Meat is an essential source of protein, which is why it’s vital to know how to properly store it. We’ve become too accustomed to using a refrigerator or freezer to store meat. If you ask people what they do with the meat in their refrigerator or freezer when they lose power, most will tell you they try to cook as much of it as possible in a few days and throw out the rest to avoid getting sick.
It’s understandable. According to Healthline, “Each year, 48 million people fall sick from food poisoning,” and several of those cases are the result of spoilage bacteria.
Refrigerators were not invented until 1843, and their use in American homes did not appear until 1913. Before then, families stored their meat without refrigeration.
Nowadays, we’re 100% reliant on this invention, but there may come a time when we are required to store meat without refrigeration. For example, if a major disaster knocks out our power and we experience an extended blackout or we have to go off the grid, we’ll need to know how to store meat safely.
How our ancestors stored meat without refrigeration
Fresh Mag explains, “Turn back the clocks to the ages of hunter gatherers and the notion of storing foods wasn’t even a thought. Whatever food was hunted and gathered was simply consumed.” They also relied on seasonality (eating food that was in season).
However, things changed once people recognized the need to preserve food, so they didn’t have to rely on seasonality. According to Medieval Food Preservation, “A society that was largely agrarian would be keenly aware of the need to store up provisions against the ominous threats of famine, drought, and warfare.”
Since history repeats itself, it is wise to look into the past to see how our ancestors stored meat without the refrigeration techniques we have today.
- Cold Pantry – Many early homes had a cold pantry to store food. A cold pantry is designed with ventilation that draws the cold air from the home into the small space, which makes the cold pantry several degrees cooler than the rest of the home.
- Root Cellars – A root cellar is a storage unit that relies on natural elements to keep cool. The Old Farmers’ Almanac explains, “A root cellar is any storage location that uses the natural cooling, insulating, and humidifying properties of the earth.” Today, root cellars may appear as basement root cellars or as hole-in-the-ground cellars.
- Ice houses – Our wealthy ancestors had ice houses. For instance, if you visit George Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate, you can see the ice house on the property. Constructed as a dry well dug into a hill, the ice house had an outer wall of wood planks and was insulated with straw, dirt, and sod. According to the Mount Vernon website, “In the dead of winter, many of Washington’s enslaved workers had less to do in the fields, so he sent them out in boats to cut blocks from the floating ice in the Potomac. The blocks were then dragged up the hillside and then deposited into the well.” For Washington, it was worth it so he could enjoy the newly discovered dessert called ice cream, but ice houses were also used to store meat.
- Drying and Salting Meat – Today’s jerky evolved from the drying or dehydrating process our ancestors used. After removing all the fat and sliced into thin strips, meat was dried in the sun. Additionally, our ancestors cured meat with salt. The salt absorbs the moisture, drying the meat out, and prevents the growth of bacteria.
We can use what we’ve learned from our ancestors and combine it with modern inventions to make storing meat without refrigeration safer and better.
Dry curing meat
Here are instructions for curing meat with salt from Morton Salt:
- Apply the cure (curing salt) directly on the meat.
- After applying, place the meat into a plastic food storage bag and tightly seal.
- From there, put your meat in a cool place (between 36-40 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Let the curing process take place. The length of time will depend on the thickness of the meat.
- After the curing process is complete, remove excess salt by rinsing your meat.
- Cook the meat.
Generally, dry curing works best for hams, small cuts of meat, and bacon.
Brine curing meat
Here are instructions for brine curing meat from Morton Salt:
- Combine curing salt and water to create a sweet pickle solution.
- Prepare the brine using a large non-corrosive bowl.
- To cure, infuse the brine solution into the meat or soak the meat some time (it must be fully submerged).
- Like dry curing, the process takes place in a cool space.
- Once the brine curing process is complete, cook the meat.
Using a pressure canner, it is possible to can any type of meat. Here are instructions for preserving ground meat by canning from WikiHow:
- Shape chopped meat into patties or balls.
- Cook until lightly browned.
- Before canning, drain meat to remove excess fat.
- Fill the canner with 2-3 inches of water.
- Fill jars with pieces.
- Add boiling meat broth, tomato juice, or water, leaving 1-inch headspace.
- Start timing the canning process once the pressure gauge reaches the desired level.
- Process in a pressure canner for 75-90 minutes depending on altitude.
- Once the process is complete, remove the canner from heat and allow to cool.
- Do not open until fully cool and depressurized naturally.
With a dehydrator, it is easy to dry meat that has a lengthy shelf life. With a dehydrator, you can make jerky at home in just a few hours. If you don’t own a dehydrator, you can mimic the process in your oven. Here’s how according to WikiHow:
- Cut meat into narrow strips with a cross-section of 1cm x 1cm.
- Boil strips of meat on the stove for 3-5 minutes to get rid of bacteria.
- Remove the meat from the water and let drain until dry.
- Bake in an oven (on the lowest setting) for 8-12 hours.
However, running an electric dehydrator and an oven both require electricity. This is another time when owning a solar oven is ideal.
Raising animals for food
Another option is to raise animals for meat. Knowing how to raise animals, such as chickens, rabbits, goats, or cows, gives you an ongoing food source. In this situation, you still need to know how to store meat without refrigeration, but you won’t have to store it for quite as long.
Stock up on emergency freeze-dried meats
Finally, it is worthwhile to stock up on My Patriot’s emergency freeze-dried meat kits. Our freeze-dried meat packages can last up to 30 years unopened. Each fat-free freeze-dried chicken serving provides you with 14 grams of protein, which amounts to 25 to 30% of your body's daily requirement. And one serving of freeze-dried beef adds 8 grams of protein to your meal.
Embrace early food preservation methods. Be prepared, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply