Storing Meat, by Pete Thorsen

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.

Making Jerky

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.

Biltong

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.

Vacuum Seailng

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.




39 Comments

    1. True. HOWEVER, Just a few drips of meat juices escaping a plastic bag, and you risk contaminating your well. Thus, the risk far outweighs the reward. A better use of this technique would be in keeping someone’s supply of insulin chilled. There, the reward far outweighs the risk.

        1. There was a spring house near my property until a few years ago, when a neighbor sealed the whole thing over with asphalt and drains.

          Spring houses were very common. They were built low, in streams or springs, with wide roofs to keep the water clean. People put butter, meat, milk, and similar cold storage items in pottery jugs or containers, put these into the water, and kept the food very nicely for some time.

          I have never used one, or known anyone who did, but there are enough old ruins of them around here to make it clear that they worked quite well.

    2. Some pre refrigeration era homes had dry wells for food storage. The one I have seen was 20 ft deep and had a dumb waiter to haul the food up and down. This system did not work where there was a shallow water table as the well would flood.

  1. Never saw it done but, a Cuban friend said they went without refrigeration a lot. His family had a drum of lard they would submerge the meat in to store for extended times.

    1. I have heard of this method also. The enemy of meat storage is bacteria. The lard likely seals the meat from the bacteria. Personally I would not likely risk this method even though I know it has been used before.
      In bad times lard itself would be a precious commodity.

    2. That was standard fare for my 89 yr. old mother when she was growing up. She has told me numerous times of sneaking a fried pork chop out of a crock of lard and eating it cold. A layer of lard and a layer of chops all the way to the top is what they did every year.

      1. I know this method as potted meat. The key is heat to kill the bugs and lard to seal the meat. Large crocks of potted meat were often used but care was needed to not dig too deep into the lard and contaminate the meat that is deeper. Hot lard was often used to reseal the top of the crock after each meal of meat was removed.

  2. Freeze drying? I have a couple of friends that have a freeze drying machine and use them to freeze dry various meets and other food for long term storage. I have tried a few packages that they porduced and they are very good. My wife is really interested in buying one, but I’m not so sure. It would be great prior to an event, but a realy expensive chunk of useless metal after.

    1. Some people do enjoy and make good use of their freeze drying machines, however, I have a good friend who made an “investment” in one of them. She spent a lot of time on maintenance and has become so frustrated with it that it now sits unused. I know she regrets the purchase.

  3. Good thought provoking article. We do not raise any livestock . We do buy beef and pork from neighbors as well as turkey and chicken from the meat market. We look at a freezer as short term storage so do not have lots of meat in freezers.
    We do pressure can hamburger, stew meat,turkey, chicken and some pork. We also pressure can bean with bacon soup and zucchini/sausage soup in quart jars. We buy canned tuna,sardines and salmon for storage.
    In the event of dicey times we would cut our meat rations down some to make it last.

    1. Canned tuna, sardines, and salmon are expensive. I pick up canned mackerel, which has much the same nutrition profile as salmon for about $1.50 a 15 oz can. I like to price meat by the ounce to compare fairly.

      My local dollar store caries the mackerel and I buy a case of 12 at a time. Notritious and tasty.

      Carry on

      1. We tried mackerel , not too excited about it . Yes tuna,salmon and sardines are a bit more expensive . We buy only when they are on sale and it gives us many different options for recipes and ways to use them.

  4. Slightly besides the point; I never was a fan of mushrooms, but I like them much better now that I know they’re a complete protein I can grow in my closet with sawdust and dehydrate with a solar oven.

    Probably can’t replace meat, but maybe bridge a gap in food storage.

    1. There are many sources of protein besides meat. Just look at all the mulberry trees in the USA and the leaves are edible if cooked and have lots of protein.
      But I like meat!

      1. Pete, like Vagus, I didn’t know about Mulberry Leaves, as a source of protein; or know they were even edible (when properly prepared). … The type must be important, too. Mulberry Trees will attract >animals (protein) other than just silkworms.
        …….. Sort of like a nut tree attracts feeding animals, besides crows and rats. Some nut trees can be bought, that are selected for growing into smaller sizes. … +Some nut trees can survive frigid Idaho.
        …….. Good idea Pete, to recommend a tree rich in plant protein, that also attracts animals, which can be trapped, snared or shot for protein too.

      2. I planted many trees for forage because they have high protein levels. Think alfalfa as high protein even though this is not a plant humans eat it is one an animal would. So trees do not have to be planted every year. We tried to make our homestead self sufficient for animals as well. For anyone interested check out Feedipedia which listed many plant food sources for livestock that you might not have thought about. Many higher or as high as the protein level of alfalfa yet perennial. https://feedipedia.org/ We have many poplar and mulberry planted. Cut the branches and livestock will go to town eating them. We also have many oak trees that our pigs, cows and sheep get very fat on. https://feedipedia.org/

  5. Some thoughts on meat ,here at the ranch we hang sides and quarters in a cool room after salting for 3 to 4 months ,a common air conditioner will work for cooling in a well insulated small room ,uncut sides must be salted ,spoilage is retarded by not cutting ,till meat is needed

  6. Noooo! Please don’t oven can meat !! And please research thoroughly the other suggestions mentioned . I pressure can lots of meats and vegetables being careful to process properly. I spoke with a woman had botulism that left her partially paralyzed from eating improperly canned meat. Botulism is not something you want to experience, especially when medical help isn’t easily accessed. Jerky and salting meat have been around for a looong time and are options if done correctly . But learn How to do it properly! Meat isn’t something you can mess around with. Improperly processed low acid foods can kill or maime you. So beware and informed.

