Preserving Your Own Meats for Food Storage

Written by Brandon Garrett

Meat always seems to be a popular item in food storage. It packs essential nutrients like proteins, iron, zinc, Vitamins A, Vitamin B and Vitamin D. However, having a long-term supply of meat can be tricky. How do you get it to last?

There are a few options when preserving meats. Methods like salting, brining freezing and dehydrating are great options to help you keep the meats for future meals.

Salting Pork
Salting is one of the oldest forms of meat preservation. In order to salt your pork, you’ll need:

• Fresh Pork
• Pickling Salt
• Brown Sugar
• Crocks or Jars for Storage

Cut your meat into slabs – generally 4 to 6 inches thick. Mix ½ pound of pickling salt with ¼ cup of brown sugar. This will yield enough to cover 12 lbs of pork. Cover the slabs with this mixture liberally. Pack the meat into sterilized crocks or jars. Make sure they are tightly packed and cover them with cheesecloth.

You’ll want to store the meats in an area that is lower than 36°F. However, you also don’t want to store them in an area that could see freezing temperatures. Leave the meats in the cool area for at least one month. After that month, you can wrap the meats in plastic or waterproof paper and leave it stored all winter.

Brining Pork
Brining is very similar to salting. Begin the same way as you did with the salted pork by cutting it into slabs. Then pack the pork into a sterilized container like a crock or jar.

Dissolve 1 lbs of pickling salt and ½ cup of brown sugar into 3 quarts of water. Pour this brine into the container and completely cover the meat with the liquid. If the meat is floating, use a weight to push it down. Cover the lid and store in a cool room (below 36°F) for a week.

After a week, open the container, remove the pork, stir the brine and replace the meat. Repeat this process once a week for a month. If at any time when you open the container, the brine is thick or stringy, empty the container, sterilize the container and wash the meat. Mix a new batch of brine and continue from where you left off.

Freezing
A lot of people believe that they shouldn’t freeze their meats because it destroys the meat. However, this is not true if you’re doing it correctly. After the meat has thawed, the bacteria will grow again. Also, contrary to general opinion, freezing meat doesn’t improve its quality.

In order to optimize your frozen meat, you’ll need to ensure that the meat is wrapped in an airtight container – a container that is moisture-, odor- and vapor-proof.

Freezers tend to dry meats out, which means that you have to make sure your containers or wrappings are tight. This will prevent bacteria growth on the inside of the meat. It’s also important to squeeze out as much air out of the container as possible. If your meat is already wrapped in butcher’s paper, that will be fine. Just be sure to tape down the edges with freezer tape so no drying occurs.

Frozen meats will typically last less than a year. This chart will give you an idea of how long your meat will last:

Maximum Recommended Freezing Time for Meats
Meat
Cut or Type
Freezer Storage Time
Beef
Roasts
12 months
Steaks or Chops
12 months
Ground
3 months
Veal
Roasts
8 months
Steaks or Chops
9 months
Lamb
Roasts
12 months
Chops
4 months
Pork
Roasts
8 months
Chops
4 months
Fish
Fatty Fish
3 months
Lean Fish
6 months
Ground Meats
3 months
Sausage
1-2 months
Whole Chicken or Turkey
12 months
Whole Duck or Goose
6 months
Poultry, Cut Up
9 months
Giblets
3 months
Cured Meat
1-2 months

The best way to thaw meats is by doing it slowly in its original wrappings. This will prevent the majority of its juices from being evaporated. You may also just begin cooking the frozen meat but it will take longer to cook and can cook unevenly.

In general, small cuts of meat can defrost overnight but some larger cuts will need to defrost for a couple days.

Jerky
Dehydrating your meats is a great way to preserve them for a time. Each dehydrator will operate a little differently, and it’s important to follow the instructions. However, here are a few guidelines for making your own jerky.

Go light on the fat. You’re not going to be marbling the meat – just drying it. So, don’t choose a meat that has a lot of fat in it. Fat will make the beef jerky go bad sooner. Typically a flank cut is a good piece to create jerky with.

Cut small. When you buy the meat from the butcher, you can ask them to cut it for you if you’d like. Or you can do it yourself. Cut long ¼ inch strips across the grain. Typically a half frozen meat will cut better than a thawed one.

