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Game Meat Sausage: Sodium Nitrate and Potassium Nitrate

Read about the chemical compounds used to cure meat and how to get the right combination to prepare the tastiest dishes from your wild game.

| July 2019

Photo from Adobe Stock/kalpis

Nitrates and nitrites are chemical compounds containing nitrogen and oxygen that are commonly used in curing meat. For thousands of years, salt was used to preserve food and meat products, but today sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and sodium nitrite are the most common preservatives used in processed meats. They are typically added in the first step of the curing process to inhibit bacterial growth; they do this by removing the moisture bacteria could live on and by killing bacteria through dehydration. Sodium nitrate is particularly effective in food preservation and is widely used because it contributes to a longer aging process.

Many recipes that have been handed down through the years call for saltpeter, or potassium nitrate. Most sausage supply companies no longer sell saltpeter, but you may find other commercial products that will achieve similar results, such as Morton Salt’s Tender Quick® mix. It is a fast cure containing 0.5 percent sodium nitrate and 0.5 percent sodium nitrite and is used in some recipes at the ratio of 1 teaspoon per pound of meat or .17 ounces (7 grams).

Photo from Adobe Stock/Diana Taliun

When sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate are added, they alter meat products in three ways: produce a lasting red or pink color; leave a salty flavor; and subtly alter the meat’s texture.

When nitrates or nitrites are combined with fresh meat, a series of reactions occur and nitrite is converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide combines with myoglobin, the pigment responsible for the natural red color in uncured meat. Together, they form nitric oxide myoglobin, which is a deep red color. This will change to a bright pink normally associated with cured and smoked meat when heated during the smoking process.



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