Methods Used to Make Processed Meat

Dec 16, 2015

Some processed meat is made with seasoned fresh meat and is not further treated: others are cured, smoked and/ or cooked. These methods affect both the flavor and keeping quality, Usually, more than one processing method is used to produce a single product.


Pickle curing - In pickle curing, salt, sugar, nitrite, and often phosphate and ascorbic acid are mixed in water to form a pickle solution. This solution can be introduced into the meat in one of the following four ways:

  • Stitch Pumping - A single needle with multiple openings or multiple needles with single openings may be used to inject the pickle solution into the meat. Most commercially produced meat is cured using the multiple needle method, which more evenly distributes the pickle solution. Curing is hastened using this method, as the curing takes place from inside as well as outside the meat. Following stitch pumping, pork bellies go directly into the smokehouse, while larger, thicker cuts (hams, etc.) may be held several hours before smoking.
  • Artery Pumping -This procedure is limited to the curing of hams, and in some cases, arm or shoulder picnics. During processing, a pickle solution is injected into an artery and distributed throughout the cut via the vascular sys­tem. In fast-moving commercial plants, this pumping procedure requires only 24 hours.
  • Tumbling/massaging - Many pro­cessors utilize machines that resemble a concrete mixer to tumble or massage cuts as they are cured. Tumbling /mas saging hastens cure absorption and aids in extraction of the myofibrillar protein myosin, which acts as a "glue" to hold pieces of meat together. Most boneless hams are processed this way. After several hours of tumbling, the hams go directly to the smokehouse.
  • Vat curing - Meat is submerged in a vat containing pickle solution until
    the solution completely penetrates the meat. Used mostly by smaller-size processing plants, this method of curing takes more time (nine days per inch of thickness of cuts), requires more space, and necessitates higher inventories of meat than other pickle-curing methods.

Dry curing - Water is not added to a dry cure. Rather, the dry curing ingredi­ents, including nitrate, are rubbed onto the surface of the meat and the curing ingredients migrate into the muscle by osmosis. Excess liquids are removed as they accumulate. Meat cured by this pro­cess has an extended shelf life, even in the absence of refrigeration. To some the final product of dry-curing is considered very salty The color of meat cured in this manner is darker and the final prod­uct is firmer and drier than pickle-cured products. Dry-cured products often com­mand a premium price because more time is required for processing (seven days per inch of thickness), the yield
is lower and the products are not as readily available as those made by the other methods described earlier.


Originally a method of preserving meat, smoking is used today primarily to lend an appetizing, outside brown appearance and a characteristic smoky flavor to smoked products. Smoke may be applied to a product in one of two forms: natural or liquid. Wood of the hickory tree is one of the most popular sources of natural smoke. Liquid smoke, a fraction extracted from wood smoke, is more commonly used in the industry today because it is a cleaner system. Its use causes little or no atmospheric contamination.


Generally, the objectives of the cooking step in manufacturing processed meat are to: (1) develop firmness through protein coagulation and partial dehydration, (2) fix the color of cured meat and (3) increase shelf life through pasteurization.

Sausages are cooked with either moist­ or dry-heat methods. Some are cooked initially with dry heat to reduce fat and moisture content and are then exposed to steam heat. A combination of cooking methods can increase tenderness and improve flavor.

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