,

  32. Karen J Barry says:

    Hi Walter, I just ran across this blog. Are you still maintaining and responding to questions? If so, I have a question about the bleach solution that you use in your plastic gallon pails prior to brining: You wrote “Lastly I put about half a gallon of hot water in them (the pails) with a strong bleach solution (1/4 cup) and snap the clean lid on tight. I tumble this around a little and let it sit until I’m ready to use it.” It seems to me that if you just pour out the last of the bleach solution out before adding your brine to begin the process, you’re going to get some of that bleach in the brine. Is this a concern? It seems to me that it would be issue.
    Hoping that you’re still maintaining this blog…I look forward to your response.

    • It’s not a concern. There is almost no bleach left in the container once it is swished out and dumped. The tiny amount in the few drops that adhere to the inside gets diluted and bleach evaporates. What remains is far less than is in water from most people’s taps. If I did an additional rinse would contaminate the container.

    • Farmerbob1 says:

      A lot of restaurants use bleach as a backup sanitizer for their dishwashing. Some use it as a primary sanitizer, though more conventional sanitizers are normally used due to the fact that some people are allergic to bleach.

      Soak -> Wash -> Sanitize

  33. bao hanh may nuoc nong ariston tai tphcm says:

    I used your brine for my bacon. I smoked it it came out great. I left the hams in another 4 days and smoked them for 36 hours at 125 to 155 degrees

  34. Joel says:

    Nice article, thank you.
    I have never personally experimented with my own hams, although, I have made a lot of corned beef.
    I have been using curing salt #1 for years with great results. I have recently run out of salt #1 (have been living in Cambodia for the last 3 years) and was worried about the results. I too, do not want a grey looking piece of meat.
    The lack of salt #1 did not affect the outcome in the flavour (and I lived to tell the tale).
    On my second attempt I followed my usual recipe but added 150ml of Grenadine
    (I think red/rasberry cordial would also work).
    It was fantastic and a beautiful pink meat resulted. I thought this information may be useful to your readers who like a nice pink coloured meat without using curing salt.
    Best regards,

    PS. Excuse my use of the metric system and Australian spelling.

  35. Manuela Tetley says:

    Hi Walter I’m From Australia and would like to brine a ham but want to knowif I leave the skin on or off and also do you have to cook the ham. If not what are the steps after brining. Thank you Manuela

  36. Jason Snell says:

    A good all natural alternative for the red dye is beet juice and/or cherry juice. I find the cherry juice adds a nice flavor to pork (I made my own bacon by smoking a pork belly) and i used it for making corned beef (combination of both). I find the beet juice provides more color but the cherry juice enhances the flavor.

    • The red dye is to warn people that the nitrate/nitrite salt is not regular salt since a far lower dose can be toxic. The purpose of the toxicity is to kill bacteria. The color change in the meat doesn’t come from the tiny amount of red dye but rather from a chemical change in the meat. The coloration is really just a side effect that people have come to associate with the curing, it isn’t the goal. See:

      Curing meat involves adding nitrite or nitrate among other ingredients such as salt, sugar and spices to fresh meat. Most commonly nitrite is added to meat because the cured color reactions occur faster and more reliably than nitrate. The nitrite, usually dissolved in water, causes metmyoglobin to be formed, which causes the meat to turn brown. Eventually, the brownish colored meat will form the cured meat compound, nitrosylhemocrome, when the product is heated. The nitrosylhemochrome is a pink colored pigment that is heat stable. This pink “cured meat” color will continue to be pink when it is cooked as well as if the meat product is reheated multiple times.
      Cured Meat Color

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