Preserving Your Own Meats for Food Storage
by Brandon Garrett
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Meat always seems to be a popular item in food storage. It packs essential nutrients like proteins, iron, zinc, Vitamins A, Vitamin B and Vitamin D. However, having a long-term supply of meat can be tricky. How do you get it to last?
There are a few options when preserving meats. Methods like salting, brining freezing and dehydrating are great options to help you keep the meats for future meals.
Salting is one of the oldest forms of meat preservation. In order to salt your pork, you’ll need:
• Fresh Pork
• Pickling Salt
• Brown Sugar
• Crocks or Jars for Storage
Cut your meat into slabs – generally 4 to 6 inches thick. Mix ½ pound of pickling salt with ¼ cup of brown sugar. This will yield enough to cover 12 lbs of pork. Cover the slabs with this mixture liberally. Pack the meat into sterilized crocks or jars. Make sure they are tightly packed and cover them with cheesecloth.
You’ll want to store the meats in an area that is lower than 36°F. However, you also don’t want to store them in an area that could see freezing temperatures. Leave the meats in the cool area for at least one month. After that month, you can wrap the meats in plastic or waterproof paper and leave it stored all winter.
Brining is very similar to salting. Begin the same way as you did with the salted pork by cutting it into slabs. Then pack the pork into a sterilized container like a crock or jar.
Dissolve 1 lbs of pickling salt and ½ cup of brown sugar into 3 quarts of water. Pour this brine into the container and completely cover the meat with the liquid. If the meat is floating, use a weight to push it down. Cover the lid and store in a cool room (below 36°F) for a week.
After a week, open the container, remove the pork, stir the brine and replace the meat. Repeat this process once a week for a month. If at any time when you open the container, the brine is thick or stringy, empty the container, sterilize the container and wash the meat. Mix a new batch of brine and continue from where you left off.
A lot of people believe that they shouldn’t freeze their meats because it destroys the meat. However, this is not true if you’re doing it correctly. After the meat has thawed, the bacteria will grow again. Also, contrary to general opinion, freezing meat doesn’t improve its quality.
In order to optimize your frozen meat, you’ll need to ensure that the meat is wrapped in an airtight container – a container that is moisture-, odor- and vapor-proof.
Freezers tend to dry meats out, which means that you have to make sure your containers or wrappings are tight. This will prevent bacteria growth on the inside of the meat. It’s also important to squeeze out as much air out of the container as possible. If your meat is already wrapped in butcher’s paper, that will be fine. Just be sure to tape down the edges with freezer tape so no drying occurs.
Frozen meats will typically last less than a year. This chart will give you an idea of how long your meat will last:
Maximum Recommended Freezing Time for Meats
Cut or Type Freezer Storage Time
Beef Roasts 12 months
Steaks or Chops 12 months
Ground 3 months
Roasts 8 months
Steaks or Chops 9 months
Roasts 12 months
Chops 4 months
Roasts 8 months
Chops 4 months
Fatty Fish 3 months
Lean Fish 6 months
Ground Meats 3 months
Sausage 1-2 months
Whole Chicken or Turkey 12 months
Whole Duck or Goose 6 months
Poultry, Cut Up 9 months
Giblets 3 months
Cured Meat 1-2 months
The best way to thaw meats is by doing it slowly in its original wrappings. This will prevent the majority of its juices from being evaporated. You may also just begin cooking the frozen meat but it will take longer to cook and can cook unevenly.
In general, small cuts of meat can defrost overnight but some larger cuts will need to defrost for a couple days.
Dehydrating your meats is a great way to preserve them for a time. Each dehydrator will operate a little differently, and it’s important to follow the instructions. However, here are a few guidelines for making your own jerky.
Go light on the fat. You’re not going to be marbling the meat – just drying it. So, don’t choose a meat that has a lot of fat in it. Fat will make the beef jerky go bad sooner. Typically a flank cut is a good piece to create jerky with.
Cut small. When you buy the meat from the butcher, you can ask them to cut it for you if you’d like. Or you can do it yourself. Cut long ¼ inch strips across the grain. Typically a half frozen meat will cut better than a thawed one.
Heat the marinade. There are a ton of marinade recipes out there to flavor the jerky. However, it’s a good idea to heat the marinade beforehand to at least 160 degrees to kill of pathogenic microorganisms.
Vacuum seal. Once the jerky has cooked, the best option for storage is to place it in a bag and vacuum seal it. You can then refrigerate or freeze the bag and it should store for 2-3 months.
The freeze-drying process isn’t necessarily something you can easily do at home. However, freeze-dried meats are readily available. Meats are placed in large vacuums that control the temperature and pressure levels. The pressure is lowered and raised so quickly that moisture in the meats doesn’t have time to liquify. Instead the water in the meats turns directly from a solid to a gas – removing 99% of the moisture!
This allows the meats to have a 20+ year shelf life. All you have to do is add water back into the equation when you’re ready to eat. Let the meat rehydrate and you have fresh meat ready to cook or eat.