  7. Unlike many nasties, botulism is hard to kill. Normal thorough cooking does NOT do it. A pressure cooker for a half hour does kill it. But botulism certainly is not always present. That is why some people get away with doing things that are not today recommended.
    Many times people use unsafe methods to store or cook meat and are not harmed at all. It is like a guy walking through the woods foraging for edible food that knows nothing about it. He might eat twenty different things and never eat a poison plant but if he keeps it up he will get one at some point.
    Also remember when using old-time methods that were used in the past – people were different back then. They all drank from every surface water source- would you do that now?
    All that said, many times we are talking about doing things during end times and you will not have all the resources that you do now. You will likely use what you have without any other choices. Like with many other things in hard times you will do what you can with what you have and take your chances.
    Right now we have lots of choices and resources. So now is the time to do any experimenting and practicing before your life may depend on it.
    I write these articles and put some cautions in parts for people like I did with the water bath and the oven canning. Yes some people do it and it is fine. And someone else might try it and die. I would hope before trying some things everyone would do more research. These are short articles whether written by me or other authors and are very seldom in-depth. Do your own research! Like above when I mentioned a caution on some things, that is your Que to look for yourself to see why I mentioned the caution.

  8. I have pressure canned lots of meat. Remove as much fat as possible and can the fat separately. Renderexcess fat in the jar. Do not use water in with the rendered fat in the jar, and cook it at times and pressures for meat. Too much fat and not enough head space (1″ minimum) contributes to a possible leaky seals in the future. Exceed the time and pressure recommendations for good measure, or just to make sure.

  9. We were actually “designed” to be vegetarians. It was not until after the fall that things changed, and when Noah and his family got off the ark after the flood( which was a judgement from God), they were given over to eating meats.

    1. Paul, I respectfully disagree. I would have to argue that:

      – Our incisors (the pointy teeth) are designed for tearing and eating meat while our molars are designed for grinding and mashing vegetables. So we really are “designed” to be omnivores and eat both.

      – Early humans and their ancestors were hunter-gatherers, not just gatherers. They domesticated animals and lived nomadically before they formed villages and started farming.

      – From Africa to Australia to North and South America, all the native tribes we’ve run across eat both and to the best of my knoweldge non were vegetarians.

      – Many cultures developed on rivers and near the sea because they ate fish. Even in climates where fruit and vegetables can be grown all year, meat was eaten by early man. And finally, many archeological digs find bones used as tools as well as depictions of hunting.

    2. Correct Pickled Pepper. We are created as omnivorous predators… Eyes face forward, small ears that do not rotate (for most folks) , small noses, 4 canine teeth..We are like a big cat in some respects. This is the human biological imperative. Blessed with a relatively large brain that plans, schemes, creates and builds…and hunts!

  10. My parents, both in their late 80s, have told me of salting meat with good success. Both of my grandmothers kept sausage, stored in lard, through the winter. The sausage was made into patties and fried, placed in a crock, and covered with the lard. Just take out what you need and cover it up again with the lard. Kept in a cool, dry, place it will keep for months. We can chicken, pork, beef, and venison which makes for tasty, easy meals!

  11. With what I read about Fukushima contaminating the Pacific I have stopped eating canned tuna and other fish. I am picky about where the rice comes from that I purchase also.

    A little off topic but I keep .999 silver in the bottom of my Berkey just as a little added insurance.

  12. For canning meats, fish and other low-acid foods such as vegetables, ALWAYS use pressure canning. Other methods will kill the ‘vegetative cells’ (actively growing) of botulism, but cannot destroy the spores – which will start to grow and will produce toxins later in storage. And always follow a current set of processing time-temperature-pressure charts EXACTLY. The time of any cook at a given pressure/temperature varies with the meat, the thickness of the pieces, the size of the jar/can, and other variables. The modern process times & conditions are worked out by scientists who have proven their results and allowed a margin of safety. It’s safe IF YOU FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. (* I’m a former government food /canning safety inspector).

  13. From hearing my parents talk about pre-refrigeration days, people often did not eat meat consistently year-round. See Laura Ingalls Wilder books for lore on this, also. Usually dairy was more plentiful in summer for a protein source, then meat in fall/winter when it kept better, then eggs in spring. Current understanding of nutrition would agree that we do not require huge amounts of meat all the time. I would much sooner eat no meat than risk improperly stored meat.

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