Meat Preservation: Beyond the Freezer

Photo Courtesy of Winnebago Tribe – Garan Coons

The uncertainty that we are all faced with these days is staggering. Having to worry about if there will be food available the next time you go to the store is something that most never thought we would have to deal with. This is why food sovereignty is so important and luckily hunting and harvest season is almost upon us. The coming buffalo harvests will allow for the distribution of meat to so many families across the buffalo nation providing them with some sense of security in uncertain times.

Many will simply put the meat in their freezer and think that storing your meat in the freezer is the only way to preserve meat over long periods, or at least the only way to store it where it tastes good. I would argue that preserving your meat either by canning or making jerky can not only be very efficient and effective, but also very flavorful. With the uncertainty of the current world we live in and how quickly food shortages can be created, knowing how to preserve your food, and having a supply of preserved meat that does not rely on refrigeration to keep may be useful. Both methods produce a very shelf-stable product that is also great for camping, traveling, or just for a quick and convenient meal.

Jerky

Photo credit: Excalibur Dehydrators

Making jerky may be one of the most common preservation methods and has been done for thousands of years. A good dehydrator is useful and faster, but you can also use an oven, smoker, or do it the traditional ways by hanging the meat in the sun to dry (solar) or smoke over a fire.  There are lots of jerky recipes and instructions out there, so this will just cover the basics.

Trim as much of the fat, connective tissue and silver skin from the chunks of meat as possible. Slice meat into strips of equal thickness with the grain. This can be accomplished by several methods such as a meat slicer, a knife and a jerky board, or what I use is a vegetable mandolin. The meat slicer or the mandolin allow for you to make the meat the thickness you want. Do not thaw the meat out all the way as the meat slices better when it is partially frozen.

Once the meat is sliced it is time to add your favorite mix of seasonings or marinade and allow to sit overnight or per instructions of product used, in the fridge. Curing is optional step but will make the meat last longer and reduces the risk of botulism. Uncured jerky will last a couple weeks if properly stored. The area should be cool and dark for the meat to keep as long as possible. There are many store-bought seasonings available with cure added, but you could also just use a mixture of your favorite seasonings and add cure.

Once your meat has cured it is time to add them to your dehydrator’s drying racks, oven or smoker. Follow the directions of your dehydrator but temperature to 160-200 degrees (the minimum safe temperature is 160 degrees otherwise it will not be hot enough to kill the bacteria) and allow to dry for 2-3 hours then flip the meat and rotate the racks from top to bottom. Even though many new dehydrators state that they do not need to be rotated I find that they still dry unevenly between the top and bottom racks. If you don’t rotate the meat on the top racks will be dry to a crisp and the bottom ones may be a bit underdone. Continue to dry for another 2 hours or until the meat is dry to the touch, but not brittle.

Once done the jerky should be packaged in either a paper bag, a tightly sealed glass jar, or in vacuum sealed bags (Haukom, 2020). It is not recommended to store in plastic bags as this can lead to condensation and mold growth. Once packaged the jerky should be stored in either a fridge or a cool dark place. Homemade jerky can be stored for up to 2 months if bagged or up to 2 years if placed in vacuum sealed packages.

Canning

Photo Credit – Simplycanning.com

Canning is one of my favorite ways to preserve meat. There are so many ways that you can enjoy it and can make such a convenient and quick dinner by simply warming adding some flour to make a gravy and placing over rice or potatoes. I tend to simply eat it right out of the jar for a quick lunch or snack.

Required Equipment:

  • A pressure canner is required and no, an Instant Pot does not qualify as it does not reach the pressures needed to safely can meat. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as they will all vary slightly.
  • Glass quart or pint mason jars with rings and new lids
  • Jar tongs or something to handle the jars while they are hot
  • Cubed Meat-buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, beef, pork, chicken, etc. Meat should be trimmed of fat and connective tissue. No need to pre-cook as it will fully cook in the pressure cooker
  • Seasonings- these are your choice. I usually add a little salt, pepper and paprika to mine.
  • Fat- adding a strip of bacon or a piece of pork fat is optional

Make sure all your jars and lids are clean. I like to boil water and place them all in the boiling water for a few minutes to ensure they are sanitary. Once they have boiled place them on a clean towel to dry a bit.

Cut meat into 1-2” cubes free of fat and sinew. You can either season the meat now or add it to the top of the meat in the jar (seasoning will disperse through meat as it cooks in jar) or it can be canned plain and add seasonings when used.

Pack the meat tightly into jars up to 1” from the top of the jar. You can use a wooden spoon to pack it and force out any air pockets, which could cause the meat to spoil.   If adding bacon or fat, place it in as you are adding your meat. Place seasonings on top of meat if desired. Do not add any liquid. The meat will produce its own juices while cooking. Wipe off any drips from the rim to ensure a proper seal. Place the new lids on and screw the rings on finger tight.

Prepare your canner per manufacturer’s specifications. This usually requires a few inches of water to be placed at the bottom of the canner. Place jars into pressure cooker and follow the directions provided with the canner. It should be something like “bring pressure up to 10-15 pounds of pressure, which will need to be higher for those at higher elevations, and cook for x minutes”. Quart jars should be cooked for around 90 minutes at pressure and pint jars should be around 60 minutes. Again, it is very important to follow the recommended guidelines for your model. Once the time is done release pressure according to directions before removing the lid. Use a jar lifter or similar tool to remove the hot jars and place them onto a towel on the counter. Allow to cool naturally and after a half hour or so you will begin to hear the popping sound of the jars sealing, but this may take up to 24 hours. Leave jars undisturbed for 24 hours and then inspect the jars by checking that the lid does not depress when you push on it. If the lid depresses when you push on it, it has not sealed properly. If a jar does not seal, you can either reprocess it once cooled or place in fridge and use within a few days. Once sealed the rings can be removed and reused. Lids should not be reused as they may become damaged once used. Place jars in a cool place and they can keep for years. Open and enjoy.

References

Haukom, Alyssa. “A Quick and Easy Guide to Making Venison Jerky Plus Recipes.” 15 May 2020, 1source.basspro.com/news-tips/game-recipes/7596/quick-easy-guide-making-venison-jerky-plus-recipes. Accessed 20 July 2020.

Images

“All American Canner on a Gas Range.” Simply Canning, 8/22/2019, https://www.simplycanning.com/canning-on-a-glass-top-stove.html

“Jerky Image.” Excalibur Dehydrator, Excalibur , 2017, www.excaliburdehydrator-recipes.com/recipe/jerky-teriyaki/.

Resources

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/meat-preparation/jerky-and-food-safety/ct_index

https://www.realtree.com/timber-2-table-wild-game-recipes/basic-venison-jerky

https://1source.basspro.com/news-tips/game-recipes/7596/quick-easy-guide-making-venison-jerky-plus-recipes

https://www.guns.com/news/2020/04/22/wild-game-recipes-pressure-canning-wild-meat

https://www.realtree.com/deer-hunting/articles/how-to-can-deer-meat

https://today.oregonstate.edu/news/osu%E2%80%99s-food-preservation-hotline-opens-july-15?utm_campaign=Gardening%20Newsletter&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=91447925&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8gy5ezB0LGPn0hVlICkgkEpOCB4dBB6ZGmRMmsi70Q6WImmqF3LZ6YkzGXb1Q0yVyGUVH6UZtm4G2_sDaergaX5k194A&utm_content=91447923&utm_source=hs_email

 

 

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