Safely Drying Meat and Sausage

With more and more people air-drying meat having seen programmes like those by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall (HFW) there seems to be a very blasé attitude sneaking in on many forums regarding the production of air dried sausage and meats.

The, "well they've been doing it for centuries in Italy/Spain etc without sophisticated equipment" brigade, and the, "well they have them hanging in bars in Italy/Spain, so they must be safe" camp.

What they say may be true, but we do not have the same conditions as those people, nor do we have the accumulated knowledge of generations of forebears on our side, so we need to be cautious in what we do for reasons that I hope will become clear.

By the way, the meat above the bar abroad will be perfectly safe - once meat has dried sufficiently bacteria won't live in it - but only after it's dried, not during it's production.

Anyone wanting to read in detail about the safeguards needed when air drying meat or sausage will find some of the best information available here.

In this summary of the website we can see that we need to protect against the growth of bacteria by:

  • Using meats with a low bacteria count. We can't assess this at home but can:
    • Buy the freshest meat and keep it cold.
    • keep our tools and work environment clean.
    • keep the meat as cold as possible when making the product.
  • Cure the meat properly
    • Adding the correct amount of salt.
    • Using sodium nitrite and nitrate which protect against Clostridium botulinum, the most toxic poison known.
  • Increase the acidity of the meat to discourage bacterial growth - lower the PH
    • Using a starter, or other methods, to increase acidity and produce beneficial bacteria.
  • Reduce the amount of water available for bacteria to breed - lower water activity (Aw)
    • By careful drying at the correct temperature and humidity

Smoking the meat, which also dries it and provides a surface protection against bacteria may also be used.

The first of these hurdles I hope is self explanatory, if you don't feel that it's necessary maybe you should take up skydiving instead of sausage-making!

The second has caused much debate recently with scares about the use of nitrite and nitrate, but we also know that salt alone will not protect against Clostridium botulinum unless used at unpalatable levels. The scares have mainly been related to meat cooked at high temperatures, and given that the amounts of nitrite/nitrate used in modern recipes are lower than those naturally occurring in many vegetables, my opinion is that they should be used. The advantages far out-weigh the disadvantages.

Increasing the acidity - lowering the PH of the meat is generally done by producing lactic bacteria in the meat. In sausage the addition of a small amount of glucose will assist this process as will the use of a commercially produced lactic bacteria starter. HFW achieves the same effect using acidophilus (from health food shops) which contains similar bacteria. This is usually combined with an incubation/fermentation period at a higher temperature and humidity. Ingredients such as wine and vinegar, in some sausages, will assist.

Drying the meat sounds easy, but should be done in a specific environment. Many people dry it outside during the cooler parts of the year and this is fine, but given the fluctuations in temperature we have been getting in recent years, it's not always as safe as it once was. What is needed is a temperature of around 12°C - 15°C. We also want a Relative Humidity (RH) of between 60% and 85% (depending on type of product), and some air flow. We need to achieve an environment where the meat dries steadily, not too fast, not too slow. Drying too fast or dry, can lead to a problem with 'case hardening' where the outside dries before moisture can escape from the middle leading to a spoiled, or at least an inferior product

Having searched high and low for a suitable environment I came to the conclusion that my only option would be to create a purpose built drying chamber. Discussions on the sausagemaking.org forum and other research have led me to Convert a Fridge into a Curing Chamber.


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There are eight comments

andrej

Hi to the creator of the blog. Very nice blog and set-up. I have done similar and it works well. However, i bought on of those hygrostats you have and have had nothing but problems with it. I got it switching and juiced but it was far too under reactive and slow to switch, meaning it turned off humdifier too late and left de-humid on too long etc. I thus got huge swings either way in humidity.ws very very annoyed with it.

I must ask you this out of interest. I can only see from your photo the 3 terminals on the unit and not what else you have done….but you seem to have an earth, live and neutral going into that hygrostat. How did you make it work with that wiring? In the instructions they say three lives …..one mains, one from input1 and/or 1 from input two. I had my inputs and mains going to a connector, with the neutrals joined up to form a cirrcuit, earths connected and then the three lives going from that connector to the unit. Im not saying anyone is right or wrong, just bemused by my effforts and what you seem to have done.

