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Preserving Meats Without Refrigeration

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Aging_meat2The ability to preserve meat, without refrigeration, has long been a thorn to many outdoor enthusiast, often leading to overweight and cumbersome coolers.

Yes, one could simply use biltong or jerky, but there are other alternatives and this article will illustrate some of those methods

Various methods can be used to preserve or to cure meats to eliminate the need for refrigeration. Before the use of pressure-cooking to “can” meats, meats were air-dried, cured with salt and sugar and/or a combination of smoke and heat.

Today nitrates, sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate are also added along with salt and sugar in the curing of meats. Nitrates are known to inhibit bacteria growth by reducing the oxidation process. Regular table salt also inhibits bacteria growth by drawing the moisture out of microorganism effectively destroying them. This process is referred to as “osmotic pressure”. The concept behind any curling or preservation of meats is the elimination of moisture, which bacteria need to survive and grow.

Drying Meat Using Hot Air and Wood Smoke 

Drying to preserve meats has been used for thousands of years and is still used today. Drying meats using a heat source can also include smoke from a hardwood fire. Smoke adds flavor and helps prevent the growth of bacteria.

Food Dehydrators are typically used to make jerked meats today. The dehydrators are relatively inexpensive and make the process much faster and more efficient, and it can be done on your kitchen counter. However, you can use any heat source such as a campfire, charcoal/gas grill or your oven to dry meats. Most processes do not remove all of the moisture but enough is removed so that bacteria cannot survive.

Dried meat can be stored out of refrigeration in ambient temperatures for many months because of the low moisture content, which prevents microbial spoilage of the meat proteins. Lean cuts of meat are used for drying because fatty tissue will become rancid and this process cannot be stopped by the curing process.

Buffalo, beef, goat and game meats such as deer and antelope are ideal meats for curing. Livestock used in some regions for meat production, such as camels or yaks can also be used.

Mutton is ranked slightly lower as far as an ideal meat for curing and is not used unless no other meats are available. Pork, even from very lean muscle parts, is less suitable, because it contains higher amounts of fat, mostly invisible within the muscle cells. This would make the meat prone to oxidation and would quickly become rancid. In other words, pork has too much fat in the cells that cannot be removed prior to the curing process.

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