What is Uncured Meat? Unlocking the Secrets of Meaty Mysteries

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A large percentage of the world–most of the population, in fact– is in love with processed lunch meats. These include the assortment of deli meats and things like sausages and bacon; which make up 75% of our dream breakfasts and perfect sandwiches.

But while we do love our cured/processed meats, there is a little concern about these meats. The WHO has even classed the compounds in processed meats as carcinogens, or cancer-causing chemicals.

While most people are unwilling to give up their bacon and jerky, they do want to learn more about cured meats and what goes in them. People looking for the healthiest deli meat have often come across the term uncured meat. But what is uncured meat?

This article aims to find out exactly that. We look at the difference between cured and uncured meat, how uncured meat differs from fresh meat, and whether uncured ham lunch meat is a thing.

By the time you’re done with this article, you won’t ever be stumped when your butcher offers you an uncured lunch meat product, or when you see nitrate-free deli meat at the grocery counter.

What is Uncured Meat?

Cured Meats

Before we get into this, we have to understand what the different sorts of meat are and what they are made of. In this section of the article, we will walk you through the differences between cured meat and uncured meat.

Cured Meats:

The cured meats found at stores are generally are often called processed meat because of the curing ingredient. Cured meats are preserved, and these meats do not need to be refrigerated.

The additive used in curing meat is typically some kind of chemical preservative like sodium nitrite with the salt mixture. The amount of salt and sodium is less than 1% of the meat. 

The preservatives give the meat a pink appearance. They also tend to taste like bacon and ham and last for a very long time.

Examples of popular cured meats besides bacon include chorizo sausages, prosciutto, pepperoni, pastrami, and pancetta.

Uncured Meats:

Uncured meats are similar to cure meats but the only difference is the curing agent that is used. Instead of a chemical preservative containing nitrite, they use a natural preservative like celery powder or juice, which converts into nitrite once it is processed. 

As a result, uncured meat products are labeled with: “No Nitrates or Nitrites used except those found naturally in celery powder or juice”. But the term ‘uncured’ is more of a marketing term as the meat is cured, just without chemicals.

These meats taste a lot like cured meats and can be consumed and cooked the same way. However, they look a lot paler, as there aren’t chemical preservatives. The meat also contains way more sodium as the salt acts as a preservative, so the meat tastes pretty salty.

You can find options like uncured ham, salami, and other deli meats that are naturally preserved, instead of chemically cured. There will be no noticeable difference in taste or texture.

On the other hand, many butchers don’t offer uncured meats. Instead, they provide ‘fresh meat’ products, which is plain meat without any kind of preservative added to them. This kind of nitrate-free lunch meat really contains no additives, so it will spoil faster and will not taste like ham or bacon.

Cured vs. Uncured Meat

This brings us to several questions. Are uncured meats better than cured products? Are cured meats inherently unhealthy?  

Should you stop using cured meat and switch to uncured options? Should you stop consuming preserved meats altogether and go for lunch meat with no nitrates?

The cured versus uncured meat debate has no clear answer and is often a matter of personal preference. While cured meats are considered carcinogenic, there is no clear evidence suggesting causative links.

Moreover, uncured meats also contain nitrites from the celery and there is no proof that they are in any way healthier than cured meat. The idea of lunch meat with no nitrates isn’t true as the meat is preserved, just with different ingredients.

On the other hand, uncured meats contain lots and lots of salt. If you have been asked by your doctor to watch your sodium intake, it is best to steer clear of uncured meats. Also, if you are sensitive to nitrates or nitrites, you should consume lunch meats sparingly.

So, as you can see, uncured meats aren’t ‘better’ than cured meats in any way. If you are wary about chemical additives in your food, you might feel more comfortable with uncured meat. 

But if you want a genuine nitrate-free turkey, choose fresh meat, or something smoked with a fruit and spice extract blend.

What is Uncured Ham?