Also in the instructions they go n about a housing , casing unit being required….implying that the unit as bought is not safe in itself. They are mad..cos a casing, unless vented, would defeat the object of the sensors and/or make its impossible to get to the dial. etc etc. I found the terminals on the unit very difficult to fix down properly on to the wires and they easily came out, even when fixed firmly. That would be massively dangerous in a steaming unit, if a live came out!!

I have gotr a refund on mine and gone a different route for similar money. Id be interested to know a bit more about your methods because its bugging me that i didnt get a good result. Might well be down to me and my actions, not sure.

Hope yr unit is serving you well and the sausgae are good.

Best

Andrej

andrej, - 22-11-’11 12:41
Phil

Hi Andrej
I too found that this hygrostat was unsuitable. I now use a digital one. You can see it in this post – http://www.localfoodheroes.co.uk/?e=575 The hygrostats are from http://www.forttex.com/ and can also be found occasionally on ebay. They’re inexpensive and very responsive, I’ve found them to be very good.

I’ll get around to writing about my current set-up sometime.

Happy curing.

Phil, (URL) - 22-11-’11 17:21
andrej

Hi, thats very funny…cos i bought two of the same hygrostats an hour or two before i wrote here….yr new setup is almost identical to the one im planning next week. I was saddened that i couldnt find a unit that did both hum/de-humid, much like the thermostat model..but hey whatever. I bought my thermostat long ago from fortex and its brilliant. This time i saw the hygrostat on ebay initially, recognized the styling and thought “wayhay”, then bought from hongkong cos it worked out a lot cheaper. Same units though. I like what you are doing and we seem to be doing similar things and coming to similar conclusions. Id love to chat more about how you are finding yr set up etc…please , if you wish, email me to (Email removed for privacy). Id be delighted to compare notes and ideas etc. Im presuming you are uk based.

cheers

andrej

andrej, - 24-11-’11 23:21
Phil

Andrej

I’m happy to compare notes, either by email, or preferably on the http://www.sausagemaking.org forum where I am known as Wheels. It’s at:

http://forum.sausagemaking.org/

P.S. I’ve removed your email address so that you don’t get lots of Spam emails.

Phil, (URL) - 25-11-’11 20:38
Sam

What about using a poultry incubator you can find them fully automated with humidity control

Sam, - 13-07-’14 20:03
Phil

My apologies for the delay in replying.
I’m sure that an adaption of an incubator would be possible Sam. It would probably be best with one that controls temp and humidity.
It’s something to consider if you have a spare one, or can source a secondhand one cheaply, but maybe a bit expensive for many if it had to be bought new.
Please let me know if you attempt it – I’d love to see photos.

Phil, - 20-07-’14 12:38
Nobby

Hi folks.could you please help with my charcutetie drying issue.
I have some gianciala,lamb pancetta,salted backfat and salted pigs tails hanging in the local pub cellar.it has airflow from the cooling fan and mainans a temp of 11c.humidity is high due to beer splashing on the floor when the barrels are primed.
Everything seemed to be going to plan.my giancala was hardening with signs of a nice pelicle and the pancetta with curing salt was hard.my pigs tails cured by salt immersion method were rock hard.then when I checked recently everything was soft and seemed a lil soggy(its all ceiling hung).I checked the humidity with a simple meter at 85.
Will they redry safely and should I move them closer to the fan?.I’m afraid I don’t have scales so can’t log weight loss..I thought maybe dosing them with bactoferm?but is this only for salami?
Thanks for any help fellas.
Nobby.

Nobby, - 13-12-’16 12:50
Phil

Hi Nobby,

There are many things that this could be, but more details are needed to solve the problem/advise.

Please post the problem at http://forum.sausagemaking.org so that it can be discusseed fully.

Phil, - 14-12-’16 14:54

I'm somewhat incapacitated at present so replies may take some time. Please post urgent enquiries at the www.sausagemaking.org forum.

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