Thinly sliced cured meat with a sprinkle of spices on a wooden cutting board.

Drying Meat and How it Preserves It

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

Drying meat is one form of preservation, but there are others I’ll go through in this article.

Most commonly, drying in some Asian countries is still the main method of preserving meat. In most Western countries, freezers are the main way of preserving meat.

Meat Drying and Preservation

To preserve meat, it is all about drying it in various ways. If you are going to dry meat at home, it is all about using salt as the main ingredient.

They have many other ways of drying the meat in a commercial context.

Specific plant equipment is used in many commercial applications, but not all.

  • Convective drying
  • Sun Drying
  • Oven Drying
  • Ultrasonic Vaccum drying
  • Freeze Drying
  • Vacuum Drying
  • Microwave Vaccum Drying

Source: A comprehensive review of drying meat products and the associated effects and changes

For at-home preservation of meat, the main categories are:

  • Salting
  • Drying
  • Cold Smoking
  • Fermenting
  • Canning
  • Cooling and Freezing

Canning and freezing do not dry the meat for preservation.

Cold smoked pancetta bacon & salami   dry salt cured and preserved
Cold Smoked Pancetta Bacon &Amp; Salami – Dry Salt Cured And Preserved

I’ll elaborate on each technique also below.

Most people at home will Involve salt and an environment that is not too dry or moist so that the meat can be dried evenly from the outside in and the inside out.

Drying Reduces Moisture, Which Preserves

The unwanted bacteria prefer a moist environment. This is why preserving occurs; it is because of drying. Salt inhibits the meat molecules and prevents water activity (Aw).

Fresh Meat, in general, Is approximately 70% water. Often, it is about 20% protein, depending on the meat.

In many of the dry curing projects I have done at home over the years, a minimum 30% weight loss needs to occur: water loss and preservation.

For specific whole muscle and salami-dry cured goods, 40% weight loss is the target, which can take several months.

Drying With Salt

Regarding the amount of salt needed to cure before drying meat, a general guide is 2% of salt to the total weight of the fresh meat used.

Based on many observations and research of ingredients and commercial smallgoods in various Western supermarkets, sometimes there is less sodium/salt than this since they are often using other methods of preservation.

Drying Meat Without Salt

In a Survival context, Drying meat can be done in cold climates without salt, often over a smoldering fire, hanging the meat, or using the wooden rack type system.

Sun drying is also quite prevalent in certain Asian countries, with extreme sun heat and good airflow able to dry meat out very quickly.

Because of the added dangers of poisoning without salt curing, most people should probably avoid drying meat without salt and a comprehensive guide.

Critical Factors in Succeeding at Drying Meat

  • Removing or Inhibit the Water Activity Effectively
  • Conducive environment for Drying
  • Depending on the process – often at least 30% Weight Loss

Drying Meat with Cold Smoke

Cold smoke can carry certain qualities that are beneficial to preserving, such as anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.

These assist in the preservation effect during the drying process.

Herb Essential Oils and Preserving Meat

Oregon and Thyme Essential Oils Have been trialed to assist in preserving meat.

Due to some other beneficial properties that exist in these essential oils, this is an area that has been newly explored.

Preserving Meat at Home

Spoilage of fish and meat is slowed when water is drawn from the fish or meat. This can be achieved by salting …. but also by naturally drying fish or meat. The best results are achieved by combining salting with drying.

Preservation of fish and meat

Main categories of Preserving Meat:

  • Salting
  • Drying
  • Cold Smoking
  • Fermenting
  • Canning
  • Cooling and Freezing

Salting

Salting meat involves applying salt to the surface or immersing it in a saline solution, which draws out moisture through binding and diffusion.

Inhibiting the growth of bacteria and preserving the meat.

The salt creates an inhospitable environment for microbial growth, effectively extending the meat’s shelf life while adding flavor.

Drying

Drying meat involves removing moisture from the surface and interior through air exposure or a controlled drying environment.

This can be done with and without salt; however, salt leads to more consistent outcomes.

This process inhibits bacterial growth by depriving them of the moisture they need to thrive, thus preserving the meat.

Additionally, the concentration of flavors intensifies as humidity is reduced, resulting in a distinctively rich taste.

Cold Smoking

A traditional eastern european cold smokehouse
A traditional Eastern European Cold Smokehouse

Cold smoking involves exposing the meat to smoke at low temperatures (below 85°F or 30°C) over an extended period, which imparts flavor while preserving the meat.

The smoke contains antimicrobial compounds, inhibiting bacterial growth, while the low temperature discourages spoilage.

This method is particularly effective for enhancing flavor and extending shelf life without cooking the meat.

This is a variation of drying the meat.

Fermenting

Fermenting meat involves introducing beneficial bacteria or fungi to the meat, which produce acids and other compounds that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.

This can happen naturally from bacteria in/on fresh meat.

This process preserves the meat and adds unique flavors and textures as the microorganisms break down proteins and carbohydrates.

Fermented meats are often cured or air-dried to enhance preservation further.

Canning

Canning involves sealing meat in airtight containers and subjecting it to high heat to kill bacteria and other microorganisms, effectively preserving the meat.

The airtight seal prevents recontamination, storing the meat at room temperature for extended periods without spoiling. 

Canned meat retains its nutritional value and flavor, making it a convenient option for long-term storage.

Cooling and Freezing

Cooling and freezing meat involve lowering its temperature to slow down microbial growth and enzymatic activity, thereby preserving its quality.

Refrigeration temperatures (around 32-40°F or 0-4°C) delay spoilage, while freezing temperatures (below 0°F or -18°C) halt microbial activity altogether, extending the meat’s shelf life significantly.

Proper storage at cold temperatures maintains the meat’s texture, flavor, and nutritional content, making it a widely used preservation method.


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