How to Cure a Fresh Ham Without Using Harmful Nitrates

As someone who loves preparing hearty, old-fashioned meals using fresh ingredients, I’m always looking for ways to cure my own meats without relying on mass-produced versions full of artificial preservatives. Curing a fresh ham yourself allows you to control exactly what goes into the process, resulting in tasty, nitrate-free ham that your whole family can enjoy.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through my proven method for curing a fresh ham at home without nitrates or other concerning additives You’ll learn about the health implications of traditional curing agents, the basic supplies you’ll need, and step-by-step instructions for both dry brining and wet brining methods.

Why Avoid Nitrates in Cured Meats?

Traditionally, curing meats involves the use of sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate. These compounds help preserve color and extend shelf life by inhibiting bacteria growth. However, research shows that nitrites can form cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines in the body.

Other possible health risks include:

  • Increased risk of colorectal cancer
  • Higher chance of thyroid dysfunction
  • Greater likelihood of diabetes
  • Potential interference with blood pressure and vascular function

Luckily, there are nitrate-free alternatives for curing pork at home while still getting delicious and preservative-free results. Let’s look at how it’s done.

Dry Brining Method

For smaller cuts of meat like bacon or hams under 5 pounds, a simple dry brine cure is ideal. Here’s how it works:

Supplies Needed

  • Salt
  • Sugar (brown sugar, coconut sugar, etc.)
  • Spices (pepper, garlic powder, juniper berries, etc.)
  • Large ziplock bag or plastic bin


  1. Combine cure mix. For every 1 lb of meat, use:

    • 2 tbsp salt
    • 1 tbsp sugar
    • 1 tsp spices (optional)
  2. Place ham in bag/bin and thoroughly coat with cure mix. Seal and refrigerate.

  3. Cure for 3-5 days per pound, flipping meat daily.

  4. Rinse away cure mix, pat dry. At this point, the ham can be cooked, smoked, or frozen.

The dry brine allows the salt, sugar, and spices to fully penetrate the meat for flavor and preservation. Be sure to label the bag with the cure date and use within 2 weeks.

Wet Brining Method

For larger cuts or whole bone-in hams, a wet brine cure is best. The brine fully submerges and distributes the cure ingredients evenly. Here’s how to wet brine cure a fresh ham:

Supplies Needed

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Spices like garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, juniper berries
  • 2-5 gallon food-safe bucket or pot


  1. Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil. Remove from heat and add spices.

  2. Once cooled, pour brine over ham in container. Use a plate to weigh it down if needed.

  3. Refrigerate 3-5 days per pound of meat, flipping occasionally.

  4. Remove ham and rinse well. Pat dry. It’s now ready to be cooked!

Be sure to keep the ham fully submerged in the brine as it cures. The length of cure time affects the final saltiness, so sample as you go to get the perfect flavor.

Tips for Nitrate-Free Curing Success

Follow these tips for best results when curing your fresh ham at home:

  • Use cool or cold water for the brine – never hot.

  • Weigh down meat fully with a plate if it floats.

  • Cure in a cool area like a garage or basement around 40°F.

  • Flip the meat daily for even exposure to cure.

  • Rinse thoroughly after curing to remove excess salt.

  • Cook cured meat within 2 weeks for food safety.

  • Consider adding nitrate-free preservatives like celery powder.

  • Use a meat thermometer and cook to 145°F minimum.

  • Store leftovers for 5-7 days refrigerated.

Enjoy Your Nitrite-Free Creations

With these simple dry and wet brining methods, you can avoid the health risks of nitrates while making phenomenal homemade cured ham and bacon. Start small with just a pork belly or hock to get the hang of it. In no time, you’ll feel confident preparing special holiday feasts starring your very own nitrate-free ham as the star attraction.

Curing meats yourself enables you to control the quality and ingredients that go into every bite. Your family will certainly appreciate ditching the sketchy preservatives in store-bought versions. Plus, as you become more skilled at charcuterie, you can experiment with smoking, aging, and all sorts of creative flavored brines.

Here’s to enjoying the deep, old-world flavors of traditionally cured meats without the mystery chemicals! I hope these instructions give you the confidence to start crafting your own nitrate-free bacon and ham creations that become treasured family recipes.


Can Ham be cured without sodium nitrate?

In fact, some world-class hams like Italian prosciutto and Spanish Jamon Iberico are cured with just sea salt (sodium chloride) and air. There are three methods to cure meats without adding sodium nitrate: dry curing, brine curing and combination curing. The dry curing method is used to preserve small cuts of meat, such as bacon and small hams.

Can You brine a ham without nitrates?

It takes a bit of time to brine ham without nitrates, but the end result is well worth the effort. This recipe makes enough to brine cure a six-to-eight pound bone-in ham. Using a large tub or other container with a lid, place all of the ingredients in the container and stir to combine. Place the meat in the container.

How do you cure meat without adding sodium nitrate?

There are three methods to cure meats without adding sodium nitrate: dry curing, brine curing and combination curing. The dry curing method is used to preserve small cuts of meat, such as bacon and small hams. The curing salt is applied to the surface of the meat and then placed in the refrigerator in a sealed bag.

How do you cure a ham?

Once you have decided on the curing method, it’s time to apply the cure to the ham. Whether you choose to dry cure or wet cure, the process involves coating the ham with a mixture of salt, sugar, and other seasonings. For dry curing, create a cure mixture by combining kosher salt, sugar, and any desired spices or herbs.

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