Outdoor enthusiasts need to possess various skills to be able to survive in the wild. Besides knowing how to start a fire, chop wood, and navigate through uneven terrain, there is another skill that an outdoor enthusiasts must possess: preserving meat.
Knowing how to preserve meat in the wild not only keeps them fresh but also prolongs its shelf life. However, this skill is not for campers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts alone.
Being able to prepare meat for preservation is a skill that everyone should possess because you never know when you will be facing emergencies that require survival skills.
Knowing the right process of preserving meat will also help you keep meat fresh at home even without refrigeration. Even people in prehistoric times regularly hunted for meat and even preserved it for days and weeks. And they obviously did not have refrigerators.
Importance of Preserving Meat
When you are out in the wild and all out of food the only option left is to hunt for meat.
Regardless of whether you hunt a goat, lamb, deer or even a chicken, you must cook and consume it immediately. You would want to keep some of the meat for the next day but there is no way you can.
The meat will start rotting in less than an hour if you leave it just like that. Blame it on the bacteria. These microorganisms are everywhere and the moment a living animal turns into a carcass it is the playground of bacteria. And believe it or not, they will get the meat before you can.
Without preserving meat there is no way you can expect it to last beyond an hour or so. The three key rules for preserving meat are keeping it clean, cool, and dry.
So the first thing you must do after hunting an animal is clean the meat as best as possible. You should also keep the meat at a cool temperature and make sure it is completely dry.
When the meat is completely dehydrated with no water content the cell walls of the bacteria get damaged. These environmental conditions make it hard for bacteria to thrive.
When you are outdoors in the summer the sun can often get very bright and hot, which is not the ideal condition to preserve meat. That is when you need to use proper preservation methods to increase the shelf life of the meat.
The preservation process is used in the food industry have come from these primitive methods. The oldest known preservative to increase the shelf life of meat is salt. Meat is oxygen stored in sub-zero temperatures in the food industry (that means it is kept cold Woody Boyd from Cheers!).
However, when out in the wild, you have to apply other methods to preserve meat. Some of the principles may be the same, but there are lots of variations too.
How to Prepare Meat for Preservation
If you leave meat without preparing it for preservation it is going to rot sooner than later. Therefore the first thing you must do is prepare the meat for preservation.
Of course, you can’t start to preserve the meat as soon as you hunt it. Just like before cooking you need to prepare the meat before preservation you also need to prepare the meat.
How is the preparation done? The methods are different for different ways of preservation.
If you were freezing the meat as a means of preservation you would be preparing it differently than when you’re out in the world without any refrigeration.
First of all, what are the different methods of preserving meat without refrigeration? There are three basic methods of preserving meat without refrigeration. The first is salting or curing, then comes smoking or drying, and then there’s brining.
Back in the medieval ages which were the most popular methods of preserving meat with no refrigeration available. With no cooler or freezer yet invented, people had to come up with various means to keep their meat fresh for days and weeks. And these clever methods worked indeed.
The three steps to prepare meat for preservation:
Meat is a breeding ground of bacteria. Before you do anything else make sure to clean the meat really well. When you’re out in the wild you can do this with the water from a lake, spring, or a fresh mountain stream.
The advantages of using fresh water to clean your meat is that the cool water also helps keep the temperature of the meat down thereby inhibiting the growth of bacteria. Once you have cleaned the meat with some vigor you must make sure to keep it cool.
Fresh meat remains warm for a while. If left like that the meat will become the breeding ground of bacteria and start to rot. If the temperature is not sub-zero you have to take special care to keep the temperature of the meat as cool as possible.
Most of this can be achieved in the cleaning process itself. After scanning the meat make sure to remove as many bones as possible along with connective tissue and fats.
Once you remove insulation to the meat it automatically starts to cool down and harden. When you use fresh stream or lake water to wash the meat, it also contributes to cooling down the temperature. Remember that the cooler you keep the meat, the slower it will rot.
