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?
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.
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).
In today’s world, it has become extremely important to prepare your family for disasters. Even something small like an ice storm could knock out power and close roadways for days at a time. To prepare for events like this, many people are beginning to realize the importance of having local food sources and keeping stored food on hand. Unfortunately, even if you raise your own animals, preserving meat the modern way involves a large, reliable source of electricity.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be a farmer or even an off-grid homesteader to put up meat using reliable methods. There are many ways of preserving meat without electricity that are feasible for those with root cellars in old farmhouses and those living in inner city apartments.
Smoking is one of the oldest methods of preserving meat. It was most commonly used in areas that had too much humidity to air dry or dehydrate meat (without the aid of a modern dehydrator of course). It can be really tasty. However, modern recommendations are to consume smoked meat sparingly as smoke contains carcinogens. That being said, it may still be a good choice for some of your harvest or an emergency situation. Smokers can be purchased or made at home. Obviously, this method is better suited to those with access to a backyard.
2. Curing (salting)
Curing meat is another old preservation method that is still used today. It involves quite a bit of time and effort but it’s how traditional favorites like bacon and pastrami were preserved. It’s also a cheap and easy process to master perfect for the new homesteader. You will need a cool area and a place where meats can be hung out of the way. Some curing recipes are used in combination with smoking for flavor.
It’s a very simple and is a traditional method of preservation. Brine is typically a simple mixture of water, sugar, and salt. The meat is preserved by being weighed down in a crock completely surrounded by brine. As with curing, you’ll need a cool area, and if you’re doing any large quantities be sure you have room to store your crocks.
4. Pressure Canning
First, it’s important to note that you absolutely cannot water bath can meat! It’s not acidic enough. However, if you have a pressure canner any type of meat can be easily pressure canned. This is probably one of the most popular methods today as once the meat is canned it requires no further work. You just re-heat it when you’re ready to eat and the jars are portable. Pressure canners are affordable, perfect for even apartment homesteaders, and are great for putting up vegetable harvests too.
This is probably one of the easiest, healthiest methods of storing meat (and vegetables too). Meat can be dried with the help of an electric dehydrator or a solar dehydrator. If you opt for an electric dehydrator, it’s probably best to purchase a larger one. Even though they’re cheaper, constantly running a small one trying to preserve all your food will take a lot of electricity. Solar dehydrators obviously have the benefit of not requiring electricity, but they are weather dependent. Solar dehydrators can be purchased or there’s a lot of DIY plans available online. With either you’ll need to make sure you’re meat is fully dried. If it’s left too moist it can mold.
6. Storing in Lard
This method may be very practical for those butchering an animal with a lot of fat. Both raw and cooked meat can be layered in a crock with melted lard. The lard prevents the growth of bacteria by keeping air from getting to the meat. It’s a cheap and effective storage method and involves no equipment.
7. Freeze Drying
This method is probably the least practical for a small homestead because you’ll need to purchase a freeze dryer. That being said they do make home models and freeze dried food comes with a lot of benefits. It’s lightweight, anything can be freeze dried including leftovers, and freeze dried food retains almost all of its nutrition. As it’s so light, freeze dried food is perfect for backpacking or emergency travels.
8. Keep Heritage Livestock
For those who keep livestock, obviously you may want to consider heritage breeds. Unlike modern livestock, heritage breeds are typically smaller. This was because a family would be able to use most or all of the animal before it went bad without having to preserve it. With the advent of refrigeration and factory farms, livestock was bred to be bigger and bigger which is not necessarily helpful for the small homestead. Some heritage livestock was also bred to have a higher fat content than their modern counterparts, which can be helpful in preservation.
9. Natural Refrigeration/Freezing
Though this is not the most reliable method, it is worth mentioning. In colder climates, it’s possible to store meat outside in the winter, but you’ll need to keep an eye on the thermometer if the weather warms up. You’ll also need to keep it in a secure building or container. Leaving meat out, frozen or not, can attract predators. Some people also have used hand dug wells as refrigerators. Simply put the meat in water tight jars and sink them in the well for short term refrigeration. Again, you’ll need to watch the temperature carefully.
Producing a lot of food is often one of a homesteader’s first goals, but if you rely on electricity to keep your harvest, you risk losing it all to a power outage. Knowing how to keep your food good when the power goes out using a combination of modern and traditional techniques can save you money and keep your family healthy.
No matter what method you choose, the most important part is safety. For our ancestors who preserved food on a near daily basis during the harvest season, it was no big deal. But until you’re confident, it’s important for the modern homesteader to find and follow credible recipes and preservation methods.