How to preserve meat with salt

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question,” how to preserve meat with salt”, and discuss the different methods used to preserve meat with salt.

How to preserve meat with salt?

Meat can be preserved by curing with salt in 2 techniques – Salting and brining.

Both these techniques use a high content of salt to draw out water and preserve the meat. The main purpose of salting is to separate water from the meat and replace it with salt. Thus, the water concentration in meat decreases. Chlorine and sodium ions are carried from brine to meat, and water dipoles are carried from fish to the environment (1).

Some popular meat items preserved with salt include beef jerky, ham and corned beef.

How does salting and brining preserve meat?

Curing is an ancient technique that is still being used to preserve meat. Curing is the process of adding a high content of salt to the meat, followed by drying.

The salt draws out water by osmosis which in turn reduces the growth of microbes. Common salt does not display antimicrobial action, but its capacity to reduce water activity values (aw) in foods slows down or even interrupts vital microbial processes. A high salt concentration generates changes in cellular metabolism because of its osmotic effect, which influences microorganisms in different concentrations (2).

High salt content directly destroys some pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism.

The mass transfer mechanism in meat salting has two principal fluxes. First, water is lost in food pieces because of the osmotic phenomena. Secondly, water flows from lower salt concentration zones (inside food) to higher salt concentration zones (outside food), dissolving salt, which goes inside food pieces, penetrating the lower salt concentration contained therein (2).

Meat must be allowed to cure by sun-drying or another technique of dehydration. Cured meat has a shelf-life of about 3 months when refrigerated.

What type of salt is used for salting and brining

Sodium chloride or table salt is the main salt used for preserving meat. Other salts used are nitrites and nitrates. It is necessary to use nitrites and nitrates as they prevent the fat tissues in the meat from oxidizing and becoming rancid. The principles of preservation by using nitrates are different and involve chemical preservation rather than salting. Partial substitution of sodium by potassium, calcium or magnesium has an antimicrobial effect on pathogens; however, a reduction of NaCl directly affects growth of fungi and pathogens (2).

How to prepare meat for salting and brining?

Wash the meat properly: Wash the meat in running water to remove contaminants. Washing will also help to cool down the meat.

Use lean meat: Salting and brining works better on lean meats. Lean meats have a low quantity of fat. The salt can penetrate the fat tissue and reach the meat. If high-fat meats are used, the fat tissues will act as a barrier to the salt solution and the meat may become rancid. You can also remove the extra fat tissues when butchering. Fish should be removed from skin and scales, thus they could be a source of microbial contamination as well as lower the salt diffusion (1).

Let the meat cool down: cooling down the meat will reduce enzyme actions that cause the meat to spoil.

How to preserve meat by brining

Meat can be preserved by curing in a brine solution followed by sun-drying. If sun-drying cannot be done, meat can be smoked, dehydrated or grilled after brining. By salting using a brine, the raw material is placed in saturated brine, which reduces salting time because of the pre-solubilisation of salts (2). However, a study compared fish salting using salt or brine. Results showed that the quality was lower in fish treated with brine salting method, and pH value and microbial values were higher when compared to dry salting (1).

  • Prepare the meat and cut it into strips of around ½ inch thickness.
  • Prepare a solution of brine with 14% concentration.
  • Place the meat strips in the brine solution.
  • Allow the meat strips to soak for about 5 minutes.
  • Drain the meat strips by placing them in a colander.
  • Hang the meat strips in a line and sun-dry them. Sun-drying will take about 3 days. If sun dying cannot be done, grill the meat in a smoker at 100-120 degrees Fahrenheit. Grilling can take from 12- 24 hours.

How to preserve meat with dry salt

You could also cure the meat with dry salt instead of a salt solution. Spices can be rubbed on the meat before salt to enhance the flavor.

  • Prepare the meat. You do not have to cut meat into thin slices for this method.
  • Rub spices and herbs on the meat if needed. Spices such as rosemary, sage and mustard can be used.
  • Next, rub the meat with salt. The ratio of salt needed is 1 ½ cups of salt per pound of meat. Apply half of this salt into the meat.
  • Hang the meat to dry in a room with a temperature of 35 and 50 degrees F. Allow the meat to dry for about 5 days.
  • Apply the remaining salt to the meat.
  • Hang the meat dry for another few days.

Tips for preserving meat with salt

  • Be sure to use the recommended amount of salt.
  • Use the correct temperature for curing. The optimum temperature for curing varies with the type of meat.
  • When sun-drying the meat, use a mesh or a net to protect the meat from insects.
  • When curing in a room, make sure that three is good ventilation. Make sure that insects cannot enter the room through doors and windows.
  • Make sure that the meat is cured at room temperature for the correct number of days. It takes about 5 days to cure meat on one-inch thickness with no bones. If the meat has bones, it will take about 7 days per one-inch thickness.

Drawbacks of preserving meat with salt

The major disadvantage is the high salt content. 

Cured meat has a very high sodium content. High sodium content has been linked to cardiovascular disease and hypertension. The average total daily sodium intake per individual in developed countries is 4–5 g of Na (10–12 g of NaCl), which is up to 25 times greater than the minimum adult requirement (0.5 g of NaCl). Therefore, the need to reduce salt intake has serious public health implications (2). 

There are health concerns over cured meat. The nitrites and nitrates in curing salts have been associated with certain cancers.

Other FAQs about Salt that you may be interested in.

How to Know if a Compound is a Salt

Does Molly Taste Like Salt

How to heal cavities with salt?


In this brief guide, we answered the question,” how to preserve meat with salt”, and discussed the different methods used to preserve meat with salt.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.


  1. Binici, Arzu, and Gülderen Kurt Kaya. Effect of brine and dry salting methods on the physicochemical and microbial quality of chub (Squalius cephalus Linnaeus, 1758). Food Sci Technol, 2017, 38, 66-70. 
  2. Albarracín, William, et al. Salt in food processing; usage and reduction: a review. Int J Food Sci Technol, 2011, 46, 1329-1336.