After you have cleaned and cooled the meat the next step is to dry it. This is often the hardest part, so you need to look at the various methods available, and figure out which one is best for you.
The easiest way to dry meat is to leave it in direct sunlight. However, this is a time-consuming process and you will need days before the meat becomes completely dry for preservation. When you’re out in the wild, you may not have the time or opportunity (or patience) to wait until the meat dries under the sun.
The alternative ways are drying the meat with salt, smoke, or heat. However, all of these methods are different from one another and can produce different flavors. For instance, if you use salt to dry and preserve the meat, you will need to have a lot of salt with you. In fact, that’s all this method requires.
If you have salt with you, it can be easily used to prepare and preserve the meat in a short time. On the flipside, salting meat doesn’t make it last the longest. This is best if you cannot consume all the meat at once and want to store it for two or three months.
If you have fire at your disposal, you can smoke the meat to dry and preserve it. However, smoking meat requires a lot of wood and also a long time, even though the meat produced is delicious. When you’re out in the wild, you may not have the time for smoking meat.
The longest lasting meat is produced using heat to make jerky. This method is quicker than smoking, and the meat can also be preserved for a long time, but the downside is that the meat becomes very tough and hard to chew through.
That sounds about as enjoyable as watching another Iron Man or Star Wars movie. No more The Force Awakens please!
Best Meats for Smoking and Curing
All kinds of meat can be preserved without refrigeration. But the ways of preserving different kinds of meat vary greatly.
What works for one type of meat may not work for the others. There is no doubt that smoked, cured, and salted meat taste delicious, but before you try preparing meat for preservation, it helps to know the best meats for smoking and curing.
Most of us are familiar with the types of meat used for preservation: pork, beef, chicken, etc. But there’s more to it than just that. There are so many parts and cuts to choose from that it becomes overwhelming to make a simple smoked meat. When we meet you need to know what kind of cuts you need for the type of preservation.
Then you need to know the best preservation method for the cuts that you have chosen. Not all methods will work for all cuts of meat. You may try but it will not produce the most flavorful meat.
It isn’t easy to preserve meat without refrigeration but by following a few simple steps we can not only prolong the shelf life of meat but also make it delicious.
The following are the best kinds of meat for smoking and curing:
Whether it’s smoking or curing, pork is the king of all meats. Any food expert will tell you there is no meat that can match pork when it comes to smoking or curing. In fact, pork is often the only real meat meant for smoking or curing.
Pork is one of the tastiest meats to be found, and the naturally high-fat content allowed for making countless cuts. Pork can also be smoked or cured whole.
Pork is a widely loved meat. Pork ribs, pulled pork, bacon, ham, tenderloin, and pork chops are some of the varieties of the meat enjoyed all over the world. Given the succulent nature of the meat, pork is great for both smoking and curing.
Even if you are not in any outdoor situation, pork meat can be smoked or cured for enhancing its flavor. Pork also works well with all kinds of sauces, dry rubs, mixtures, and glazing, thanks to the taste and fat content of the meat.
The parts of pork used for smoking or curing are spare ribs and belly (cured to make bacon), leg (used to make ham and roast), shoulder (used to make sausage and ground pork), loin (used to make tenderloins, rib roasts, and pork chops), and picnic shoulder (for ham hocks).
If you have time on hand and want some really flavorful smoked or cured meat, then beef should be your choice. Whether you smoke or cure beef it requires a lot of patience because beef is not only made of a lot of fat but also has thick connective tissues that can only soften with time.
Beef is not as succulent as pork and needs time in preparation and preservation. However, if you are ready to give the time then beef produces the most flavorful smoked or cured meat.
Like pork, beef also has various cuts. Remember that the juicier the meat the better it is for smoking. Lean cuts are usually used for curing. The best beef cuts for smoking or curing are beef ribs, beef brisket, and tenderloin.