Heat the marinade. There are a ton of marinade recipes out there to flavor the jerky. However, it’s a good idea to heat the marinade beforehand to at least 160 degrees to kill of pathogenic microorganisms.

Vacuum seal. Once the jerky has cooked, the best option for storage is to place it in a bag and vacuum seal it. You can then refrigerate or freeze the bag and it should store for 2-3 months.

Freeze-Dried Meats
The freeze-drying process isn’t necessarily something you can easily do at home. However, freeze-dried meats are readily available. Meats are placed in large vacuums that control the temperature and pressure levels. The pressure is lowered and raised so quickly that moisture in the meats doesn’t have time to liquify. Instead the water in the meats turns directly from a solid to a gas – removing 99% of the moisture!

This allows the meats to have a 20+ year shelf life. All you have to do is add water back into the equation when you’re ready to eat. Let the meat rehydrate and you have fresh meat ready to cook or eat.

Updated September 18, 2013

21 Comments

  1. Bob wrote:

    G’day,
    informative article.
    when I freeze my meat I vaccuum seal it first.
    There is no freezer burn as the meat is completely sealed in and the packaging is airtight. The meat can last a lot longer.
    Thanks.

    September 19th, 2013 at 5:11 am
  2. Erika wrote:

    Check out On the Anatomy of Thrift:Meatsmith on youtube. He goes through great detail of preserving and butchering hogs without refrigeration. Kinda cool videos.

    September 19th, 2013 at 5:55 am
  3. Curtis wrote:

    How long will meat last in storage if using the salting or brining method?

    From The Ready Store:
    It depends on how salty you want your meat to be :) Theoretically, you can keep salting the meat and it would last for decades. But it would be unpalatable at that point. Realistically, the salting and brining will probably give it a shelf life of a few months – definitely enough to get you through the winter.

    September 19th, 2013 at 6:21 am
  4. Ron wrote:

    We bottle venison and it can be stored on a pantry shelf after that. We have used meat that is 2 years old with very good results.

    September 19th, 2013 at 7:39 am
  5. Sharon wrote:

    Canning (or bottling) is a good option as long as you have a pressure canner. The meat stays good for a long time–I have kept both meat and salmon for over two years.

    September 19th, 2013 at 11:53 am
  6. CherylOfTheNorthwoods wrote:

    I have been canning all kinds of meat for many many years. Also, where it comes to ground beef, I have been making “Hamburger Rocks” by the following method: (a dehydration process) Thoroughly cook the hamburger by browning it in a pan. This adds to the flavor. Drain the grease. Put the cooked/browned burger in a stock pot and add water till it’s covered about an inch. Add some salt..you don’t want it too salty, but add a bit so it won’t be “flat” tasting when used. Simmer 20 minutes or so to be sure the burger has released all the fat. It will be floating on top. I always cool it in the stock pot so the grease can be removed as a hardened chunk off the top. Then, drain the liquid off and put the hamburger in your dehydrator till rock hard. I store it in clear plastic juice bottles to which I have put a piece of a plastic bag over the top before screwing the lid on. It acts as a gasket for the bottle. They keep 10+ years this way. I keep all my storage in my dark, cool basement.

    September 20th, 2013 at 7:06 am
  7. CherylOfTheNorthwoods wrote:

    I have used home canned meats that are over 5 years old and are still good. MUST be pressure canned as Sharon had mentioned. Canned in glass and kept in a dark-ish cool place, most foods keep many many years. I use Tattler Reusable Lids so no rust forms as my basement gets pretty damp if it rains a lot.

    September 20th, 2013 at 7:10 am
  8. MountainMama wrote:

    I agree with Bob, I also vacuum seal my meats (which are fresh from next door rancher) before freezing and they last for years with no flavor loss or drying out. The meats I am eating right now are from 2011 and fantastic.

    September 20th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
  9. Jean wrote:

    CherylOfTheNorthwoods: How do you reconstitute the Hamburger Rocks?

    September 21st, 2013 at 7:33 am
  10. Homestead Dreamer wrote:

    Personally, we either freeze it in vacuum sealed bags, pressure can it, or dehydrate it. The last two methods make your meat shelf stable that requires no refrigeration. This year, I am focusing more on jarring up meat in the pressure canner so that we have a good stock of meat that will still be good even if the power goes out for a month!

