Salt Selecting Fundamentals

Start with kosher salt to draw blood out of the meat, use curing salt for cold smoking, and save the artisanal salts for finishing.

Photo by © Keller + Keller Photography

How do you know which kind of salt to use? The first distinction we need to make is between table salt (sodium chloride) and curing salt (sodium nitrate). We’ll focus on table salt first and discuss curing salt next.

For salting meat for smoking and curing, I use either kosher salt or a natural fine white sea salt, simply because they are low in naturally occurring minerals (which could affect the flavor of the cure; look for salt with less than 1 percent other minerals), they don’t have any chemical additives, and they have a consistent grain size (which makes it easier to measure salt in a consistent way). A fine-grain salt will ensure a good, even coating on the meat surface; it also ensures that the salt dissolves evenly and consistently. For this reason, I use a natural fine sea salt that I buy in 50-pound bags from my local food co-op.

What about Kosher Salt?

You may have noticed that many recipes, especially for working with meat, call for kosher salt. It’s called “kosher salt” not because it is kosher, but because it’s used to kosher meat — a process that involves drawing the blood out of the meat. Kosher salt is often called for in cooking with meat because it is a relatively pure salt (only sodium chloride), it has been through a process to remove other minerals, and it doesn’t have iodine added to it (something most other table salts have). Although you don’t need to use kosher salt, you should find a salt that does not have iodine or anti-caking agents added — both of which are common in table salt.

Save the Artisanal Salts for Finishing

Recently, there has been increased interest in artisanal salts from all over the world, with various colors, textures, and flavors: red, black, gray, white, chunky, flaky, round, or flat. These salts are not further processed once they’re mined or harvested (from evaporated sea water). The colors and shapes reflect the various other minerals in the crystals and the natural crystal shapes they form. While these salts are fascinating and fun to use, they’re best used as a finishing salt — to have on the table to sprinkle on a dish once it is cooked and ready to eat. Using artisanal salts on your meats in preparation for smoking is risky, because the naturally occurring minerals found in them can have unexpected effects on your meat. Not only that, the non-uniform shape of the crystals can lead them to dissolve unevenly, which adds more unpredictability to the process.

Photo by © Keller + Keller Photography



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