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Wet Cured Tasso (Cajun seasoned "ham")

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    Wet Cured Tasso (Cajun seasoned "ham")

    I've been experimenting with different ways of making tasso. I wasn't raised anywhere near Cajun country, so I've had to figure things out via cookbooks, YouTube videos, and online recipes. I had my first decent batch this past weekend, so I thought I'd post the technique and results. I'd also like to say "thank you" to the folks on this forum who patiently answered my meat-curing questions over the last two months or so.

    If you're unfamiliar with tasso, it's a seasoning meat created by the Cajun culture in Louisiana. As a folk recipe, it has a lot of variations. As far as I can tell, it began as scrap strips of pork that were coated in spices and smoked to preserve them, similar to jerky. Modern recipes call for curing the meat prior to smoking it.

    Tasso is used sparingly in dishes such as jambalaya, red beans & rice, and shrimp & grits. It's the star attraction of chef-created restaurant fare such as shrimp & pasta in tasso cream sauce. Tasso adds a flavor and complexity that is hard to imagine if you've never tried it. It's similar to adding bacon to a recipe, but has a much bigger impact on the results. I became interested in learning how to make it after an extended business assignment to Baton Rouge some years ago.

    Here it is, fresh off the smoker.

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    The most common tasso recipes floating around the internet use dry-cure techniques that make it hard to control the percentage of sodium nitrite in the meat. They are also way too salty for my taste. After reading Meathead's "the science of curing meat" article, and asking around on this forum for wet-curing advice, I realized I needed a technique that would fit my business-travel work schedule without creating a tasso that was too salty. The problem is that tasso is supposed to be dry, so wet-curing adds a moisture content that you have to deal with one way or another. Here's what I landed on:
    - Wet curing at a 6% salt concentration
    - Tasso rub with less than the usual amount of salt
    - Let the rub sit on the meat for two hours prior to smoking to start drawing moisture out
    - Dry-smoke it at 225 F until the meat hits 170 degrees

    Cure recipe:
    - 2.5 lbs of boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1.5 inch thick strips
    - 2 qts distilled water
    - 6 Tbs Morton's kosher salt
    - 6 Tbs brown sugar
    - Prague powder per the cure calculator (2 tsp in my case)

    Tasso spice mix:
    - 3 Tbs paprika
    - 2 Tbs Morton's kosher salt
    - 2 Tbs brown sugar
    - 1 Tbs allspice
    - 4 tsp garlic powder
    - 4 tsp cayenne
    - 4 tsp ground black pepper
    - 4 tsp white pepper

    Whisk the water, salt, cure, and sugar in a non-reactive bowl until everything is dissolved. Add the meat to a two-gallon ziplock bag and add the wet cure. Seal the bag while squeezing the air out as much as possible. Cure the pork in the refrigerator for the amount of time given by the cure calculator, flipping the bag daily.

    This recipe is adapted from the Canadian bacon cure on this site, with the cure calculator used to yield 200ppm nitrite concentration. I measured the salinity at 6% using one of those optical salinity scopes (inexpensive from Amazon). Due to my travel schedule, the meat cured for five days. My wife was in charge of flipping the bag for me.

    Remove and rinse the meat. Pat it dry. Coat the meat well with the tasso spice mix and let it rest for two hours in the refrigerator. Prepare your smoker while the meat is resting.

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    My rig is a Weber kettle with a Slow-N-Sear. For tasso, it's important to use NO WATER in the smoker. Prior batches turned out a soggy mess using water in the smoker. It took me some trial runs to figure out the temperature control without water. It's more work to baby-sit the rig using a dry Slow-N-Sear, but the results are worth it.

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    Set the smoker to 225 F without wood. Let the tasso cook at 225 for an hour before adding pecan chunks to your charcoal. I found in prior attempts that adding the wood at the beginning creates way too much smoke that overpowers the whole recipe. Smoke until the internal temperature is 170F. In this case, it took four and a half hours. Binder clips really help keep the temperature steady by sealing up the air leaks around the rim of the kettle.

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    This recipe and dry-smoking technique resulted in almost exactly what I was looking for. It's salty, smoky, and spicy, as it should be, but balanced. The spice crust was dry and hard, which I wanted.

    The one problem was the meat was still a bit moist. When I vac-sealed the strips for storage, some moisture was pulled out of the meat. This softens the spice crust. In future attempts, I'll try to let the salt and spice rub work a half day or more to pull more moisture out of the pork.

    I hope this is interesting or useful to the next guy who wants to make some tasso. Also, I know that my spice mix may raise some eyebrows among folks who were raised Cajun. If there's any interest, I'll explain my spice choices in a follow up comment.

