Agreed 100%...I've read numerous web documents which state that with the modern cures available to the in-home processors like ourselves, the name on the package pretty much says what you need to know...Instacure...Tender Quick...they don't require long term curing for meat mixes, however, whole muscle meats require the long-term curing to allow the salt and nitrate/nitrite to penetrate throughout the meat.
My understanding is that the nitrate/nitrite is for prevention of bacterial colonization during what we normally consider to be the danger zone (40-140* internal meat temp). This is what allows us to do cold smoking of Kielbasa, pork bellies, summer sausage, etc., and being in the 40-140* range for extended periods without risk of poisoning. The other benefit of curing is for the creation of such delectible cured meat treats as corned beef pastrami and canadian bacon, etc, though these are not cold smoked, the texture, moisture content and some of the flavor of the finished product is a direct result of being cured.
Granted, I'm not an avid sausage maker, but have been educating myself for quite some time on the topic, and whenever something on the subject of curing catches my attention, I latch onto it. I've been experimenting with a few types of cured meats and sausages with very good results thus far, and I'm looking forward to going into an all-out full-blown sausage mania...trying new sausage recipes and cured meats as I follow my newly found passion.
A little sausage curing history:
The naturally fermented, cured, dried smoked summer sausages and salamis have much of the same characteristics as if using nitrate/nitrite curing agents, but it is accomplished through the by-products of introducing good/safe species of bacteria via a starter culture. These in turn colonize and produce an acidic waste by-product (I don't recall the type of acid) in the meat which later kills itself and the harmful species of bacteria which could later be introduced into the meat. The low Ph (acidity) prevents the development of new bacteria in the meat during the 40-140* range of further processing (drying, aging, cold smoking). This is an age-old method dating back hundreds of years, long before nitrates and nitrites were developed.
The so-called tangy summer sausages available at most any grocery store are made with the modern curing agents, while the old world style
sausages will have a less tangy, but much more developed and deaper flavor. If buying these sausages, you will notice a huge difference in price, as the natural process can take several month's for the finished product to be ready for consumption. A Virginia Ham is another good example of a very time consuming process, hence the consumer's price. The tangy sausages may take less than a day, or up to 3 or 4 days to finish. When you walk into a meat market, and see these high prices, understand that you are paying for the quality of the product, so don't be shy about shelling out triple the cash for the good stuff...
If you are creating one of your works of art (or labors of love as known by most), you can do without cure in meat mixes if it is not available to you, as long as the 40-140*/4 hr rule of thumb won't be breached. So, if it's a hot smoked sausage, toss a bit of salt in the mix in place of TQ and get that smoker fired up...just because it's sausage doesn't mean it can't be a fresh sausage instead of cured. Toy with the possibilities...
A method I've been developing for my home-made sausages involves using a curing agent for 2 reasons: I want the meats to marinate in the seasonings for extended periods of time, and with my limited batch sizes in my attempt to do larger volumes, I have to do the weighing chopping and mixing well in advance of being able to smoke the sausage. So, curing allows me to accomplish these two things safely. The meats are hot smoked, so the curing process would not normally be needed, as with fresh sausages which would be cooked a day or 2 later.
That's my take on curing. I have much less experience and practical knowledge than many others here, but I am learning and practicing more every chance I get.
Enjoy the sausage and cured meats addiction! It doesn't get much better than this....
Thanks to all the sausage-heads out there!