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In a SHTF or off grid living situation, you most likely won’t have access to a refrigerator. This means that you’ll need to learn about alternative ways to preserve food. Meat will be one of the first foods to spoil. If you keep meat out in the open for more than a few hours, it will start to go bad. In this article, we’re going to show you how to preserve meat. This information can also come in handy for when you’ve lost electricity. Let’s look at the fundamentals of meat preservation.
Meat Preservation 101
Salmonella – The Product of Poor Preservation
So, why learn how to preserve meat? The answer is simple: food poisoning. Salmonella refers to a group of bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning. The symptoms usually last 4-7 days and then go away on their own. However, in a SHTF situation when you’re limited on food, water, and possibly shelter, salmonella can KILL. Also, people with chronic diseases, infants, and older adults are especially prone to dying from salmonella. If you don’t learn how to preserve meat the right way, you could become sick. For this reason, pay extra close attention to the following meat preservation methods.
Method #1: Canning
Canning is one of the most basic methods for helping meat last longer. It can be done by anyone, and under any conditions. Canning involves placing meat in jars and heating them to destroy bacteria. During the heating process, air driven out of the jar, which essentially forms a vacuum seal that helps protect the food. This vacuum seal will prevent other bacteria for making their way inside thus, allowing your meat to last longer.
The safest method for preserving meat is pressure canning. Basically, your jars of meat are placed inside a special cooker which heats it to a minimum of 240-degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures of this magnitude can only be reached by using the pressure canning method. When learning how to preserve meat, this is one of the best methods to use. It will effectively allow your meat to go way longer without spoiling.
A pressure canner is a specialized piece of equipment that can be used for preserving meat. It’s basically a large, heavy pot that can be tightly closed.
Cheaper models cost around $60 (like the Granite Ware 0730-2 Pressure Canner) while expensive models cost closer to $290 (like the All American 921 Pressure Canner). To practice meat preservation using canning, you’ll need one of these.
Now that we’ve given you a brief introduction of how canning works, let’s talk about the exact steps. You may want to have a notepad ready to take notes. To can meat, you’re going to need the following materials:
- Pressure Canner: A specialized piece of equipment using for canning.
- Canning Jars: Mason jars are a good option.
- Canning Lids: Specialized lids that will help seal the can.
- Meat: Get the meat that you want to preserve ready.
- Canning Funnel: This will help keep the rims of the jar clean.
- Jar Lifter: To pick up the cans (which will be HOT!).
When learning how to preserve meat, choose meat that’s fresh (you’ll get better results). While pressure canning is relatively straightforward, it’s easy to do wrong if you don’t know the proven steps. Here’s a helpful video that will show you exactly what to do when canning meat:
Method #2: Dehydration
Another common meat preservation technique is dehydration. When you dehydrate food, you basically remove all the water content from that food. This makes it more difficult for bacteria to grow there. Once you dehydrate your meat, you can store it in vacuum sealed packaging for maximum lifespan. To learning how to preserve meat via dehydration, you’ll need to invest in a food dehydrator. This is a box that will pass hot air through your meat to remove its water content. Here are the steps to dehydrating meat:
- Step 1: Cut your meat into smaller pieces that are roughly the same size (this will ensure even drying). Ham should be sliced into 1-inch strips and beef into ¼-inch strips
- Step 2: Place the sliced meat into your food dehydrator. Make sure that none of the pieces are overlapping each other. Otherwise, you’re going to get uneven drying.
- Step 3: Dry the meat for 6 hours at 150-degrees Fahrenheit. Note, this could vary slightly depending on what type of meat you’re dehydrating. Still, it’s a good place to start.
And…that’s it! Once the meat is finished drying, store it in vacuum sealed packaging for maximum lifespan. Dehydrated beef (a.k.a. Beef Jerky) is one of my favorite foods to dehydrate. Here’s a helpful video that will show you how to properly pack and store dehydrated beef:
Method #3: Curing
Curing is one of the oldest meat preservation techniques out there. It’s also one of the easiest. With only a few ingredients- salt, nitrites, and time– you’ll be able to extend the lifespan of any meat. When learning how to preserve meat, curing will also save you a lot of money. There are two basics ways to salt-cure meat. These methods include:
- Dry Curing: Salt, as well as other ingredients, are rubbed over the meat.
- Wet Curing: This involves soaking your meat in a salty solution.
In both cases, we’re taking advantage of salt to help preserve the meat. Sodium nitrate is one of the most important ingredients for preserving meat. Why? Because it helps defend against a deadly bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. If ingested, it will cause severe food poisoning that can kill. This is why you need to learn how to preserve meat via curing the right way.
Method #4: Smoking
The final meat preservation technique we’re going to talk about is smoking. This is a process in which you expose your meat to wood smoke (usually cherry, maple, oak, or hickory). Similar to curing, smoking has been used for thousands of years for learning how to preserve meat. It helps discourage bacteria from growing, allowing it to go longer without spoiling. There are two types of smoking you should know about:
- Hot Smoking: This is done at about 150-degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cold Smoking: This is done at temperatures less than 100-degress Fahrenheit.
Smokers come in all shapes and sizes, so you’ll need to do independent research to determine which one is right for you. Just know that smoking is one way to help preserve meat. Keep in mind like curing, smoking can also be used to enhance the flavor of meat. Here’s a video showing how to cold smoke meat to increase its lifespan:
Disclaimer: This video on how to smoke meat portrays a very primitive method for preserving meat. For this reason, it’s better-suited for a post-apocalyptic situation in which you wouldn’t have access to more modern options. Whenever possible, always use more modern methods. Still, this is good knowledge to know.
Method #5: Freezing
When most people think of preserving meat, this is the first thing that comes to mind. Freezing is relatively straightforward- just take your meat and place it in a freezer. Note, this depends on whether or not you have electricity. With no electricity, this won’t be an option (unless you’re using alternative energy). For a long time, freezing has been a popular way to store meat. It’s quick, easy, and maintains the nutritional value of the meat.
Try to freeze your meat at 0-degrees Fahrenheit for maximum results. Wrap the meat in moisture-proof packaging to prevent freezer burn (vacuum-sealed packaging works best). Finally, make sure that you label the package with the date that the meat was frozen. Although simple, you’ll only get a lifespan of about 4 months using this method. Still, when learning how to preserve meat, know that you have this option available to you.
A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game
One of the best ways to learn how to preserve meat is to check out the classic book A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game. When I first learned how to cure, dehydrate, smoke, and freeze meat, this was the book that taught me (I still have my original copy).
When it comes to learning resources, I’m very picky about how I learn from. But the author, Wilbur Eastman, surpassed my expectations as far as expertise and knowledge. Although it was originally published in 2002, all of the information in it is still relevant and useful.
How to Preserve Meat – Bottom Line
If you want to increase the lifespan of your food, you need to learn how to preserve meat. The methods above are the most effective you’ll find. For beginners, dehydration will probably be the easiest option. Canning is also pretty simple too once you know the steps. For more tips, check out the book A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game.