Dehydration is perhaps the oldest method of food preservation, dating back to ancient hunting-and-gathering civilizations. Centuries ago, the Native Americans would hunt for game like elk and deer.
They would clean the animal, process it, and slice the meat into thin pieces. Then, they’d leave the meat under the sun. Once it would be dry and leathery, they’d wrap and stow it away in their packs, ready to eat whenever the need arises. If they survived like this for many generations, we can, too.
Thanks to modern technology, you can prepare for disaster by dehydrating meat beforehand with the use of dehydrators.
Dehydrators take the moisture away from the food, inhibiting the growth of germs that cause spoilage. Using them is pretty easy, too. Simply cut the meat into small strips, pop them in the dehydrator, and wait for the magic to happen. Once properly stored in airtight containers (you can use airtight jars or vacuum-sealed bags), these jerky-like goodies can keep your stomach full for weeks. If you don’t have a dehydrator, using your good ol’ oven works fine, too.
Curing is a method that uses substances like salt, nitrates, nitrites, sugar, and even smoke to preserve meat. In this regard, you can consider other methods like brining and smoking to be variants of curing, but we’ll talk about those in a few. For now, let’s talk about salt, nitrates, and nitrites.
Salt, nitrates, and nitrites draw moisture out of the meat. You know what happens next: less moisture, fewer chances of spoilage. Unlike salt, however, nitrates and nitrites not only preserve meat; they also kill the bacteria that causes botulism. They’re responsible for that pink color usually found in cured meats.
For this reason, many butchers prefer using nitrates and nitrites over salt. The two allow you to use less salt, which makes the meat softer without compromising its shelf life.
The process of curing is pretty straightforward. Simply cut the meat into slabs and then rub some curing salts generously. Substances like sugar or honey are also introduced to balance the saltiness and to encourage the growth of good lactobacillus bacteria. You can also add herbs and spices to your cure for better taste.
Once cured, the meat is stored in jars and stowed away in a cool dry place for about a month. Traditionally, people would hang the meat after the month is up, and leave it hanging for about six months. These days, you can simply wrap them individually in plastic or moisture-proof containers. Store them properly in a cool dry place and they should last for several months.
Like what we mentioned above, brining is pretty similar to curing itself. It’s so similar that brining is often called wet-curing. They basically share the same concept; only the execution is slightly different. Instead of rubbing salt onto the meat, brining means submerging the meat in salt water. This preserves the meat and locks in other flavors found in your brine mixture as well.
To brine, prepare your meat and place it in sterilized jars. Make a salt mixture by adding a pound of salt and a half cup of sugar to three quarts of water, according to Bio Prepper. You can also add in herbs and spices. Once you have the salt mixture ready, you can then pour it into the jars, making sure that the meat is submerged completely. Once done, you can then store your meat in your storage area, checking them every week. After 4 weeks, your brined meat should be ready.
You can consider smoking as a combination of curing and dehydration. The heat reduces moisture while the chemicals in the smoke also help preserve the meat and lend a distinct flavor to it. Before smoking, the meat is air-dried and is allowed to form a pellicle, a hard coating of proteins so that smoke adheres better to the meat, allowing better preservation and flavor.
There are two ways to smoke your meat: cold smoking and hot smoking. In hot smoking, the meat is exposed to constant temperatures that may range around 50-80 C, allowing the food to be cooked thoroughly without turning them into tough jerky.
Cold smoking is less common, probably because this method is not as effective as the former. First off, cold smoking does not cook the meat itself. Instead, the meat is cured first, then smoked at temperatures around 20-30 C. While it does lend that smoked flavor to the meat, it also leaves a bit of moisture, increasing the meat’s risk for spoilage. For this reason, cold-smoked meat is often cooked again before consumption.
Pressure canning is one of the most effective ways to preserve meat. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most intimidating methods, especially to new preppers. Most newbies think that pressure canning is very complicated but the truth is, it’s quite simple.
The first step in pressure canning is preparing the meat. Make sure to cut them properly, trimming off the fat and any bones. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, there are two ways to prepare meat for canning, either through hot packs or raw packs.
Hot packs are done by precooking the meat by roasting or stewing. You don’t need to cook the meat all the way through; it just needs to be red and soft on the inside. Once done, it’s placed in sterilized jars. Broth, meat drippings, water, and a teaspoon of salt are then added to the mix.
A raw pack, on the other hand, simply means filling the jars with raw meat pieces and a couple of tablespoons of salt. Once prepared, the jars are then placed in a pressure canner and processed for about an hour and a half. The canner seals the freshness in the jar, allowing for longer shelf life.
Keeping Your Meat on the Hoof
Another, less obvious way of “preserving” your meat is the tried-and-tested method of keeping it on the hoof. In other words, raising your own livestock. If you want fresh meat, or have limited ways to preserve your food, you might as well keep said meat alive until they are ready for consumption.
Livestock can provide you with fresh meat and other products like dairy, wool, and hide. If you do this right, raising livestock could mean a healthy, sustainable lifestyle for you and your family.
However, raising livestock is not for the faint-hearted.
This entails a lot more responsibility and resources. You have to consider what animals to raise, the space on where to raise these animals, what to feed them, and how to take care of them, aside from the general upkeep. If you’ve got limited space, you can consider starting with ducks or chickens. These animals can be raised with relatively little space and can provide you with meat and eggs.
Learning how to preserve your own source of meat is essential for every prepper. It entails quite a few moving parts and can be intimidating for beginning and seasoned preppers alike. But the payoff is well worth the effort.
If you master these meat preservation techniques or take the extra step and actually keep them on the hoof, you can rest assured that you’ll be providing your family with an ample supply of protein, which is essential for building muscles and general health. Practice these meat preservation techniques at home and add this to your ever-growing set of survival skills.
Any tips or techniques to preserve your meat better? Let us know in the comments below!