One of the traditional ways to preserve meat is to use salt. Salting, otherwise known as curing, is an age-old technique for meat preservation. But in today’s health-conscious world, we know that too much salt is bad for us. So how do we preserve meat without salt?
Can you really preserve meat without salt? Yes, you can. But you do have to use the right techniques and follow instructions carefully to preserve food safely. You can preserve meat by freezing, dehydrating, smoking, preserving it in lard in cold storage, or through pressure canning.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can preserve meat in these five ways – none of which require the use of salt. It is possible to avoid using salt for preservation as long as you correctly use other methods. But food safety is important. So make sure you always keep safety in mind when preserving meat, and never eat any preserved meat if you are in any doubt.
The first, simplest, and most obvious way to preserve meat without salt is simply to freeze it. All types of meat can be frozen, and when kept at temperatures of below zero, can be kept for long periods of time. But it is important to freeze meat at the right temperatures and in the right packaging or containers to make sure that it stays as freshly frozen as possible.
For quicker freezing times, it is ideal to keep your freezer temperature at 0 degrees F ( minus 17.7 degrees C.) or below.
Ideally, pack the meat in the smallest portions that you will use. Individual portions of meat and small cuts will freeze faster and can also help you avoid wasting food since you can defrost only the right amount and not more than you need.
It is best to package meat for freezing in airtight packaging or containers if you can. This will help to avoid freezer burn and stop the meat from drying out too much in the freezer.
There are time limits to how long meat should be kept in your freezer before it stops tasting its best. Processed and deli-style meats should only be frozen for a couple of months or so. Ground meats are best used within four months. While steaks, chops, and roasting joints can be good for up to a year or so before their texture and flavor might begin to degrade.
But what should you do if you live off-grid or don’t have access to a freezer? What should you do to preserve meat if you don’t have a freezer, or your freezer is already full?
One traditional way to preserve meat that does not involve the use of salt or a freezer is dehydration. When you dehydrate meat, what you are doing is basically removing as much of the water from it as possible. This makes it more difficult for bacteria and other pathogens to grow.
Dehydration can be undertaken in a solar dehydrator as long as the climate is warm and sunny enough to ensure high enough temperatures that the meat dries before mold or rot arrives. In cooler climates, more humid environments, it will be much more challenging to dehydrate foods using only the energy from the sun.
It is also technically possible to dehydrate meat in an oven or stove.
However, the safest approach is to use an electric dehydrator, which delivers less variable conditions and can make sure the meat dries quickly and evenly.
It is important to follow directions for the type of meat you are dehydrating. You will set your dehydrator to a certain temperature and leave the meat to dry for a certain number of hours. For example, this might be around 6 hours at 150 degrees F.
It should go without saying, but whatever meat you plan to dehydrate must be fresh. It should have been butchered and processed cleanly (if you are involved in that part of the process). Hygiene throughout the entire process is of paramount importance.
To dehydrate meat, you should first make sure that the meat is cut into small pieces that are around the same size. For example, ham is often sliced into 1 inch (c. 2.5 cm) strips, and beef into ¼ inch (c. 6-7 mm) strips.
Place the pieces onto the tray of your dehydrator (whichever type you are using). Make sure that no pieces are overlapping or touching.
Vacuum packing your dehydrated meat will increase its shelf-life and keep it safe to eat for longer.
Dehydration is also one component of another form of preservation – smoking meat. In smoking, both dehydration and the smoke infusing the meat inhibit the growth of harmful micro-organisms. Like curing with salt, smoking meat is another preservation method that has been around for thousands of years. Various different types of wood can be used that not only allow the meat to be stored for longer but also imbue the meat with different subtle flavors.
There is a range of different techniques, ranging from the most primitive to the most up to date and modern, that can be used to smoke meat for preservation. Smoking falls into one of two main categories – hot smoking (at temperatures at around 150 F (65.5 C) and cold smoking (at temperatures below 100 degrees F (37.7 C). Even with hot smoking, the temperature should not exceed 155F (68.3 C), or the meat will be cooked rather than smoked and dried.
Meat that is cured with salt before smoking will last longer. But you can also undertake this process without this initial step. Smoked meats can last 1-2 months in airtight containers (or can be canned, as described below).
It is important to create a smoker with a consistent amount of smoke and a required temperature over a set period of time. The smoking time will vary considerably depending on the type and size of the pieces of meat you want to dry.
Smoking meats over wood makes for some interesting flavor additions. Mesquite, hickory, oak, and cherry are some woods burned to imbue flavor to smoked meat.
For food safety, it is a good idea to check the meat with a meat thermometer to make sure it reaches a safe internal temperature before you remove it from the smoker. Poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 F (73.9 C). Pork and ground meat should be 160 F (71.2 C), and chops and roasts should be 145 F (62.8 C).
Pressure Canning Meat
Though we have touched upon these other methods, by far, the safest and best way to preserve meat without salt if you cannot use a freezer is to pressure can it?
Meat absolutely must be pressure canned, and other methods for canning like water bath canning will not be suitable or safe. So you will need to invest in a pressure canner for this method if you do not have one already.
It is important to always take extra special care when handling meat from slaughtering to canning. Excellent hygiene and best practice are essential at every stage. Make sure that you keep meat at low temperatures during your canning preparations and process the meat as quickly as possible.
