Preserving meats with salt

This is kind of a splinter conversation based on the one started by Jay Valencia (Avoiding freezer burn when storing meat). I mean, prior to the advent of refrigeration, this was *the* method of preserving meat.

I’m wondering if anyone has any practical experience, advice, or tips for preserving meats with salt, in case refrigeration (and freezing) isn’t an option.


  • Comments (17)

    • 7

      Hello Matt,

      This may be kind of obvious and not very helpful, but my strategy for reducing my reliance on the freezer is to experiment with dehydrating food. A few years ago, I was in a panic when I realized my freezer was no longer functioning, and I was trying to save the contents while waiting for a service appointment. My mother was somewhat amused by my panic, commenting that when she was young, they didn’t even have a fridge. She said when she was young summer vegetables were dehydrated or pickled for the winter, fish was either available fresh or could be purchased already preserved. It was just a way of life.

      I did eventually buy a new fridge/freezer but the experience made me decide that I wanted to reduce my reliance on refrigeration in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake that could lead to prolonged blackout.

      I still love my freezer, but I have done a lot of experimentation dehydrating pork, beef, fish, seafood, vegetables, even tofu or random leftovers just to see how it would turn out. I don’t have a dehydrator, so I use my oven. My favorite meat to dehydrate is pork because it is less expensive than other meats. I set my oven to 200 F for meats and seafood which is higher than what a dehydrator does, so you could argue that my jerkys are actually “cooked” and not just dehydrated, but I don’t think it hurts the outcome and gives me some small reassurance that pathogens won’t survive after the moisture is driven off and after being at that temperature for a long time. I’ve experimented a bit with marinades, but favor keeping things simple and rely mainly on salt and pepper.

      I still store my dehydrated meat and seafood in the freezer to be extra careful, but they will fare better in a power down situation than if they were kept raw and frozen. Another advantage of dehydrated food besides shelf life in an emergency is that they take up up much less space and weigh much less, which is helpful if you need to take it somewhere. And apart from the preservation aspect, meat and fish jerkys taste pretty good!

      • 9

        Whats the difference in the end result/food between a proper dehydrator and your oven method? eg. if you make jerky, can you tell the difference?

      • 6

        Hello John,

        I am sure that it’s better to have a real dehydrator, but I have been resisting buying any new kitchen appliances so I use my regular gas oven. The lowest that I can set the temperature is 170 F. I have dried things at 170 F to try to approximate a dehydrator temp, and also have tried out higher temps such as 225 F and even 250 F but I think 200 F works out fine for most meat and fish. I have also experimented with using a rack vs using parchment paper and generally use parchment paper because it doesn’t seem to make much difference to the finished product. I do have to turn over everything in the final 60 to 90 minutes. If I were using a rack, it wouldn’t be necessary to flip everything over.

        I don’t even limit myself to dehydrating raw meats. When there are local fundraisers where people sell cooked tri-tip, I will buy it to support their causes, and I slice up quite a bit of it, season it up with salt and pepper and dehydrate that too. Tri-tip is a little too fatty to be an ideal jerky meat, but it tastes pretty good (ironically because it is fatty.)

        Today, I happened to be making pork jerky from some tenderloin. I expected that I wouldn’t be doing this for some time to come because of the shortages, but I recently found this at Costco so I picked up a couple packages. To go from semi-frozen sliced pork to finished product takes about 4-5 hours of oven time depending on how thick my slices are, and I do three sheets at once to try to save a bit on energy.

        This is what the baking sheet looks like at the 3rd hour just before I flip everything over.



        This is the finished product, cooling off before I store it. It might seem unconventional to do this with pork, but it’s a tasty snack item.


      • 5

        Thank you, looks tasty!

      • 8

        That pork looks delicious! Did you figure out the process yourself, or is there perhaps a step by step walkthrough link out there that you could post for those of us drooling on our keyboards? 😉

      • 4

        Sorry about the late reply. I, too, have given dehydration a few tries. Mostly it’s been fruits and herbs. Either I haven’t been doing it right. Bananas are the worst! They always turn out chewy, not crunchy. I think it has something to do with adding sugar.

        At any rate, I wanted to know if anyone has tried ye olde meat packed in salt method because I’m willing to give it a go, but it would be a total waste if the technique wasn’t done correctly.

        I’m also planning (as others have mentioned here) to break into canning. My sweet older neighbor cans and often drops off her homemade apple sauce -which is amazing. I kind of have a tentative 1-on-1 with her to learn her techniques (sure, the internet is a thing, but there are too many resources -it’s like going to the cereal aisle at the grocery: too many choices).

