Popular Food Preservation Methods For Meat
If you are one who has learned to preserve fruits and vegetables in your own kitchen, you may next be wondering about ways to preserve meat. While it is quite easy to stock a freezer with meat, don't neglect other methods such as canning, smoking, and drying.
Many people are returning to the home arts of earlier years. Whether for a sense of self-reliance, for disaster preparedness, or just to save some money, one of the skills growing in popularity is food preservation.
Photo by Nancy Shepherd
Freezing is probably the most common method of preserving meat in our modern society, and it is a quick and easy way to stock up for future meals. You can fill the freezer a little at a time, buying in quantity when the meat is on sale, if you don't want to do it all at once.
Making use of meat from your freezer does require planning. For most recipes you will have to get the meat out ahead of time so it can thaw in the refrigerator before you cook it. But the biggest disadvantage is the threat of power failure. It can be disheartening to see your freezer full of meat spoil during a prolonged power outage due to bad weather or the breakdown of the power grid.
Photo by Collin Harvey via flickr.com
The tricks to making sure your efforts at preserving meat by freezing are truly economical are air-tight packaging and labeling.
Protect your meat from freezer burn by wrapping tightly with paper and plastic specially made for freezing. First wrap with plastic so there is no air in contact with the meat. Then wrap with freezer paper. Most regular tape won't hold in cold temperatures, so use freezer tape to fasten the paper packages.
Of course, when meat is all wrapped up, you can't tell what it is. Make sure you will actually use the meat you froze by labeling the packages and writing the date. That way it is easy to pick out the cut you want and use the oldest packages first.
Before electricity was widely available to operate freezers, one way to preserve meat was canning. In 1795, Napoleon offered a cash prize to anyone who could prevent spoilage of the military's food supply. The result was the food preservation method we know as canning, which involves sealing food in jars and heating it to temperatures that destroy microorganisms.
After properly home canning meat, it can be stored without refrigeration, so it won't matter if the power goes out. It speeds up meal preparation a great deal since the meat is already cooked inside the jars and only needs to be heated up. That time savings is somewhat cancelled out, however, by the canning process. Canning meat is time consuming and labor intensive. Jars of food are heavy and bulky, as well, so you need a lot of sturdy shelves for storage.
Photo by Nancy Shepherd
You can get canning jars at your local hardware store, big box store, farm store, and some grocery stores. You might want to haunt the neighborhood auctions or yard sales. Or just save yourself some time and order them here online. The wide-mouth jars are better for canning meat.
The oldest way to preserve meat is drying it into jerky, with or without seasonings. While foods were traditionally dried outdoors in the sun, it's not the best way to do it unless you have no other choice. It is better to use an artificial source for consistent heat and to be inside where there is protection from dirt and insects.
Preserved in this way, meat is lightweight and compact, and it does not have to be kept refrigerated. However, the meat must be cut into strips a quarter-inch thick, making the method very labor intensive and time consuming if done in large batches. Cooking with dried meat also requires planning ahead to allow time for reconstituting.
Slicing meat is tedious work, and it's hard to get the consistent slices that are important for drying. An electric meat slicer makes the task much faster. Shop around to get one of good quality, like this Chef's Choice slicer here.
Cast aluminum makes this slicer sturdy for any slicing task. The blade is stainless steel, and the slicer can be adjusted from very thin to 1 inch thick. Best of all, the unit disassembles for easy cleaning of all parts.
Other ways to preserve meat are curing and smoking. When meats are cured or smoked, they don't have to be dried to the same degree as with drying alone because certain properties of the smoke or curing agent inhibit the growth of microbes. That means the meat won't be as dry, and can be eaten without rehydrating, as with salami. These methods prolong the life of the meat, but they still have to be refrigerated.
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You could build your own smoker, but why go to the hassle when you can buy one inexpensively? There are smokers available that allow you to smoke enough meat for a gathering of family or friends, and give you the control to ensure luscious results at the table. Choose the one that fits your style: one that lets you monitor the temperature yourself, one with a thermostat, or one that is fully automatic to the point of even loading its own flavor briquettes.
The Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain Cooker is a good meat smoker if you're just starting out. Its two cooking grates let you smoke both a whole turkey and a ham at the same time -- perfect for creating those old-time meats in preparation for Thanksgiving. It uses charcoal for smoking, and includes a water pan, thermometer for monitoring the interior temperature, vents to adjust the temperature, and a heat-resistant handle. The classic smoker shape sports an enameled steel finish and measures only 19" across by 41" tall.
Wood Chunks For Smoking Meat
Even if you're using a charcoal cooker to smoke your meat, you'll want to add some wood chunks for flavor. Different woods impart different flavors to smoked meats. Choose from apple, cherry, hickory, pecan or mesquite to complement your meat. The apple is especially good with poultry or pork.
Use A Commercial Curing Formula For Curing Meats At Home
Curing is done with nitrates and nitrites. They add flavor and color, but are extremely toxic, even in small quantities. At a rate as small as a quarter of an ounce of nitrite per 100 pounds of meat, it is difficult to measure accurately. For use at home, it is safest to use a commercial meat curing mix. The commercial mixes combine the curing agent with salt in a safe ratio.
Even though we have many more conveniences than our ancestors did, we shouldn't let knowledge of the old skills fade away. Power outages are not uncommon, and it's good to be prepared with food that doesn't rely on electricity to remain edible. Even if only for the sense of satisfaction in knowing you've stocked the larder with your own hands, it is good to know and use various ways to preserve meat at home.