Food Preservation Techniques

After you’ve acquired a fresh kill, there’s a possibility that you’ll have a lot of leftover meat. Small game like rabbits, squirrels, and ducks are good for a meal. Larger animals like deer will surely give you multiple servings for days. It’s a handy skill to know how to preserve the excess meat so that they won’t spoil and will remain viable for the days to come.

Some of the most common food preservation techniques include smoking the meat, drying it out, or pressure canning it. Before you can do all of these preservation techniques, the first step is to dress it.

Field Dressing

Dressing means gutting the animal. This must be done immediately. The gut houses so many microorganisms that can quickly spread to the other regions and cause the meat to go bad very quickly. Field dressing or gutting follows the same principle for almost all animals – simply extract the gut and don’t pop any of its parts to avoid contamination. You may watch an informative video for a clearer picture on how to do it. A perfect example is Practical Game Processing And Deer Butchering by Gary Zick and Timothy Flynn.

Here’s how to field dress a deer. It it’s a male, cut off the genitals with a very sharp knife. Slit the underbelly region from the middle of the genitals all the way to the ribcage. Don’t cut too deeply because you might wound the intestines. After making the incision, slip two fingers in and then gently lift up the skin. Cut off any tissue that connects the skin to the intestines.

Once the skin is fully separated, carefully pull out all the organs in the said cavity. Discard everything but the liver and the kidneys. Go upwards until you reach the diaphragm, which separates the chest cavity from the rest of the torso. Cut this away to gain access to the heart and lungs. Reach up inside the chest cavity to cut the windpipe and all the other organs. After everything is cleared, wash the animal carcass with cold water. Make slits at both heels so that you can tie around some rope and hang the animal up to cool it. Animal carcass stays warm long after it dies.

Smoking Meat To Make Jerky

If you’re in an emergency situation where there’s no refrigeration available, you can opt to smoke the meat to preserve it. This process is called hard smoking and it yields jerky. The meat contains a lot of salt and will be smoked at a low temperature until all the moisture is gone. The process is very similar to dehydration of fruits and vegetables, except that it involves more salt and spices. Other smokers recommend soaking the smoked meat in water for a few hours and them smoking it again before eating. This eliminates the excess salt and keeps the meat tender.

There are many versions of smoked meat and jerky that you can purchase at supermarkets today. These contain preservatives called nitrites, which make the salt content lower but the moisture levels higher. This preservative is also carcinogenic if consumed in large amounts, so make sure to watch your consumption of preserved meat. You don’t need nitrites for homemade jerky. Just make sure to consume the meat within six months to one year.

Spices For Food Preservation

Spices are incredibly important and their value is evident throughout human history. There was a point in time when the worth of spices was worth more than gold. Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World was an accidental detour when he was looking for India and their spices.

Spices are used to enhance the flavor of our meals, but it also plays a huge role in food preservation. Many spices with intense flavors have strong anti-microbial properties that can prevent your food from getting spoiled. By using spices in your food, you can significantly reduce the amount of salt. Your preserved food will become healthier and more flavorful.

Spices  that have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties include black pepper, cloves, ginger, garlic, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, mustard seeds, chili, bishop’s weed, rosemary, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, celery, onion, and geranium. Some of these spices have weaker antimicrobial properties compared to the rest but can be intensified by mixing with complementary spices. The mixtures form synergistic effects that help combat the onset of microorganisms that cause your food to spoil.

Safety Precautions

Smoking and making jerky are both reliable methods to preserve your food, but there are still reported cases of food poisoning. Here are some safety precautions you can follow to avoid those.

  1. Cleanliness is very important. Be careful when gutting the animal. As much as possible, don’t let it make contact with the rest of the animal. Keep the meat clean and safe from the animal guts.
  2. Always wash your hands with some soap and water before you ouch the meat. Make it a point to clean even the underside of your nails to get rid of any trapped dirt. Constantly clean and disinfect your workspace and tools. Mix in one tablespoon of bleach into a gallon of water and then use this mild disinfecting solution to clean your workspace. Chlorine bleach should be considered as a survival item so make sure you always have some in stock.
  3. Use an oven thermometer to check the temperature of your smoker or dryer. It should maintain the recommended temperature levels to effectively cook the meat while killing the microorganisms. Fluctuating temperature levels won’t be as effective in food preservation.
  4. Make sure that the jerky is completely dry. Moisture leaves room for microorganisms to thrive because it gives them food, water, and nourishment. Both the insides and the outsides must be completely dry to the touch. It’s better to slice the meat in thin sections to thoroughly cook it. To test if the jerky is dry enough, it should crack but not break when bent. Test at room temperature.
  5. Avoid cross-contamination between your finished meat and the raw meat. Work in two separate areas so that they won’t come in contact with each other.
  6. Only store the meat in dry containers. Wipe it down before using. Check the containers after a few hours of storage. If there’s some moisture or condensation on the container, then that means the meat isn’t fully dried yet. Take it back to the smoker for another round.

Recommended Smoking Or Drying Temperatures

There are different temperature recommendations to keep the meat dry and to prevent the smoker from overheating. The USDA recommends the temperature to be 145 degrees Fahrenheit for seven hours or 155 degrees for four hours. Don’t exceed 155 degrees because you’ll end up cooking the meat instead of just smoking them.

For the drying section, set the smoker to 125 degrees for ten hours or 135 degrees for eight hours. The lowest you can go is 95 degrees.

Making Jerky

Choose the leanest section of the meat for the jerky. Cut off all the visible fats because fats don’t preserve well and may negatively affect the taste and flavor of your jerky. Slice the meat very thinly to make sure that it gets dry throughout. The strips shouldn’t be thicker than 6 millimeters. Raw meat might be hard to slice thinly because of its slippery texture. You can sharpen your knife and freeze the meat first so that you can slice it effortlessly.

Basic Brine Recipe

Mix two cups of salt, one cup of sugar, one teaspoon of ground black pepper, half a teaspoon of ground cloves, half a teaspoon of garlic powder, and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. You can add other spices to enhance the flavor to your tastes. The most important ingredient is salt so it should be non-negotiable. You can make the mixture weaker by mixing in more water.

Cold Marinade

Take the basic brine recipe and then mix it with two quarts of water. Soak the mix strips in it and refrigerate overnight or for at least three hours. You can do this in a plastic bag. Once done on one side, you can shake the bag and flip it so that all sides will be soaked in the marinade.

Shake off the excess marinade and then put the meat in the dryer or the smoker. The only concern about this method is that there’s still a chance for bacteria and microorganisms to grow even while being refrigerated. That’s why it’s important to work in a clean environment and to ensure that there won’t be temperature fluctuations.

Boiling Marinade

The USDA recommends that meat should be pre-cooked at 160 degrees Fahrenheit before being boiled or dried. For this instance, you can skip the cold marinade and just drop the meat slices in boiling marinade until it turns gray. No other marinade is necessary for this step. This happens really quickly (for about a minute or two). Dry them and then smoke them for your desired duration.