So this is the project that I have been squawking about for the past few weeks. As you know (and much to the chagrin of my lovely wife), I have an ongoing fascination with dry curing meat. Since moving into my house I have been doing a bit of seasonal dry curing in my big creepy basement when conditions allow (read all about that here), but I have had a yen to create a more stable environment for year round production of tasty meats.
In general you need a space with something like 70% relative humidity and 60 degrees for curing most salamis/hams/etc... The temp. part is pretty easily achieved, but the humidity conditions can be a bit tricky to get right. I previously experimented with creating a sausage cave out of a wine fridge (Mr. Dave's Sausage Cave), but this was sort of a failure. The wine fridge cycled the air too quickly to keep up the high humidity and my meats experienced case hardening.
Having done some additional research and having devoted more than a bit of thought to the matter, I decided to give making a meat curing chamber another go. I cobbled together another solution over the course of the past several months that I will describe here. It took me a while to complete as many of the components were sort of expensive and it took a fair amount of b-days/holidays to weasel them all out of the wife...
I know that this thing is sort of ugly and shoddily constructed at this point. I am not the world's best handyman so cut me some slack. I am also saying that Franken-Fridge is in the prototype phase at this point. Should it actually work for a while I will finish it up a bit more.
I started with a broken upright freezer unit that I had on hand (pizza dough fell on the freon tube and when I unknowingly yanked on it, freon explosion...). I stripped the freezer bare to become the main meat chamber. As my basement stays within about 10-15 degrees of 60 depending on the season, I don't need too much cooling power to get to this target. So I took the wine fridge that I had from my previous experiment and cut a big hole in the side, then cut a big hole in the side of the freezer and married them together with brackets and adhesive. I also think that this side by side set up is beneficial as the cooling element will not blow directly onto the meat. I think all that cold air blowing right onto the meat leads to some unwanted surface drying.
To ensure that the temperature stays where I want I installed a temperature controller (this one I got on Amazon) with a probe. There it is on the left hand side below. I drilled a hole to allow the probe into the curing chamber. After a bit of testing with this set up I found that it was really pretty accurate and that the wine fridge had more than enough cooling power for my needs.
For meat curing you need some airflow. Humid air needs to be able to get out and dry air needs to be able to come in. For pushing humid air out I installed a dual cabinet fan (like this one) and covered it with couple dryer vents. For allowing air in I installed another dryer vent on the inside of curing chamber door facing inside (you can see it in the top picture towards the bottom).
To control the humidity I purchased a humidity controller (this one), it is the big box thing in the below picture. The controller has an outlet for humidify and for dehumidify. The cabinet fan described above gets plugged into the dehumidify, and I plugged a small humidifier (this one) into the humidify outlet.
Below you can see the initial setup (that bottle is not actually full of seltzer, it is the only bottle I had lying around that fit). I still need to install some additional shelving to accommodate more meat. I figure I can get three levels of meat hanging space. Right now I am using waterproof metal tape of the sort you would use for gutter repair to seal up the various holes I had to cut in the fridge. Also, as this setup involves both water and electricity, I have everything GFI'd.
Right now I have 4 chubs of standard salami going as a test batch.
So I have had this set up operational for a full 24 hours and it seems to be working pretty well (much to my surprise, my maniacal schemes are usually abismal failures). I set the humidity controller at 65% and it has been hovering right around there pretty consistently. The temp. likewise has been holding steady at 60 plus or minus a few degrees. I am pretty confident that my Franken-Fridge is actually going to work!
I have some small hams curing right now that I am going to put in in a couple weeks along with the salamis. If everything turns out well, I am going to finish up the inside of the fridge a bit more (I am thinking plastic panelling). I am hesitantly chalking this project up as a success. I think I am going to be able to start churning out delicious salty meats on a continuous basis! This excites me way more than it probably should.
In any event, I welcome questions/comments regarding my design.