        Thank you to everyone who has replied so far.

    • 5

      Does the overall safety (or not) of the meat supply factor in to making your own dehydrated meats?

      • 7

        Hello Annie,

        I wasn’t dehydrating meats out of concern of a potential nationwide shortage; I didn’t anticipate anything like what is happening this year. All my disaster preparedness books have chapters on pandemics and I’d read them, but the main disaster on my mind had been earthquakes. It still is on my mind, actually.

        I just happen to like jerky type snacks, ever since I was a child. Not just beef jerky, but also Asian condiment such as dried cuttlefish, squid, fish. I didn’t eat these things all the time, but it was a treat. So it made some sense to consider making my own jerky. But it was my freezer breakdown that motivated me to just go ahead and try as I was trying to rescue my freezer items. My mother’s comment about not having a fridge as a child also was playing on my mind and I started to think I should learn more about the old food skills. Even if I don’t put it into practice, I wanted to at least understand the principles. According to my mother, the point of dehydrating their vegetables wasn’t merely for food preservation, but because it tasted good for it’s own sake. The flavor would be transformed in the process. But they weren’t making jerkys so I had to do google searches for instructions and do some experimentation.

        Jerky is kind of a classic way to make meats last longer, and I do love the fact that it weighs a lot less in this form.

        With the shortage of meat this year, I was resigned about it and announced to a family member who picks up jerky from me that I wouldn’t be able to make any more for a while. But I think they were missing the jerky and started to pick up meat for me if they spotted something on their shopping trips so that I could keep making it. So now I am keeping an eye out too. But I anticipate that there will continue to be a shortage. Thankfully, it’s not really necessary for survival, it is a luxury item. I did worry about the lack of eggs though. For a while, there was a six egg limit at the local grocery store which I found kind of alarming.

    • 7

      Try making biltong! This recipe is about as close as it gets to the real thing, and doesn’t need an oven to dry it. I make it, it disappears before it’s even dry. Droe wors (dried sausage) aint half bad either. This type of preservation has been around a long time.

      Perfect Biltong Recipe—South African Beef Jerky

    • 2

      Commenting on this thread to bring it back to the front page of the forum. I’m interested in preserving meats with salt like Matt Black is asking here but haven’t seen any answers. Maybe if it goes to the front someone new can say something.

      • 3

        This is from a fragment of a book called “Dictionary of Everyday Wants” published in the 1800s (the ebook is actually available from Google Books I think).

        BEEF, To Cure – Cut up the beef and weigh and bulk it up, sprinkling a little salt over it, and let it lay ten or twelve hours, then pack it down in the barrel.  To one hundred pounds of beef, take one quart of salt, three and one half pints of molasses, one tablespoonful of saltpetre.  Put all this into sufficient water to cover the beef; boil the pickle and skim off all the scum, and when cold pour it over the beef and weight it down.  Keep the beef covered with the pickle.

        BEEF, Dry – The good qualities of dried beef as an article of food for the family are not fully appreciated.  In point of excellence it is one of the nicest articles, when properly prepared, that we have in our store-room.  It is also one of the most economical articles of food; quite a small quantity of dried beef, shaved very fine, and cooked with a nice gravy, will serve for meat for a family at very small expense.  Then it is so convenient to have; always ready; always acceptable.  To people who live convenient to the market, it is not of so much importance; but to us, who live at a distance from towns, dried beef is one of the necessary articles in our bill of fare.  We frequently entertain guests at our table who never have seen dried beef served other than as a relish for bread and butter, shaved and eaten without cooking.  There are several methods of cooking it.  Some prefer it cooked with a gravy of water, seasoned with butter, thickened with flour, and perhaps eggs broken in while cooking.  Others cook it with crumbs of sausage, frying the sausage first, then adding the beef with water, and thickening with flour.  It is also very good cooked with a little sweet milk and sweet cream, the gravy being thickened with flour; allow it to boil once; that is all the cooking it requires.  A dish of dried beef, properly cooked, served with toast, baked potatoes, and boiled eggs, is a very nice provision for breakfast or a dinner prepared in haste.  When too salt, it can be remedied by soaking, after cutting and before, and adding a little white sugar while cooking.  Sugar cured beef is much nicer than cured with salt alone.  I put mine into a sweet brine, such as is used for pork hams.