    Really cool, thanks for sharing! I really like the Cajun style of cooking/flavors. Basically I like a lot of flavor, and Cajun doesn't disappoint.

    The binder clips work well, but the last years I have bought replacement gaskets for a Kamado Joe and simply glued them on to the underside of the flanged edge of the lid (the gaskets are self-adhesive). Works wonders, and I never have any leaks. Plus it's very cheap.


      Great writeup. Thanks for the detail!


        I love Tasso. I like your write up. At the turn of the new year, make some black eyed peas with Tasso and thank me later.


        • Anton32828
          Anton32828 commented
          Editing a comment
          I've made Hopping John, but never thought to add tasso. Doh! Thanks for the tip. I will definitely do this.

        • EdF
          EdF commented
          Editing a comment
          Great idea!

        • ColonialDawg
          ColonialDawg commented
          Editing a comment
          You won’t regret it!

        Thanx for this post.


          Neat idea on the wet brine. I just used the last of my tasso a few weeks ago, so I'm in need of making a batch. For those who want to go dry brine, Here's my recipe. Like Anton said, it's like adding bacon to something, only better.



          • Anton32828
            Anton32828 commented
            Editing a comment
            Thanks Jeff! Good spice mix! I'm glad someone else appreciates allspice on tasso. I got the idea from John Besh's cookbook. Allspice is authentic for 18th century American recipes, so I figure it's fair game for Creole spices, if not strictly Cajun.

          Thank you for the great write up and photos.


            For those who have never tasted authentic Tasso and want to give it a try, order some from Wayne Jacobs in Louisiana. It’s fantastic. I’m loving this thread.



            • Anton32828
              Anton32828 commented
              Editing a comment
              +1 on this recommendation! I've ordered from the other Jacob's (the "World Famous") and it's great. I also have a neighbor from NOLA who brings me back care packages of Comeaux's tasso when she visits family. But I've concluded that nothing beats making it yourself!

            • ColonialDawg
              ColonialDawg commented
              Editing a comment
              No doubt. Your thread has inspired me to make more myself. It is truly a culinary marvel.

            • PitmasterAg
              PitmasterAg commented
              Editing a comment
              Happened upon this thread as I am getting ready to smoke some Tasso. I saw the mention of Jacob’s and felt compelled to echo this comment. Jacob’s has the absolute best Tasso and also andouille you’ll find. I am originally from Reserve, La, just outside La Place (where Jacob’s is located). Been shopping there for as long as I can remember.

            Yum, you guys keep adding to my wish list list. I love spicy stuff.


              i used this to make red beans & rice this weekend. It was great! Mission accomplished!


                You got me at Tasso. I cook a lot of Cajun inspired dishes. Your comprehensive write up was spot on and very well done !!! Thanks for sharing all of this with us, I marked it as a follow up for myself. Bravo !!!


                • Anton32828
                  Anton32828 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Thanks Troutman! It was quite the process, but I learned a lot along the way. 😎

                Anton32828 I followed your recipe for Tasso, curing for 3 days, and onto the kettle with SNS this morning. I opted to do an entire 8 pound butt, which had one of the biggest bones I've ever had - I just trimmed the bone out, and ended up with some odd sized pieces due to it. I tossed it into the brine and then the dry spices for kicks, as some meat was still on there.

                All I can say is OH BOY is this spicy, and I *LIKE* it. Not sure the wife will, but then, the intent was that this is to be used as an ingredient in other dishes. I can handle it straight up, and likely will slice some for some super spicy sandwiches, and vacuum seal and freeze the rest.

                I took the stuff off the upper grate, as it had hit 170, and the rest is still going for another hour or two. I sliced a small scrap of it up hot for tasting.

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                Last edited by jfmorris; April 17, 2019, 07:39 PM.


                • Anton32828
                  Anton32828 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I haven't logged on for a while due to heavy business travel, so I've nust seen this now. I am really happy that this worked for you! Looks good!

                Awesome write up! On the “to try” list for sure.


                  Thanks. This will get moved up the To Do list.


                    This looks awesome. Have any of you considered using sous vide for an extended cook? This would help dry the meat. Sous vide, chill in ice bath, then smoke to maybe 130 or so?


                    • jfmorris
                      jfmorris commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Hmmm. I somehow think it would be detrimental. This smoked for maybe 5-6 hours to reach 170, and a few pieces hit 180, no big deal. Once cooled it has a perfect ham like consistency and flavor, and at least in my case was not overly moist, I did do the spice rub overnight on an uncovered rack in the fridge, which might have drawn out some moisture. I would be afraid an extended SV would change the texture. Maybe you can try it and report back to us!


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