how does cure with ECA protect meat before its released


  • Does anybody know why ECA works when its only released after the meat reaches 130 degrees?
    The cure needs time to work (24 hours) before smoking BUT, can go on the smoker immediately if ECA is mixed in.

    Does the bad stuff have opportunity to enter the meat between the time the meat enters the smoker and the ECA is released? How does that work?

    I would love very much to know. am I over estimating how quick bad stuff can get in the meat. Is the idea to kill what gets in. I think Im missing something. Please help

  • Regular Contributors

    Speculation on my part here, but I think curing will begin when salt and nitrite are added to the meat, but as you mentioned, it takes a longer time to finish without a cure accelerant like ECA.
    So even when the sausage is in the smoker before the temperature is high enough to release the citric acid, some of the preservative function of the cure and salt is at work.
    Another factor to consider with sausage, the cure and the salt are usually well mixed with the ground meat, so there is less lag time compared to using cure and salt on the surface of a ham or other whole cut of meat where it has to be absorbed to penetrate.


  • I guess it seems to be the cure is at work first, even tough it was recently added to the meat.
    Maybe the ECA comes in second at 130-140 degrees to rob the bad guys of any energy they have left?
    Is that right?

  • Regular Contributors

    nolannn said in how does cure with ECA protect meat before its released:

    I guess it seems to be the cure is at work first, even tough it was recently added to the meat.
    Maybe the ECA comes in second at 130-140 degrees to rob the bad guys of any energy they have left?
    Is that right?

    ECA works as a cure accelerant, so it makes the cure release nitrous oxide faster than the cure would just on its own.

    Many sources say its fine to use cure #1 powder in sausage, stuff and smoke right away. Others will say to hold it overnight

    The citric acid in ECA does lower the pH of the meat and inhibits bacterial growth.

  • Power User PK100 Regular Contributors Team Grey

    nolannn as processhead said in his response ECA is an “accelerant”. It speeds up the curing process while in the cooking stage, basically doing what it does if you left it refrigerated for 12 hours. Yes the sure cure starts working as soon as you add it to the meat. Next time you do a batch look at the meat when you first mix, then look at the remnants of meat in your mixing tote after stuffing. You should notice the meat will turn brownish. That is the cure doing what it needs to do, however still need to give it time to work without the ECA " accelerant" added.


  • Sorry, but I just cannot accept that ECA is a cure accelerant it releases too late into the heat/cook cycle to help. To call it and addition to cure as a meat preservative, sure that would be a more acceptable term. Cure’s # 1 & 2 work through bacterial action and when ECA is released at 135 minimum the meat’s positive bacterial action is pretty much done at that point, exception being bad bacteria, spoilage. This the exact reason why country ham and all the long term meats with cure #2 have to be cold smoked or no heat added so that the meat’s bacteria is not killed thus allowing the cure to continue to work months afterwards. What ECA does is allow the cure to do its job and then when being cooked the ECA is released lowering the PH of the meat thereby reducing the meats chance of spoilage even more than cure alone. Acidity, lack of moisture, salt, sugar, smoke are all enemies of spoilage and ECA adds to the acidity of the meat.

    Can you add plain citric acid at the start of your meat processing cycle and get a cure boost, absolutely, but once you are cooking it is just too late. The phosphates work in the opposite direction, but both of the additives are trying to get the meat away from its native PH, attempting to avoid spoilage. Sorry if I have step on toes, but I am just not seeing the science.

  • Sous Vide

    Cure begins working the minute you mix it in the meat(stopping bacteria growth). It takes 24 hours to take full effect unless you add citric acid. As long as the cure is done by the time you put the finished product in the ice bath you are good to go. Do not use non encapsulated acid in your mix! You will not be happy. It changes the Protein extraction and makes the sausage crumbly, may cause fat out and affects the absorption of smoke. I use ECA to give summer sausage more tang and since I have the time let it sit overnight in the cooler, add the ECA in the morning, stuff and smoke.