        BEEF, Pickled – Rub each piece of beef very lightly with salt; let them lie singly on a tray or board for 24 hours, then wipe them very dry.  Pack them closely in a tub, taking care that it is perfectly sweet and clean.  Have the pickle ready, made thus; boil four gallons of soft water with ten pounds of coarse salt, four ounces of saltpetre, and two pounds of coarse brown sugar; let it boil 15 minutes, and skim it while boiling very clean.  When perfectly cold pour it on the beef, laying a weight on the top to keep the meat under the pickle.  This quantity is sufficient for 100 lbs. of beef if closely packed.

        From “Chuck Wagon Cookin’” a very interesting book:

        Putting Down Beef for the Winter

        Cut your beef into sizeable pieces, sprinkle a little salt upon the bottom of a barrel, then pack your beef without salt amongst it, and when packed, pour over it a brine made by dissolving six pounds of salt for each 100 pounds of beef in just enough water to handsomely cover it.

        Or for each 100 pounds of beef cut up in sizeable chunks, use 5 pounds of salt, 1/4 ounce saltpeter, 1 pound of brown sugar; dissolve in sufficient water to cover meat; 2 weeks after take up, drain, throw away brine, make more of the same at first.  It will keep the season through.  When boiled for eating, put into boiling water; for soups into cold water.

      • 1

        Reading those instructions makes me realize how simple their diet was back then. You didn’t have various seasonings, sauces, or mixes to add. It was just sprinkle some sugar on it, or add some bread crumbs. 

        A part of me wants that simple lifestyle, but another part will probably miss things like chocolate chips or BBQ sauce.

        The section where the author talks about how their guests never tried dried beef besides as a relish for bread and butter was interesting as well. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t tried beef jerky today, and that’s our common way to eat dried beef.

      • 3

        I’ve never cured meat myself, but I’m prepared to do so in a crisis.  I have several books explaining the process plus I stock lots of salt.

        Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is not really used anymore.  What is used is Prague powder #1 and Prague powder #2.  Also called pink curing salt 1 & 2.  #2 has sodium nitrate & sodium nitrite in it & is best for long cured items, so that the nitrate can slowly convert to nitrite.  Pink curing salt #1, (also called quick cure) has 93.75% table salt & 6.25% sodium nitrite.  With either one, 1 lb of curing salt will treat 400lbs of meat.

        I purchased 50 lbs of each from Southern Indiana Butcher Supply.  It is a great store for any curing projects you might have.  It is not terribly expensive and could be exceptionally useful in a crisis with no utilities.  100 pounds will treat a huge amount of meat.


        This article explains curing salts much better than I ever could.

        What Is Curing Salt & Prague Powder & How To Use Them

      • 2

        The recipe that Dogpatch shared calls for 6 pounds of salt for 100 pounds of beef. Your 1 pound of curing salt to 400 pounds of beef is much more economical. I don’t have access to a meat source where I would have to cure 400 pounds of beef, but if I did I would look more into that curing salt. 

        The main takeaway that I learned from all this is that it isn’t just salt rubbed on meat and then stacked on a shelf, but rather submerging your beef in a salty brine.

        I hope Matt Black is able to see this post and these new answers that have shown up.

      • 2

        Well, you don’t have to purchase in 50 Lb lots.  At that online store, you can purchase a 1 lb bag.  Here is a recipe for curing a 5 lb venison roast, but you could use most any meat.  Note how little curing salt you use.  Once cured, you can braise the meat, like in corned beef or you can season further & smoke for a pastrami. 

        Up to 5 lb venison roast. 
        1/2 gallon water
        2/3 cup kosher salt
        1/2 cup brown sugar
        5 tablespoons pickling spice
        3 teaspoons #1 pink salt
        1 head of garlic chopped.

        Heat all the ingredients until everything dissolves.  Let cool.  Completely submerge the meat in the brine & let soak for 2 weeks.  Keep the brine cool.

        In the old days, in the south, they waited for cooler weather to kill & process their meats… usually a pig.

      • 1

        If I brine and follow all those steps, will that meat be able to be stored in a cool place like a root cellar? You are right, that is a small amount of salt required.

        How long do you think cured meat like this can be stored outside of a fridge or freezer?

      • 2

        I’d need to pull out my books to answer.  I’m certainly no expert.  But I know from studying how folks survived here in the deep south prior to electricity, that for long time meat storage you needed to smoke the cured meat.  Country hams are very salty (from the cure) plus they have been dried out due to a long stay in the smokehouse.  So seems to me curing plus dying allows you to store meat long term that is not really dry… such a dehydrated meat or jerky.

        I know cured country hams could stay good almost all year.  An old neighbor of mine, who lived on a farm around here prior to electricity would tell me by late summer, the hams would start to get moldy but they would just cut that off and keep eating the ham.