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Meat Packing for Long-Term Storage

How do you prepare your meat for the deep freezer and for future consumption, to minimize waste, facilitate preparation upon thawing, and to maximize your storage space?  There are hundreds of “proprietary” methods and millions of old wives’ tales, but there are also common-sense tips and tricks that will wring the most efficiency out of your techniques, tools, and meat.

Your goal is to minimize waste and produce the most usable and quickest-prepared meats while also avoiding over-the-top storage considerations.  Ideally you will save money through these techniques while ensuring ease of preparation and maximum usable content in your kitchen.

Tools of the trade:

*This article isn’t about butchering techniques; it’s more about thoughtful packing and preparation.  Each hunter will have his own technique for removing meat, and that will partially be determined by the conditions in which the animal is butchered.  Throughout this article though, some basic tips regarding butchering, transport, and cutting will be noted for incorporation in the preservation techniques.

  • A good skinning knife
  • A good butcher knife or boning knife
  • Butcher paper (optional)
  • Industrial-grade food wrap
  • Freezer bags
  • Permanent marker

Raw wild game generally stores well in excess of ten months and can be stored well over a year if packaged properly. Probably a more reasonable time period to would be to use the meat within nine months.

Some general notes about meat from a wild animal:

  • Deep freezing can kill harmful organisms called trichinella, except in bear meat.  In order to kill this parasite in other meats, deep-freeze it for three-plus weeks before consumption.  These organisms can also be killed upon preparation of the meat by heating it to an internal temperature of 170 degrees.  Bear meat can contain these parasites unless heated through to the 170-degree temperature.
  • Drying and curing meat can also be effective ways to store meat for the long term.
  • Don’t store meat that is bloody; attempt to get the blood out of the animal ASAP after the kill to avoid health and taste concerns.
  • Ideally, all meat you plan to use should go directly into the freezer at sub-zero degrees and should never (even in the event of a power outage) reach above the forty-degree mark.  Fluctuations in temperature (which change the ice crystal structure in your meat) will cause food deterioration and degradation in taste and textures when used.
  • Birds are considered white meat, though usually darker than commercially raised chicken and poultry.
  • All game mammals are considered red meat.
  • Air between meat and packaging can be a killer in a freezer, so avoid poor packaging.

Separate all the different cuts of meat and label accordingly, while selecting extra bits that have been cut off of the prime cuts for use in the sausage-making process (if you have the tools and knowledge to make it).  Consider making jerky from fresh meat before it goes into the freezer for an additional preservation method.

Wrap the meat tightly against each other (the other pieces of meat) within a heavy-duty plastic wrap, making sure to remove air as you wrap to keep the meat as bright and fresh as possible.   The more airtight you can get it, the better the meat will be when you use it.  Consider using a vacuum bagger to seal meat without any air, especially if you pack large quantities and need the maximum freezer life out of your meat.  If all you have is freezer bags, pack the meat as tightly as you can and remove air prior to doubling up the freezer bag for storage.

Other tips when freezing meat:

  • Cold drifts down (just as heat rises), so pack your already frozen meats in the freezer on top of fresh meats to get them colder faster.
  • Pack old water jugs full of water and freeze them to help maintain the temperature in an unexpected outage of power.  The bigger the piece of ice, the slower it melts, so forget bags of ice cubes for this process.
  • Lay the meats out in as large of footprints as allowable by your packing materials and freezer.  The less you smash the meat up, the less tough it will be, the easier it will be to handle, and the more packable your space will be.
  • Try to keep the pieces of meat as whole as possible, so you don’t risk contamination by handling the meat more than needed.  You will be able to butcher your meat when it thaws just as easily.
  • Be sure to grind up some of your meat to help spread the total perceived amount out and for usage in chilies, casseroles, and other hearty meals where a little meat can go a long way.
  • Before you leave for your trip, try to read up on the portions of the game you are hunting, so you know which pieces are most important to you and which to prepare for butchering.
  • Don’t put vegetables or other items with raw meat prior to freezing; not only is it a health hazard, it will also add moisture during the freezing process, which has its own set of drawbacks.
  • Freezing organ meat is fine, but use it sooner than three months after you freeze.
  • Keep your dates straight.  Know when you put meat in and when you need to take it out.
  • Don’t store dissimilar meats together (i.e. don’t store poultry with venison or pork with bear meat).
  • Look for ways to stretch meat, such as supplementing other proteins like legumes, grains like rice and bulgar, and root vegetables from your root cellar.  Cutting meat into small pieces and searing each until they have some caramelization will give the meaty flavor and texture, without using nearly as much meat.
  • Blood and bones are generally enemies if in contact with game meat.  Bones are acceptable if you can get the meat to the freezer ASAP after the kill, but blood is almost never acceptable.
  • If you have to leave some meat on the carcass for whatever reason, try to get the most usable meat you can, and eschew the finer cuts for more quantity of meat if you have the option.  Maintaining an off-the-grid lifestyle doesn’t have to be without luxury, but you should be prudent with your choices of what to carry out.

Hunting and harvesting your own meat is a tradition and practice which has been passed generation to generation through the years and won’t ever be a dying endeavor, but it’s important to be as efficient as possible and pay homage to the animal, the time and effort it takes to do the job, and the wonderful creations that you can make form the substance you take out of the wild.  Do what you can to avoid the waste, and you will keep yourself stocked with high quality and fresh meat.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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