  • If it takes 24 hours for the cure to be done yet can be smoked immediately in a dark warm smoker when the meat is still moist. The ECA only begins its work after the meat is 130 degrees.
    If the cure hasn’t sat the time it needs to work and encapsulation has kept the CA from working til 130, what’s up?
    I believe there’s got to be an answer.

    Maybe the citric acid weakens what grows and the cure doesn’t have to be at full strength after The CA is released because the bacteria is weak.
    I’m just guessing


  • But nothing really stops the growth till then?

  • Regular Contributors

    nolannn said in how does cure with ECA protect meat before its released:

    But nothing really stops the growth till then?

    The salt added to the meat works to inhibit bacterial growth. Salt works by drawing water out of the protein and also draws water through the cell walls of any bacteria that might be present.

    The changes in available water disrupts the bacteria so they can’t multiply quickly, even in a smoker, and makes the meat a less hospitable place for them to grow.


  • processhead
    Thank you for the explanation! I understand now!


  • nolannn said in how does cure with ECA protect meat before its released:

    Maybe the citric acid weakens what grows and the cure doesn’t have to be at full strength after The CA is released because the bacteria is weak.
    I’m just guessing

    Citric acid works as a cure accelerator, ECA works by lowering the PH of the final meat product. The bacteria does not get weak, we change the environment to unfavorable when we add cure, salt, sugar, citric acid, ECA, smoke, and a lack of moisture thus limiting its ability to reproduce.

  • Regular Contributors

    This link sheds some more light on curing meat and how cure accelerators work with cure at higher temperatures. Most of the effect relates to fixing the color of the product and not the preservative qualities.

    Take note of the comments on page 2 about how that the primary preservative in meat curing is salt and the sodium nitrite performs a follow up role in preventing botulism and enhancing flavor and color.

    https://shareok.org/bitstream/handle/11244/49985/oksd_ansi_3994_2015-07.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y#:~:text=The most frequently used cure,the pickle and its effectiveness.

  • Regular Contributors Team Grey Sous Vide Canning Dry Cured Sausage Masterbuilt Power User

    processhead That is a great article!
    Short, to the point and clearly understandable.
    I like the way it brings the curing process into smoking
    Saved to my sausage file


  • Here’s another link with basically the same info but in a slide presentation.
    https://www.depts.ttu.edu/meatscience/docs/14._Curing___Smoking.pptx

  • Sous Vide Team Blue Power User Regular Contributors

    processhead Never heard “cure” discussed in that way. Very good explanation teacher.

  • Sous Vide Team Blue Power User Regular Contributors

    processhead Jonathan Austin I selected the up vote and it turned it to a -1 only on this thread. Now, for some reason, I can’t change it. So, the up vote should be a +1 and not a -1. In the details when I select the -1 it shows there’s 1 down vote. I could select other and different threads and perform an up vote. Probably just a system quirk.

  • Regular Contributors

    zbigjeff said in how does cure with ECA protect meat before its released:

    processhead Jonathan Austin I selected the up vote and it turned it to a -1 only on this thread. Now, for some reason, I can’t change it. So, the up vote should be a +1 and not a -1. In the details when I select the -1 it shows there’s 1 down vote. I could select other and different threads and perform an up vote. Probably just a system quirk.

    A week or so ago several of us discovered we had inadvertently downvoted some posts. You can change them if you go to your profile.

  • Sous Vide Team Blue Power User Regular Contributors

    processhead Yep, was able to do it there. Thanks.

  • Team Blue Admin Walton's Employee Power User

    nolannn I’ll do a post on this later, I asked this question of our application specialist on a podcast or live stream a few months ago and he gave me an answer I didn’t understand. Clearly, there are still lots of unanswered questions on the mechanism that makes the meat safe during the smoking process. I will try to get a more detailed answer and either post or do a live stream on it.

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