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 (9)

    • 4

      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!

      • 3

        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?

      • 3

        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.


      • 2

        Thank you, looks tasty!

      • 3

        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.

    • 3

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

      • 3

        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.

    • 3

      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.