It is best to use lean meat for canning. You should cut off all the gristle and as much of the fat as possible. Remove any big bones and chop the meat into pieces convenient for canning. Bony pieces can be used to make a broth that can be used, boiled, in jars that are packed with pre-cooked meat. Don’t brown the meat with flour or use flour to make the broth/ gravy to pour over the meat you have packed into your jars.
For most recipes, you will leave 1 inch of headspace when filling your jars.
You can add salt when canning meat, but you can also choose to leave it out. If you do decide to use some salt for flavoring, then be sure to use canning salt and not table salt. Canning salt has a filler in it, which can make canned goods cloudy. While you can add more or less, a general rule of thumb is to use ½ tsp per pint or 1 tsp per quart. Though should you wish, as mentioned, you can exclude this entirely for dietary preference or health reasons.
Processing Canned Meat
When processing canned meat, it is important to make sure that you follow recipes and procedures perfectly. Getting the processing time wrong won’t just affect the flavor of the food. It can also mean that the food is not safe to eat.
When working out the pressure to set your pressure canner at for canning a particular type of meat or meat recipe, it is important to bear your altitude in mind.
|Elevation||DIAL GAUGE CANNER|
(For Pints and Quart Jars)
|WEIGHTED GAUGE CANNER|
(For Pints and Quart Jars)
|1,001 – 2,000 ft.||11 lbs.||15 lbs.|
|2,001 – 4,000 ft.||12 lbs.||15 lbs.|
|4,001 – 6,000 ft.||13 lbs.||15 lbs.|
|6,001 – 8,000 ft.||14 lbs.||15 lbs.|
Processing time remains the same no matter what your attitude may be.
Chopped-Up Meat (cubes, chunks, or strips):
You can either raw pack (without liquid) or bot pack (cooked meat, with just water, with tomato juice, or with broth).
Process jars at 11 lbs of pressure (dial gauge), 10 lbs (weighed gauge) (or see the chart above if you live at a higher elevation). Processing time is 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts.
Mix the ground meat well and add seasoning as desired. Avoid sage, however, as this can impart a bitter, somewhat unpleasant flavor. Shape the ground meat into balls or patties, or form cased sausage into 3-4 inch links. Cook the ground meat until it is lightly browned. Or sauté without shaping. Drain off excess fat, and fill the jars. Cover the meat with boiling broth or water. Again, be sure to leave 1 inch of headspace.
Process jars at 11 lbs of pressure (dial gauge), 10 lbs (weighed gauge), or see the chart above if you live at a higher elevation. Processing time is again 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts.
You can also can meat alongside vegetables, herbs, and broth in the form of a stew – such as a beef stew, for example. While some people raw pack the ingredients of the stew, official guidelines state that it is better to hot pack. (ie. Cook all the ingredients, then place the recipe hot into your jars). Vegetables may sometimes end up a little mushy when it is done this way, but it is still generally best to follow official guidelines when canning.
If the meat used in the stew was very fatty, drain off excess fat before filling the jars and processing. This is because excess fat can bubble up around the jar edges during processing and cause the lids not to seal properly.
If you usually add a thickener such as flour or cornstarch to your stews, it is best not to do so if you plan on canning it. If necessary, just add it after you open the jar and reheat it for consumption.
Process at 11 lbs of pressure (dial gauge), 10 lbs (weighed gauge) (or see the chart above if you live at a higher elevation). Processing time is again 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts.
Once processed, your canned meat should be kept correctly in a cool store or canning cellar. For the highest quality, your canned meat should be consumed within a year from the canning date. However, it can often, if correctly stored, still, be safe to eat after two years or even more.
Preserving Meat in Lard (Confit) and Cold Storage
Another way that meat was frequently preserved in the days before refrigeration was as a confit. A layer of lard or another animal fat was used to seal the top of a crock in which meat was layered. This layer of fat stops air from reaching the meat and suppresses bacterial growth. Traditionally, the meat (duck in a duck confit, for example) was cured with salt as an additional method of preservation. Today, people use the lard or other fat alone, without the curing stage. However, this is not really recommended unless you can keep the meat refrigerated.
It is important to cook the meat before encasing it in lard. This is because bacteria may already be present in the meat, and the lard, therefore, won’t be able to keep it out. Cook meat as you would eat it, then place it in a sterilized crock and cover it immediately with hot lard. Cover with wax wrap and place on this a crock cover or plate.
If you do not have a refrigerator, it is very important to make sure that you do have a cold storage area with consistently low temperatures in order to store your meat preserved in lard safely.
Why Preserve Meat By Canning?
Preserving meat by canning is the best way to preserve meat without salt because, when done correctly, it is as safe as freezing when it comes to food safety. As long as you process at the right pressure, for the right length of time, and following all recipe instructions to the letter, your meat will be safely preserved. And you don’t need to rely on salt to keep the meat pathogen-free.
The reason why I feel canning is the best way to preserve meat without salt is not only related to food safety. It is also a good way to go because it can allow you to rest easy knowing that your meat won’t be wasted if, for some reason, your power goes out. As long as you keep your canned meat in a cool, safe location, it won’t be wasted even if something goes wrong with your power supply.
Furthermore, unlike the other methods mentioned above – dehydration and smoking – canning won’t significantly alter the texture or flavor of the meat. So you can enjoy meat that tastes pretty much the same as it did when used fresh, right away.
You don’t need salt or a freezer to preserve meat. So if you have more meat than you can manage, why not give one of these other ideas a go?