While some people are vegetarians and get by just fine, I feel that is not the normal eating habits of humans. Humans are omnivores who are designed to eat both meat and plants. Most preppers have the plant part down with growing their own vegetable gardens, foraging wild plants in their area, or a combination of those two. Meat is a more difficult food item for many preppers.
Edible plants and sprouts can be grown even in an apartment or a small outdoor space. But growing meat in a small space is more difficult, but perhaps not impossible. Fish are a possible answer that can possibly be grown in a small area as long as you have the required food for your fish. Rabbits require only a small area as long as you have access to food and water for them. Chickens are often allowed to roam or are caged in larger pens but could likely be grown in much more confined cages.
Larger livestock require both more space and more food. For instance, a cow or goat can be kept in a very small pen but would require a much larger area just to store the required feed. That is why these animals are often allowed to graze in a large area to reduce the amount of stored feed required.
There are also a large number of wild birds, animals, fish, and crustaceans that can be harvested by preppers in the United States. Meat contains nutrients that humans require to stay fit and healthy. Meat is different from plants in many ways. One difference is that many plants can be eaten raw and in fact, are usually consumed raw. For the most part, meat has to be cooked before we eat it.
Most preppers have prepped for cooking so that is not that much of an issue. The main issue with meat is storage. If you grow potatoes they can be stored easily for quite some time–just keeping them cool and out of the sun. Many other vegetables can be stored for many days or even weeks with no special conditions or preparations Not so with meat. Raw meat might only last only a day or less without special preparations.
Meat Storage Methods
So how can meat be stored? Currently, most people store meat for short periods in their refrigerator or for longer times in their freezer. Once properly packaged and frozen, meat can last for much more than a year in your freezer. As preppers, we know the trouble with that is the loss of electric power means the loss of the ability to keep the meat in a frozen state.
So how else can you store meat? You can use a pressure canner to can meat just like you do vegetables. Canned meat can be stored for a long time, like years if it is done properly and does not get a leak in the lid. Canned meat can be almost any meat once it is cooked and canned it will keep with no refrigeration.
In the past, many people have also used water-bath canners for meat canning but that is not recommended. Nor is oven canning. The reason oven and water-bath canning is not recommended is because the temperatures do not get high enough to ensure any bad bugs have been killed in the canning process.
Canned meat is great but it is then already cooked so if you want long term stored steaks or chops that you can then grill, do you have an option? Yes, meat can be freeze-dried. You can buy freeze-dried cuts of different meat but honestly, it is rather expensive. It does keep a very long time once it is freeze-dried which is a big advantage if the cost is not a major concern. There are now home freeze-driers that you can purchase and then freeze-dry your own meats, vegetables, and fruit but the machines are rather expensive to purchase. The freeze-dried meat can be reconstituted to be like fresh and then you can cook it or grill it as you prefer. Cooked meat can also be freeze-dried.
Most of you have likely eaten jerky and that is another method that can be used to store meat without refrigeration. Meat can be jerked in your oven using countless jerky recipes or you can make up your own recipe. This is one of the most inexpensive ways to extend the storage of meat because most people now do have access to an oven which can be gas or electric. Meat can also be jerked in a dehydrator. If a dehydrator is used I would recommend one that has adjustable temperature settings and use a setting of 160 degrees or more.
Yes, many people do jerk meat at lower temps but I try to always err on the side of caution. Bringing the jerky temperature up to 160 or 165 will help kill any possible bacteria on the meat. Once the meat is jerked it can be stored in any air-tight container for maybe up to six months. Possibly longer but conditions vary and six months is usually a safe estimate for storage. Jerky makes an excellent travel food because it is light weight and be eaten at any time–even as you are walking. Jerky can also be added to things like soup or rice to add flavor and protein.
Smoking is very similar to jerking meat only with the addition of smoke. Sometimes the terms smoking and jerking are used for the same process. Smoking adds its own flavor to the meat.
Making biltong is another way to keep meat without a freezer. It is similar to jerky but often no heat is used and the meat is just dried, often outside using just the sun and wind. The meat is usually cut much thicker than jerky. This method is still used in Africa today. I admit I have never made biltong. There are many recipes for making biltong. Commonly these recipes contain salt and coriander seeds and sometimes include many other ingredients such as brown sugar, wine vinegar, and other items. Once dry, biltong can be cooked with water before being eaten.
Curing or salting meat is another way to store meat without refrigeration. This is a very old method that is still used today. There are many variations but all involve using either dry salt or a heavy salt brine. Meat cured using this method can be safely stored for up to three months. In this method, it is the salt that stops the growth of bacteria.
Ground beef can be dried for a long shelf life. Use extra lean ground beef fry and remove all possible fat. When thoroughly fried then drain and rinse with very hot or boiling water to remove all remaining fat/oil. Another option is to boil the ground beef until thoroughly cooked, drain, and rinse with very hot water to completely remove as much fat as possible. Then take the fried or boiled ground beef and place into a dehydrator and dry completely. The meat should be much lighter in weight and appear like hard pebbles. Place in a sealed container and it should store for maybe a year. To use just soak in water or add to soups or stews as-is and cook until soft.
There is another option that can extend the life of meat and that is vacuum sealing. This can be used in conjunction with drying, jerking, or any method except canning. The already processed meat is commonly put in a standard canning jar and vacuum sealed inside. This will extend the storage life of that meat by removing most of the oxygen. Or place in a jar with an oxygen absorber and seal the jar. The oxygen absorber should remove the oxygen and produce a light vacuum in the sealed jar.
Even without electricity meat can be stored outside in the winter months in many locations that remain below freezing for months at a time. Just keep it out of the sun and it will be just like storage in a standard freezer.
Those are the most common ways to store meat. Humans, especially in the United States are meat eaters. Meat is an excellent source of complete protein and other necessary nutrients. Meat is also commonly a good source of calories. In some cases, people have lived on meat alone if the meat contained a hearty dose of fats. The Eskimos are a prime example of this fact.
Of course, now in normal times we can easily buy many meat products such as jerky which is available at just about every grocery or convenience store. Canned meat comes in almost countless varieties. Canned chicken, tuna, and salmon are just a few examples. These purchased canned meats are an excellent prep item for your food storage. The canned meats usually have a “best by” date of a couple years or more and are likely safe to eat much, much longer than the stated date.