4 Most Popular Ways To Preserve Meat
How to preserve meat has been a problem for thousands of years. Other than poultry, if you kill an animal to eat, it's almost always to big to be eaten by one family in its entirety before it spoils. Not only that, preserving the meat ensures that rather than just one meal from a hunting expedition, there will be days or even weeks of meals -- and you can eat them whenever you want to, not just one after the other. The key is being able to reliably preserve the meat in a way that's safe and effective. If you weren't around in the 40's and 50's, you probably think freezing is the only way to preserve meat, and with good reason. That's pretty much the only method we use anymore. But the fact is there are several ways to reliably preserve meat and we're going to take a look at four of them here. We'll discuss the pros and cons of each and why you should consider more than just freezing. With that introduction, let's get started: Freezing Freezing has been by far the most often used method of preserving meat in the last several decades. In fact, it's almost all we use today. It's quick and easy and its effective. Other than the freezer itself, it requires no special equipment or operations. Put the meat in a baggie and toss it in the freezer. Simple as that. But freezing is not without its down side. What happens when the power goes off? Most freezers aren't terribly well insulated (surprisingly enough.) And they won't hold your meat frozen for more than a few days if the power goes off. And the more you open the door, the shorter the time is. But isn't that when you need your frozen food most? When the power goes out? Most of us have lost (or know someone who has lost) an enormous quantity of expensive food due to a power outage, or a breaker that got switched off, or a freezer in the basement that quit working unexpectedly. It doesn't happen often, but there is a potential to lose it all. The other down side is length of storage. Meat can be stored frozen for a few weeks to a few months, depending on how careful you are when you put it in the freezer. After that it gets a nasty taste known as freezer burn and we feed it to the dogs. We've all lost some meat or other food due to freezer burn. This is especially true for people who use chest-type freezers where it's hard to see what you have. Salt and Smoke In the old days, meat was taken to the smoke house (everyone had one in the back yard) and salted heavily and smoked for some period of days or weeks. The salt drew the moisture out of the meat and the salt and the smoke created an inhospitable environment for bacteria. Done well, it preserved the meat for several months (if you stored it in a cool, dry place) and it's relatively safe. The down side of salting and smoking is it takes a smokehouse, considerable time and skill to get a good result. Those of the previous generations who have preserved meat this way all their lives most often have a good result. Those who are just learning will have several failures before they learn the ropes. This one has a steep learning curve. The other down side, of course, is that the meat is dry. In order to preserve the meat, you have to pull out a significant portion of the moisture. Some people like the texture that results from salting and smoking, but it's not to everyone's taste. Home Canning (Bottling) Up until 1955 or so, the primary means of preserving meat was to put it in mason jars and pressure cook it long enough to kill the bacteria. The upside is the meat tastes almost as fresh as frozen meat, it's incredibly easy to use (it's already cooked, so from pantry to table in about 5 minutes) and it will hold it's freshness for several years. There are those who point out the risk of botulism in home canned meats, but if you follow the directions (and they're really quite easy to follow) the risk of any type of poisoning is really quite minuscule. The downside is you're going to spend the better part of a day putting up 100 bottles of meat. You have to pressure can them for 1 - 1.5 hours per batch, so it takes some time. That means that your world is going to have to stop turning for 8 - 10 hours while you can meat. But you're going to get that all back in food prep time once the you have a pantry full of meat. The other down side is cost. Canning meat isn't something you do for one or two jars. As long as it takes you're going to want to do a good sized batch. That means you're going to have to have quite a bit of meat on hand at one time, and the cost for all that meat will be substantial. The good news is, once you have the pressure pot and the jars, canning is very low cost. Freeze Drying Freeze drying is really quite incredible. In terms of flexibility, length of storage and quality of the finished product, nothing else even comes close. Freeze drying is the choice of the new generation. The meat is light weight and compact, will store for upwards of 20 years, you can freeze dry it either raw or cooked, you can do it by itself or as a player in some other dish, etc. This is the be-all and end-all of food preservation. But like everything, even freeze drying has its down side. In this case it's cost. A good quality home freeze dryer is going to set you back between $2,000 -- $3,000. And then you'll have the ongoing cost of mylar bags and buckets to store your food in. But when you consider what you get in return, it seems a small price (if you've already got the money, of course.) The only other thing that might be considered a down side is the time. It takes about ten hours for the machine to work its magic. You don't have to sit there and watch it like you do a pressure pot cooking bottles, but it does take time. Most people start the machine before going to bed and get up in the morning and package the dried food. Conclusion: What you really want is to preserve your meat in a way that is secure. Meat is expensive, and you can't afford to lose it. You want to preserve it in a way that's safe. If you have the possibility of getting sick from eating what you've preserved, it really isn't something you'd be interested in. It has to be cost effective and not kill what few hours in the day you have to get everything done. The truth is, most people can't afford a home freeze dryer. It would be a worthy investment and it's unquestionably the best, but it's too big a bite for most people. It's also not likely that people will migrate to salting and smoking, since the learning curve is so steep and since the neighbors are unlikely to be happy with a fire in your back yard for several weeks. Freezing is the logical choice and the one that most people make. It's convenient, safe and easy. But it's also true that we're seeing an increasing number of people returning to home canning. Bottles of meat are incredibly easy to use. They're convenient to take on a picnic or to have in a bug-out bag. They last for years and years and they're not subject to loss of electricity. Maybe you like another form of meat preservation (there are many, we just hit on the most popular.) Leave us a note in comments about how you preserve your meat and why you think its the best. The best thing we can do is learn from each other, so if you have an idea, don't keep it to yourself!