Uncured Ham

Uncured ham is also sometimes labeled as fresh ham. It is essentially the same cut as cured ham. So how are the two different?

Uncured ham is not injected with the chemical brine, smoke, or salt that are used when curing meat. When buying uncured ham, you might notice that it has a slightly different, yet naturally occurring color than the pink cured ham we are more used to.

This color difference is because the nitrates used in the brine of cured meat generally give cured meat a pronounced pink hue. Although it may sound contradictory, uncured meat is cured. The curing process contains natural ingredients instead of chemical ones.

In other words, the only difference between cured and uncured ham is the ingredient used to cure the meat. Uncured ham will use a brine made from salt and celery powder as a preservative, while cured ham will use a sodium nitrite brine instead.

Equipment for Cooking Uncured Ham

If you want to choose a healthier option, you can try making uncured ham right at home. This will be a safer option as you can control the amount of salt in the ham. Besides fresh ham, all you need is the following equipment:

  • Large bowl or dish for brining
  • Smoker or grill
  • A large cut of uncured and uncooked ham

How to Cook Uncured Ham

Follow these steps to make the best ever uncured ham right at home. This will cure a 5-pound hunk of ham and you can scale the recipe up for larger amounts of meat.


  • 2 liters of boiled and filtered water
  • 1/2-3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon pink salt
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of celery powder
  • Glaze of your choice
  • A plastic bowl or pot big enough to contain the ham while fitting in your fridge


1. Remove the skin from your ham, and trim off all the fat, if necessary.

2. Clean your bowl or container thoroughly and make sure it is almost sterile.

3. In the bowl, dissolve the salt, sugar, spice, and celery powder in the water until completely mixed in.

4. Scrub the surface of the ham to remove as much bacteria as possible. Submerge the ham in the brining solution, making sure every inch of it is underwater and nothing is sticking out.

5. Keep the submerged ham in the fridge for 3 days. The heavier the ham, the longer you need to brine it. After a day and a half, turn over the ham so that all its parts are equally brined.

6. Once the time is up, rinse the ham surface to remove some of the excess salt. You can pat it dry with kitchen towels and then rub it down with salt-free seasoning.

7. Then, smoke the ham at 325°F until it registers 145°F in the deepest part of the center. This can take up to 5 hours depending on the ham’s thickness. In the last hour of smoking, brush on the glaze of your choice.

This kind of ham will stay fresh in the fridge for a week. When vacuum sealed and frozen, it can last for months.

Have Any Other Questions?

Below you’ll find answers to questions we get asked often about uncured meat.

01. Can I Eat Uncured Meat When Pregnant?

While there is no danger to eating cured and uncured meat while pregnant, if you are concerned about your baby’s health, you can ditch deli meats altogether until your child is born.

02. Is Boar’s Head Meat Processed?

Boar’s Head offers meat products that don’t have chemical preservatives. Does Boars Head have nitrates? While they don’t contain sodium nitrite, they do have nitrates derived from celery and sea salt aka naturally occurring preservatives.

03. Is Deli Meat Bad for Health?

Processed meats are generally considered unhealthy because they contain plenty of salt, nitrites, and often fat. As a result, it is best to eat them in moderation.

04. Is Deli Meat Processed?

Deli meats are classed as processed products because they have added preservatives and curing agents to stop them from going bad.

05. What Does Uncured Meat Mean?

Uncured meats refer to the fact the meat isn’t cured with chemical additives like sodium nitrite and other nitrates. Instead, they are preserved with things like salt, sugar, and celery powder.

In Outline

Although there is a bit of health concern when it comes to lunch meat, it is evident that the world isn’t giving up bacon any time soon. But when you know the answer to ‘what is uncured meat?’ you will realize it opens up lots of options at the butchers.

If you want to avoid chemicals, you can opt for uncured meats for your bologna sandwich cravings. But whether you prefer uncured meats, or want to stick to the traditionally cured products, remember that moderation is the key for processed foods!

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