How to preserve meat during warm months without electricity?

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It's so easy to preserve food with a fridge. But if you don't have electricity, because of some big disaster or resource depletion, how would you handle preserving meat?

In winter it is relatively simple, because your whole environment is one big fridge. But what to do to prevent meat from getting rotten during warm months? What would you do to store a meat for at least one year?

Danubian Sailor

Posted 2013-01-29T19:50:13.523

Reputation: 1 747

1What is the typical temperature ranges from season to season? Geothermal refrigeration might be an interesting topic for you to research - though perhaps hereto irrelevant. My experience there is little to none. – user2525 – 2013-01-29T20:44:21.107

Winter weather varies depending on climate. Last winter the roses were blooming all winter long here in South Georgia. We were lucky if it dropped below freezing at night. – Richard Chambers – 2017-10-17T00:17:45.757

Answers

30

As I see it, there are 5 options: as detailed below, canning is an option; in @Nis' answer, salting, smoking, and drying are options. The fifth, and possibly the best option, is:

Store it "on the hoof"

That is to say that if you want to "store" pork for several months, perhaps you should wait until the beginning of winter for slaughter and processing. Or alternatively, don't raise meat animals that provide so much meat that you have to store it. Chickens would fit the bill, since you can process a single chicken, prepare a meal with the mean, make soup (possibly canning it) from the leftovers, and not have to worry so much about preserving the meat. Or make arrangements so that a larger animal (e.g. in the case where you're keeping dairy animals like goats or cattle) can be shared among enough people so that the meat is used immediately.

Canning

It's energy intensive up-front, but meat can be home canned and preserved for extended periods of time (possibly longer than salting, smoking, or drying).

Canning meat requires a bit of investment in equipment:

  • pressure canner (~$80)
  • jars, lids, and rings (~$15 per dozen quart jar kit)
  • a few misc. tools (e.g. jar lifter)

Note that the canner, jars, rings, and tools can be reused many times so that the cost per batch ends up very low.

You can get detailed instructions for home canning meat in trusted books like the "Ball Blue Book" or from the US National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Once the canning is done, all you have to do is keep the product in a relatively cool, dark, dry place.

bstpierre

Posted 2013-01-29T19:50:13.523

Reputation: 2 829

With jars and a pressure canner; it's a fairly common practice, but I'll add more detail to the answer. – bstpierre – 2013-01-30T12:46:29.510

It can be combined with smoking, salting and drying, isn't it? Anyway, +1. – Pavel – 2013-01-30T23:12:00.887

I like the "on the hoof" option this is thinking outside the box – HelloW – 2013-02-02T14:48:37.080

Growing up we canned many foods. We never had a pressure canner, simply putting the prepared jars in a large vat of boiling water (usually held ~6-10 jars), and placed a lid on the vat while continuing to boil the vat on the stove. I do not recall the timing, but the jars were ready when the 'button' in the lid popped down. Then just remove those jars for cooling, and put the next one in. The last time I participated was years ago, so my details may be rusty, but my grandfather still cans food every season the same way. – Prymaldark – 2013-02-03T13:56:27.610

Many foods can be safely canned in a simple boiling water canner (tomatoes, pickles, fruits, etc), but meat must be processed according to a proven recipe in a pressure canner in order to achieve the temperatures required to kill organisms that will spoil the food. – bstpierre – 2013-02-03T18:12:49.787

And how that home canning can be done? – Danubian Sailor – 2013-01-30T06:35:04.350

Very nice sharing these are very usefull because we are today sacrified to much of the butiful animals. – None – 2016-09-13T07:26:19.813

3Water bath canning meat is a good way to get dead. Humor aside, smoking rarely is effective for so long as a year. Canning, salting, and drying can be. A year is pushing it for dried meat, though, unless additional preservative steps are taken. – OCDtech – 2013-02-21T20:32:16.203

22

I would probably go with either:

  • Salting
  • Smoking
  • Drying

Or a combination of those three.

Salting has been done for quite a while here in Scandinavia, but mostly with fish. Herring to be precise.

Nis

Posted 2013-01-29T19:50:13.523

Reputation: 537

11

Although @Nis already gave an answer, I want to expand on it a little.

What does it mean to preserve food?

One would be to put the meat into an environment, where bugs, moulds, etc. don't exist (i.e. can't survive). The common way of doing that is to put your food in the freezer, although I have also seen people preserve grain in barrels filled with nitrogen. (Canning is another option. You just have to be sure, there are no moulds or bacteria inside. People have died from improperly canned food.)

