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Preserving Meat: The Cheapest and Most Economical Methods

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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.

The cheapest and most economic way of meat preserving is thinly sliced meat and using the sun or campfire to dry the meat. Salt should ideally be used to create another layer of protection for the meat during drying.

  • Sun Drying (Least Expensive)
  • Cold Smoke
  • Salt
  • Food Dehydrator
  • Canning
  • Freezer (Most Expensive)

I have been preserving meat over many years. Here I want to highlight tips for economic methods to help you from my experiences and what I’ve learned about.

It is not always about expensive charcuterie, sometimes the perspective on economics has to come into play.

Are you looking for affordable ways to preserve meat? Look no further! In this blog post, I will share some cost-effective methods to preserve meat, focusing on the technique of dehydration. This means – removing moisture from the meat, which inhibits bacterial growth and extends its shelf life. Let’s explore three easy ways to achieve this.

When researching this topic, most survival (prepper) sites did not understand preserving methods.

You can see in another article I wrote on preserving meat, that it also depends on the technique including the length of time you are targeted for keeping this preserved meat.

Here is the most economical approach to not spend much money to preserve the meat (here is how drying meat preserves it).

So, I’ve ranked the methods from cheapest/most economical to most expensive. If you want to use the last 3 options, you need a dehydrator, canning equipment, or freezer.

Meat Preservation Methods Ranked by Cost (From Cheapest to Most Expensive)

RankPreservation MethodDescription
1Sun-DryingTraditional and survival-type method. Requires heat and protection from bugs. No salt used, economical but higher risk of contamination.
2Cold SmokeTechnique has evolved, commercial applications sometimes use pressure cold smoking to speed up process. Essentially drying meat at cool temperatures with Cold smoke providing antifungal and antibacterial properties.
3SaltRequires an investment in a dehydrator. Efficient in removing moisture from the meat, speeding up the drying process. Suitable for regular preservation.
4Food DehydratorIt involves sterilizing or pasteurizing food in sealed jars. Effective but may not preserve for as long as other methods.
5CanningIt involves sterilizing or pasteurizing food in sealed jars.
6FreezerMost expensive option. Freezing halts bacterial growth by slowing water activity. Removing oxygen before freezing helps extend the shelf life of frozen meats.

Cheapest and Economic Methods of Preserving

Sun-Drying (Least Expensive)

Sun-drying is a traditional and survival-type method of preserving meat. Since salt (below) and cold smoke (below) have a much greater level of microbial inhibition, allowing better meat preservation.

In terms of economics, you just need heat and protection from bugs.

Here’s how you can do it:

Step 1: Slice the meat into thin strips. This will help it dry more efficiently.

Step 2: Ensure it’s protected from insects and other contaminants.

Step 3: Place the sliced meat in direct sunlight and let nature do its work. Be patient, as the drying process may take several days. The exact duration will depend on weather conditions.

When no salt is used – it is economical but has the most risk of contamination or unwanted bacterial growth.

Cold Smoke

Again, this is more a survival or bush skill, however, not something you would want to do at home everyday.

Cold smoking salami
Cold Smoking Hungarian and Spicy Venison Salami

You can just place meat, a reasonable distance over an open fire (so it dries – not cooks), in winter or cool temperatures.

It’s like drying naturally with cold smoke which carries antifungal and antibacterial properties (link to how long cold smoking can take for various foods)..

When used in combination with salt curing, this can produce products that can literally last years. Like the above picture, where meats are preserved/dried with cold smoke after the curing stage.

A rough or survival version of this would be cold smoked salt pork, which is heavily salted meat, that is then hung and dried with cold smoke to give another layer of preservation protection to the meat.

Salt

Salt pork and salt fish are classic examples of preserved meats (preserving meat in more detail) that have been widely used for centuries. These preserved forms of pork and fish were historically popular due to their long shelf life and the ability to withstand extended periods without refrigeration.

Here’s an overview of each:

Salt Pork

Salt pork is made by heavily salting and curing pork (or other meat), typically meat with high-fat content.

The salt penetrates the meat, preserving it and imparting a distinct flavor. It was commonly used as a flavoring ingredient in various recipes, such as stews, soups, and beans. Salt pork provided a valuable source of protein and fat during times when fresh meat was scarce or expensive.

Salt Fish

Also known as salted cod in some cultures, is made by drying and salting fresh fish, usually cod or other whitefish varieties.

The fish is first cleaned and then layered with salt to remove moisture and inhibit spoilage. The salted fish is then air-dried, creating a preserved product that can be stored for extended periods.

Salt fish was especially popular in coastal regions or areas lacking easy access to fresh seafood, as it provided a reliable source of fish throughout the year.

The sea salt came from the evaporation on the rocks quite often.

Both salt pork and salt fish served as vital food sources in regions where refrigeration was not available or affordable.

These preserved meats enabled communities to have access to protein-rich foods, even in the absence of fresh alternatives.

Using a Food Dehydrator

Investing in a food dehydrator can be a convenient option if you regularly preserve meat. Here’s how to use a food dehydrator.

I’ve got some friends who enjoy making their hiking food, using dehydrators for vegetables, fruit, and meat.

Step 1: Slice the meat into thin strips, just like the previous methods. Cooking and then drying is advisable.

Step 2: Follow the instructions provided with your food dehydrator for proper setup.

Step 3: Arrange the meat strips on the dehydrator trays, ensuring enough space for air circulation.

Step 4: Set the dehydrator to the recommended temperature for meat drying. Most dehydrators have adjustable temperature settings.

Step 5: Allow the dehydrator to do its magic. Compared to the previous methods, using a food dehydrator can significantly speed up the drying process.

Once your meat is fully dehydrated, it’s important to store it properly to maintain its quality and safety. Place the dried meat in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags. Store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Preserved meat that has been properly dehydrated can last for several months to a year, depending on storage conditions.

Remember to adhere to local health and safety guidelines to ensure you’re following the correct procedures.

Canning

With canning, you will either be sterilizing or pasteurizing the food.

We generally sterilize at home,


The sterilization of foods with a neutral pH (>4,5) consists of subjecting a food to temperatures above 100ºC for a certain time to destroy all microorganisms, pathogens or not, and possible spores.

Foods with an acidic pH (<4,5) can be sterilized at temperatures below 100ºC.

https://www.terrafoodtech.com/en/differences-sterilization-pasteurization/

Then when you look at sterilization, it’s not preserving often for as long.

Since the heat treatment of pasteurization is not severe enough to render a product sterile, additional methods such as refrigeration, fermentation, or the addition of chemicals are often used to control microbial growth and to extend the shelf life of a product. 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/food-preservation/Sterilization

Freezing

I freeze all sorts of meats to preserve fresh cuts, fat for salami, and cured meats like sliced bacon.

Of course, you need the freezer (unless you live in a sub-zero climate). Freezers vary, but the ones with the colder freezing levels make frozen preserved meats last longer without any deterioration (freezer burn – drying out in spots).

Slicing bacon cold smoked freezing large large

I freeze in slices on trays with baking paper, then add them to a bag for easy removal when frying up a handful.

Slowing the water activity in the meat means freezing it will halt most unwanted bacteria that want to inhibit that water activity.

The biggest way to make frozen meats last longer is to remove the oxygen around the meat before freezing.


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