This is the kind of meat to that you will get when you are out in the wild. Game meat has been used for smoking salting brining or curing ever since prehistoric ages.
We already have discussed how with no refrigeration available people in those days resorted to natural means to prolong the shelf life of the meat they had hunted.
Obviously, in those days there were no advanced cooking methods either. Therefore the natural preservation methods not only kept the meat fresh but also made it delicious.
Preserving game meat can be a little difficult if you do not have only ingredients with you. But even simple smoking or salt curing will not only preserve the meat but also make it tasty and appetizing.
If you really doing it out in the wild you have to go out of your comfort zone in order to smoke or cure meat.
Whether it is venison, game bird or any other large game meat you will probably have to discover your own methods to prepare and preserve them right. If you have plenty of time on hand and do things the right way, you will end up with a large stock of meat to last you a long time.
Although lamb meat is not used much for smoking it is one of the best meats for the purpose. Because lamb meat is young and not fully developed the meat is softer and has less fat. Lamb meat is better suited for smoking than curing.
Whether you are out in the wild with no other meat available or want to practice your smoking and curing skills, chicken, and turkey two of the best and most affordable types of meat you can ever find.
Whether you salt or cure a whole turkey or make smoked chicken wings, all of these primitive preservation methods work stupendously with any kind of poultry meat adding flavor softness and a longer shelf life.
Having looked at all the different types of meat for smoking or curing, it must be mentioned here that meat is not the only thing that can be preserved. Fish can also be used for preservation and the methods are not too different.
When you’re out in the wild, fishing is often much easier than hunting for meat. Fish can also be smoked, salted, or cured for prolonging its shelf life and also for consumption. In fact, fish takes much less effort to preserve compared to meat.
Meat Preservation Methods in the Wild
As we have already seen there are two distinct meat preservation methods in the wild: smoking and curing. Smoking is generally of one kind, but there are a lot of different kinds of curing methods.
What is the difference between smoking and curing? Smoking involves exposing the meat to burning wood smoke in order to preserve it and enhance its flavor.
Curing, on the other hand, involves treating the meat with a combination of salt, sugar, and nitrite to inhibit the growth of bacteria and increase the shelf life of the meat. Salting and brining are all forms of curing meat.
First, let’s look at dry curing, also called salting.
Here is a video on this:
- Airtight sterilized container
- Salt and sugar
- Spices (if you also want to enhance the flavor)
- Sodium Nitrite (optional, but helps if you want to prevent a bacteria called botulism. Nitrite is a toxic ingredient, so you can consider alternatives like the juice of lettuce, celery, and spinach that contain nitrite, or pink salt).
- First and foremost, clean the meat very well and pat it dry with a clean towel.
- Regardless of the type of meat or fish, you should slice it into a few slabs, taking care that the slices aren’t too thin or too thick.
- Next, rub a generous amount of the mixture of the salt and sugar onto the meat. Make sure the entire meat is covered with the mixture.
- Now add the spices of your choice for more flavor.
- That’s it. Put the cured meat in the sterilized container and store it away.
Wet Curing or Brining
- Salt and sugar
- Spices (optional)
- Sodium nitrite or alternatives (optional)
- You first have to make a saline solution by mixing the salt and sugar in water. But remember that at least 20 percent of this solution should be salt.
- Next, add the spices and herbs for flavoring.
- Then you have to slice the meat into thin strips. The strips should be as thin as possible because that will make it easy for them to absorb the solution and also dry faster.
- Once the meat has completely absorbed the solution, hang it out to dry under the sun, leaving it there for several hours. When the meat completely dries, store it or eat it.
- Dry wood (this is one of the most important ingredients because wood smoke is what is needed)
- Thermometer (if possible, because it will help you maintain the proper temperature while smoking and prevent the meat from getting burnt)
- Wires or grill (for hanging the meat above the smoke)
- Tools (shovel, woodcutter, etc. to make the smokehouse)
- First and foremost, you must build a smokehouse. Without smoke, there can be no smoked meat. If you’re in a camp, build the smokehouse close to where you stay. If you’re at home, the backyard is a good place to build your smokehouse.
