Let’s say you are out and about during hunting season (or any season). You bring down a large buck. You feel so proud and excited. Now you have a large supply of meat to feed your family – and probably all your neighbors too!
But this only holds true if you can preserve the meat long enough to enjoy it safely.
We know there is no worse feeling than realizing your meat is going to spoil faster than you can eat it. Who are the responsible party poopers? Bacteria so small you can’t even see them unless you happen to have a microscope handy.
So in this article, we are going to teach you how to preserve meat in the wild. When you are finished reading this article you will know how to properly preserve meat without using modern technology like refrigeration or freezing.
Three Keys to Preserving Meat in the Wild
There are three basic things you need to achieve to preserve meat in the wild.
If you can keep your fresh meat cool, dry and clean, all those starving bacteria will have to look elsewhere for their dinner.
At this point, especially if you are new to the skill of preserving meat in the wild, you may be scratching your head in earnest, thinking “how is this even possible?”
We’re about to show you how to do it.
How to Keep Your Fresh Meat Cool
Your very first order of business has to be keeping your meat cool. But how can you do this when you didn’t bring along a refrigerator or deep freezer?
There is a simple way to cool down your meat fast simply by understanding the animal’s basic biology.
The meat is insulated by layers of skin, fat, connective tissues and bone.
These layers are a part of what keeps the animal warm while it is alive.
So this is where you start.
1. Separate your meat from the surrounding matter.
As quickly as possible, you want to separate the edible portions of the meat that you want to preserve from all the rest of the carcass. You want to work very quickly here. The quicker you can do this, the faster your meat will cool down.
2. Cut up the meat into smaller chunks.
Once you have the edible portions you want to save and preserve separated, it is time to cut it up into smaller chunks.
Smaller chunks cool faster and stay cooler for longer.
3. Expose the meat to any available natural cooling source (stream, breeze).
If you happen to have a nearby mountain stream handy or if you notice there is a cool breeze blowing, you can use these natural tools to keep your small chunks of meat cooler.
How to Keep Your Fresh Meat Clean
Once you have your meat cooled down sufficiently, the next task on your plate is going to be to keep it as clean as possible.
That mountain stream sure comes in handy here if you happen to have one close at hand! But if all you have is a stagnant pond or bayou, steer clear. You are more likely to pick up extra unwelcome bacteria than to remove any from your meat.
You can use extra water stores to do some cleaning if you can spare any. But never place your own safety and water needs at risk using drinking water for cleaning meat!
The next best option is simply to use a piece of clean material to clean the meat as best you are able. Your main goal is to wash away blood and dirt or debris.
How to Keep Your Fresh Meat Dry
The next challenge you face is figuring out how to keep the fresh meat you are trying to preserve dry.
Remember, bacteria loves moisture. So the more you can dry out your meat, the safer it will be to consume later on.
There are several methods you can use to dry out your meat:
1. Natural ultraviolet light (sunlight).
Not only is natural ultraviolet light the best purifier and sanitizer on the planet, but it is also one of the best ways to quickly dry out anything.
To use sunlight, you will want to cut your meat into thin strips. Make sure to remove any fat you see as well.
Be sure not to make this first-timer’s mistake – laying the meat strips on the ground to dry. We’ve heard far too many stories of hungry bears, coyotes or foxes coming along and eating all that hard work!
Instead, hang your meat in a tree or on a pole where wild animals won’t be able to get to it easily.
2. Cure your meat with salt.
If you happen to have access to salt, you have two options to preserve, or “cure,” your meat.
You can either do dry curing or wet curing. Of the two, dry curing is more difficult because you also need an airtight container to store the meat in while it cures fully.
– Dry curing.
Dry curing is similar to using a rub to tenderize the meat. The salt is your main ingredient to make your rub. If you have curing salt (sodium nitrate) this works best. And if you have access to sugar, honey and/or spices and want to add those in, by all means do.
Make sure each thin strip of meat is completely coated in the salt-based rub.
Get your airtight container and lay the strips inside it, taking care that no two strips touch each other. Seal the container and allow the meat to cure inside.
– Wet curing.
With wet curing, you make a water-based saline solution, adding in sugar, honey and/or other spices as you prefer. Again, if you have curing salt (sodium nitrate) this works best.
Aim for 14+ percent salt in your solution. Fully submerge each strip of meat in this solution for five minutes. Then hang it up in a secure, sunny location to dry. You will know it is done when salt crystals have formed and covered the outside of the meat strips.
3. Smoke your meat to preserve it.
Finally, you can use a time-honored tradition of meat preservation – smoking. Mature or even dry, rotting hardwood (avoid pine) is the traditional choice and also gives the meat a great flavor.
Smoking and cooking are actually two different processes – with smoking, the smoke is what cures the meat.
Assuming you are on the move and don’t have time to stop and build a smokehouse, you can dig a pit about 20 inches deep. Build a campfire. Partially cover your campfire, which will direct the smoke. Hang the meat strips in the smoke path.
You want to smoke the meat for at least one day, preferably two if you have time.
So now you know three trusted methods to preserve meat in the wild. This will give you options to preserve your hard-won game.