The other would be to change the food into something that you can still eat, but bugs, moulds, etc. cannot eat any longer. Here you are making use of two advantages which you have over your competitors.

  1. You are the larger organism. That is to say, you can digest food that smaller organisms cannot digest any longer. I am a big fan of honey, for example. Why do you think that honey doesn't get mouldy? Because it is rich in minerals, vitamins and other things that moulds, or probably even ants can't digest. (Bears can, however.)

  2. You have the power of reversing the preservation process, at least to some extent. E.g. you can reconstitute dried food. You don't have to eat it in the preserved state. Your competitors do, however.

Using these two advantages, you can change fresh food into something that, at least for the period of preservation, is not edible by your competitors, but edible by you, once you choose to eat it.

The true art of preserving food is, however, not to overdo it (because it will not taste as good) and not "underdo" it (or your competitors, the bugs, moulds, etc. will eat it first). You need to get it "just right".

Thus, when preparing preserved food, you should ask yourself for what period you would like to preserve it and under which conditions you will store it (humidity and temperature are the biggest factors). Then taking into account discrepancies in your calculation, you preserve your food.

Salting is very good and doesn't vary so much with humidity. It rather varies with length of preservation and temperature of storage place. A cool place slows down the process of your food being "eaten" by someone else. For Japanese pickled plums (umeboshi) I have the figures in my head:

  • 7% salt: 1 year in the fridge
  • 12-15% salt: 1 year at room temperature (up to 30, 35 degrees in the summer)
  • 20%+ salt: indefinitely at room temperature (7 year umeboshi are quite a delicacy)

The plums are dried in the sun for several days, several hours per day before salting.

I presume similar measures apply to meat. These plums are extremely salty though. You can't really take more than 1 small plum per meal. If you decide to dry and salt your meat, you have to decide how you want to eat it in the end. A big salt-preserved steak won't taste very good...

Similar ideas apply to smoking and drying. Be sure how you want to eat your preserved meat, for how long you want (or need) to preserve it and then by frugal with your preservation methods. Frugal, but not too frugal.

Earthliŋ

Posted 2013-01-29T19:50:13.523

Reputation: 5 090

8

One of the overlooked means of storing meat is fermentation. This is a bit of an art form so I will leave a few pointers here, but it is important to use salt and to ferment in a proper environment (sometimes starter cultures are added).

You may not know this but salami is basically raw meat (beef and pork) which has been salted, fermented, and dried. It's probably the best place to start. Fermentation is important because it helps ensure that the food keeps safely for an extended period of time.

In this case you are doing what many of the other folks have said but with the added fact that you are using micro-organisms to help with the preservation process.

Sausage making is a good place to start in this regard. There are a lot of fermented sausages out there and one can combine this with smoking and other means to create long-term shelf-stable foods if you need to.

Chris Travers

Posted 2013-01-29T19:50:13.523

Reputation: 5 716

2

I grew up very poor, out in the country, the youngest of seven, and my mom was a widow. She canned everything over an open fire outside, in a galvanized tub, the same one we used to take our baths in. She had a piece of plywood cut to fit the top, and a "handle" of plywood nailed to the center. Three or four cinderblocks under the edges of the tub, and a fire in the center got it boiling, and we fed it for 3 hours.

None of us ever got sick from home-canned meat.

Federal guidelines for canned meat say to pressure can meat for 90 minutes to kill all botulism spores. But then, it also says, just to be safe, never taste home-canned meat until you first boil it for 15 minutes, to kill all botulism spores that may have survived.

In my experience this is overkill. (Pardon the pun.) 3 hours of waterbath canning will efficiently kill all botulism enough to create a sealed product that will keep for years, and will be safe if you remember to boil the opened meat for 15 minutes before tasting—which according to federal guidelines you need to do anyhow, even if you pressure can.

Mary Ellen Nissley

Posted 2013-01-29T19:50:13.523

Reputation: 31

1Welcome to Sustainable Living! I guess you are saying that you can preserve meat by canning it yourself. The last few lines of your post look a bit like a rant. You may want to remove that part to avoid down-votes. – THelper – 2016-08-17T07:36:38.727

Hello and welcome. I edited your post. Please check if you approve of the changes, otherwise you can rollback to the previous version. – Earthliŋ – 2016-08-17T08:35:32.827