- As with the above methods, you first have to slice the meat into slabs. The smaller the pieces of meat, the easier it is to absorb the flavor from the smoke and also dry quickly.
- The temperature of the smokehouse should be at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the proper smoked meat.
- If you want to hang the meat above the smokehouse, you should use the wire. If you plan to place the meat on the smokehouse, use the grill and then cover the meat with more wood.
- For the best results, leave the meat on the smoke for at least a day. If you want the smoked meat to last a month or more, leave it for two days.
Benefits of Smoking and Curing Meat
The most important advantage of smoking or curing meat is prolonging the shelf life. This is also the primary reason why meat is smoked or cured when you’re out in the wild. Not usually do people consider the health benefits when curing or smoking meat for preservation.
Smoked and cured meat are also available in the market, so if you’re in the mood for some preserved meat without having to take all the trouble you can easily buy them from your nearby store.
But keep in mind that preserved meat is not fresh at all. If you are someone who prefers having fresh meat then smoked or cured meat will be the complete opposite.
You could even be having six months old meat when you buy it from the market. Having said that, there are both advantages and disadvantages to the various preservation methods. Some of them are as follows:
All preservation methods including smoking and curing can extend the shelf life of meat for quite some time. This is especially helpful when you do not have access to refrigeration.
Preserving with salt herbs and spices adds an aroma and flavor to the meat, which is enjoyable and delicious.
Most of the preservation methods like smoking and curing are easy enough for anyone to accomplish. With the help of a few ingredients, you can easily preserve your own meat for a long time.
Once the meat has been smoked or cured it is resistant to all kinds of bacteria and will not go bad even if you leave it out in the open. Cured or smoked meat can also be used for making a number of dishes.
Since preserved meat is not fresh the nutrient content is very low. So if you consume meat with the main intention of nutrition then smoked or cured meat will not be of much help.
Cured meat has excessively high sodium content. This is highly unhealthy and contributes to a number of illnesses such as hypertension and heart diseases. High sodium content also leads to excess water retention in the body leading to swelling and joint pain.
The meat used for smoking is generally high in fats and can be unhealthy in the long run. If you are buying smoked or cured meat from the market you should be careful because manufacturers add a number of artificial preservatives to make the meat more flavorful but they are harmful to health.
How to Make Beef Jerky
There is another term for lean meat preservation and it’s called jerky. It is made by trimming the meat from all fat, thinly sliced, and cured to make it last longer. Jerky is usually made of lean cuts of beef.
- Fresh raw meat
- Salt and sugar
- Spices and herbs (optional)
- Open space (for the meat to dry)
- Like all the above methods, you first have to clean the meat really well and make sure it’s dry after. Fresh meat is the best.
- Cut thin slices, making sure to cut across the grain. Remove all fat and connective tissue and keep only the lean meat.
- Massage the sugar, salt, and spices on to the meat and leave it for a while so they get absorbed.
- Hang the meat to dry in sunlight. Do not put it above a fire and do not leave it out unattended or overnight. Depending on sunlight and the humidity, it can take one or more days for the jerky to be ready.
- When it turns brittle it’s done.
How Long Does Preserved Meat Last?
Preserved meat cannot and does not last forever. Brining will make the meat last for a couple of days, while dry curing and smoking can make the meat last up to a month. Beef jerky lasts the longest, up to three months, but remember that it doesn’t taste the best over time.
Knowing how to preserve meat is a poignant skill that is useful during emergencies and survival situations. It makes a lot more sense than watching any more Jurassic World or Iron Man movies!
Most of the ingredients are easily available, and the methods are not too hard to accomplish. But remember that all kinds of preserved meat don’t taste great and also don’t last forever. When preserving meat, make sure you don’t store it for more than three months at the most.