    October 14th, 2013 at 1:23 pm
  11. Don Rogerss wrote:

    Another method is to “can” the meat. It is very tender and a wonderful flavor and would last up to a year.

    January 10th, 2014 at 7:48 am
  12. Alesia wrote:

    My husband and I pressure canned venison for the first time last year. Turned out great and also made a wonderful broth during the canning process.

    January 10th, 2014 at 10:05 am
  13. Ian Houghton wrote:

    I have been looking all over the place to can all kinds of meats with no luck.may you can help me get this.

    April 2nd, 2014 at 12:06 pm
  14. Northwoods Cheryl wrote:

    It’s pretty easy to can meats. I usually brown cut-up chunks of beef or pork in a pan first (it adds a LOT of flavor) and then pressure can for 90 minutes at 10# of pressure. I also make things like seasoned meatballs that I bake in the oven to remove the fat, and then pressure can with beef bullion in the jars as the liquid. I have canned “Little Smokies” sausages from Hilshire Farm, also cut up and browned Polish Sausage, and of all things, Bacon. Bacon requires a process of about 1/2 cooking the bacon, then while using wide mouth quart jars, cut a longish narrow strip of parchment paper, the width being the same as the height of the jar, just to the shoulder. Lay the paper out, then lay each slice one by one on the parchment. Roll the parchment up, tie with baker’s twine and set it in the jar. Can it at 1 hour, 20minutes at 10# of pressure. It works very well, and the bacon tastes quite good, fried up the rest of the way when you open the jar. Basically the same as the canned bacon sold in mail order stores.

    July 31st, 2014 at 5:55 am
  15. Northwoods Cheryl wrote:

    Forgot to add, I also can a lot of poultry. Before Thanksgiving, we usually can get BIG turkeys for 49c a pound or less. I can’t raise them that cheaply here on the farm! You can raw pack any meat, but I tend to bake the turkey first, seasoned well, and pull the meat off the bones. Simmer the bones to make broth, pack in jars and pressure can for an hour and 20 minutes at 10# of pressure. Same with chicken.

    July 31st, 2014 at 5:59 am
  16. fauna wrote:

    I have the good fortune to have a source for buying meat at a fraction of the cost of even raising it. For this reason I particularly appreciate all of the suggestions for preservation. Years ago, when we lived in Alaska, we enjoyed canned meats. I particularly like the fact that it is ready to heat (with heating if you prefer) so that I have already invested the time to create the meal and now it is “fast food”! I do have a question for those with more experience in dehydrating however: I have dehydrated pepperoni and love the spice it adds to salads etc. when dehydrated and grated…however for this and some other meats it seems to have the oil rancid (I am using it out of my kitchen cupboard all of the time) in a short amount of time. Would it not get rancid if I kept my large containers in the dark cool places and only used a spice containers worth at a time? I know that most meats for dehydrating seem to be lean – is this my problem? thank you for all of your experience!

    July 31st, 2014 at 6:11 am
  17. fauna wrote:

    ready to eat (not heat) excuse me

    July 31st, 2014 at 6:12 am
  18. Linda wrote:

    You say cut your meat into slabs 4 to 6 inches thick buy you say nothing about cut off the fat . Do you cut off all the fat before you do the other stuff?

    July 31st, 2014 at 7:49 am
  19. NameCarl wrote:

    I can meats, 1 pint jars, fill with raw meat cubes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, put lids on and pressure cook for 90 minutes at 10- 11 pounds pressure, will last several years. Do not add water to the jars..

    July 31st, 2014 at 8:03 am
  20. Northwoods Cheryl wrote:

    Fauna, it’s almost impossible to dehydrate anything with an appreciable amount of grease/fat involved and not have it go rancid. When I dehydrate hamburger into what’s known in the prepper community as “rocks” (which keep for many years) I brown it first and drain off as much fat as I can, then simmer in hot slightly salted water (personal preference) till all additional grease is floating on top of the stock pot. I cool the entire pot and skim off the grease “chunk” from the top. THEN dehydrate. (As I stated in “Cheryl of the Northwoods” above; that was me)

    August 1st, 2014 at 11:26 am
  21. Christine wrote:

    I think dehydrating meat is a great idea for single people. I have a friend who is elderly and it would be great to buy ground beef on sale and preserve it that way. She eats a lot of spaghetti as she has arthritis and cooking has become a chore.

    November 29th, 2014 at 11:52 am

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