Unless you cure your own meat products, you might not have heard of Prague powder or Morton Tender Quick.
Although Morton is a well-known salt brand, their Tender Quick is no ordinary salt. In fact, it’s important not to use it as such. This guide will explain why—and fill you in on the differences between Prague powder vs Morton Tender Quick.
Prague Powder vs Morton Tender Quick
Prague powder is available in two different forms, conveniently named #1 and #2. The former is used for shorter cures, while #2 is suitable for meats (such as pepperoni) that require longer curing periods. The chemical composition of Morton Tender Quick is similar to that of Prague Powder #2, but it’s not exactly the same thing.
All About Prague Powder
Prague powder is a curing salt, meaning it contains compounds that inhibit bacterial growth. Therefore, instead of merely boosting the flavor, it preserves meat products so that they’ll last for weeks or months instead of days.
There are two types of Prague powder. The first type, #1, contains sodium nitrite, which is what gives it its reddish color. The pink hue also helps chefs tell the difference between the Prague powder and the table salt.
Prague powder #2 includes sodium nitrate in its composition as well. This makes it suitable for cures that go past the 30-day mark. Pepperoni and prosciutto are two of the meats that require the #2 treatment.
What’s the difference between sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate? In truth, it’s a small one. Nitrate consists of one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms, whereas nitrite has only two oxygen atoms. But this distinction allows them to play different roles in terms of food preservation.
All About Morton Tender Quick
Most of Morton’s salt products are used to promote flavor and help meat retain moisture. Morton Tender Quick, meanwhile, is a preservative—very much like Prague powder.
Since the list of ingredients includes sodium nitrate as well as sodium nitrite, you could argue that Tender Quick is more closely related to Prague powder #2 than #1. However, it’s not exactly the same thing—this product is mostly used for quick cures.
What About Pink Himalayan Salt?
Don’t make the mistake of confusing the pink Himalayan salt found in specialty stores with curing salt. While both are types of salt that are light pink to ruby-colored, the similarities don’t go much farther than that.
The salt that’s mined from the Salt Range Mountains near Pakistan is pink in color because it contains trace amounts of certain minerals. Regular sea salt doesn’t contain the same minerals, so it lacks this distinctive color.
Prague powder is pink for a different reason. Food manufacturers add the dye so that the salt won’t be confused with regular salt. This is done for safety as well as convenience, as consuming large doses of Prague powder can be harmful—even fatal.
Prague Powder 1 vs Morton Tender Quick
The first type of Prague powder, #1, is a blend of 93.75 sodium chloride and 6.25 sodium nitrite. This is a straightforward formula that prohibits bacterial growth and allows the meat to retain a pink color during curing.
Morton Tender Quick offers similar results, but its ingredient list is more extensive. According to the company, the blend includes sodium chloride, sugar, and propylene glycol as well as sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite.
Prague Powder 2 vs Morton Tender Quick
What about Prague powder #2? This is also a bit more complex than its counterpart. It’s made up of 6.25 percent sodium nitrite, 4 percent sodium nitrate, and 89.75 percent sodium chloride.
Essentially, what this means is that you shouldn’t use Prague powder #2 in place of Morton Tender Quick, and vice versa. The latter might also contain sodium nitrate, but that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for cures lasting longer than 30 days.
Uses and Warnings
Another word of caution: Morton warns against using its Tender Quick on pork belly. Since most bacon is made from this cut, it’s a good idea to invest in Prague powder #1 if you want to add that skill to your repertoire.
That said, there are plenty of people who have used Tender Quick on pork belly and gotten good results. I’ve only cured pork belly a couple of times, but a blend of Tender Quick and brown sugar seemed to work fine.
According to Morton, it’s not safe to use their product on pork belly because the fat content of this cut can differ greatly. That means that some cuts might require more curing time than others.
If you want to err on the side of caution, there’s no harm in using Prague powder instead of Tender Quick to make homemade bacon. It’s not that expensive, and you can use it for a multitude of other cured meats.
While we’re on the subject of price: Of these three options, Morton Tender Quick tends to be the most budget-friendly. However, the difference is negligible enough for us to recommend buying all three—assuming that you’ll have use for them.
The Bottom Line
On the subject of Prague powder vs Morton Tender Quick, there’s no clear winner. Each is useful in its own way. Since you’ll only be using a small quantity at a time, why not invest in a supply of each?
Best of luck, and happy grilling!