Before the age of modern refrigeration, most people relied on what we would consider primitive methods to preserve meats. If you were wealthy, or had the means, you might have relied on ice to preserve some foods. The extremely wealthy bought fresh meat and fish daily from market. But for those who did not have means — the common every day folks — this was simply not feasible.
My ancestors were farmers, frontiersmen, soldiers and other common folk. For them, the cost of buying fresh meat daily, or even feeding their family fresh beef and pork from their own farms daily, was out of the question. Killing game, or butchering a farm animal, was done when needed, and the meat had to be stretched to feed their families as long as possible.
Today we face the rising cost of groceries and the threat of terrorism, EMPs and other scenarios where the lights may go out and not come back on again for months or years. These threats are very real, and should be taken seriously. In such a time, being prepared to consistently put food on the table for your family is vital. Meat, with its life-giving protein, needs to be at the top of the list of necessities.
Of course, without refrigeration meat will spoil quickly. But there are three methods that can significantly increase the shelf life of meat that you harvest and butcher from your own farm animals, or wild game. Here is an overview.
1. Smoking Meats and Drying Meats. This is the main method in producing jerky or biltong. What is the difference, you ask, between jerky and biltong? Some of the flavorings and seasonings and preparation differ. Also, biltong is first dried and then sliced, whereas jerky is sliced prior to drying. I will let you do your own research into that manner and choose your own recipe. Drying can consist of several different methods, from drying in a cool safe place (primarily biltong), oven or dehydrator drying, and smoking.
Smoking meats goes hand-in-hand with drying, and is a common method to preserve fish, poultry, small game and other such meats. Most smoked meat is thin enough for the smoke to dry and preserve. Done properly, drying and/or smoking meats and fish will allow meat to last from several weeks up to several months.
2. Dry Cured (Salt Cured). There are several methods of dry curing. If the desire is for longer shelf life, then sodium nitrite and potassium nitrate are used in addition to salt. The dry-curing method can take anywhere from two weeks to a whole year. Hams, corned beef, bacon, and salt pork are all examples of salt-cured meats.
3. Canning. Canning provides the method with the longest shelf life. Properly canned meats can last for years. Having the right equipment and knowledge will make the difference between canned, fresh meat and canned, fresh sewage.
Volumes have been written on proper meat preservation. I strongly suggest investing time in learning and practicing meat preservation. Be sure you have the right equipment and supplies on hand to cure and preserve your harvest. It’s one thing to have the knowledge to preserve a freshly killed deer. But if the lights go out and you don’t have the supplies, you are going to be limited in what you can achieve. My hope in writing this is to give you a springboard, and that you will take the time and learn on your own.
Which method do you prefer? Share your advice in the section below: