Do you want to know how to store meat without electricity? It is actually a lot easier than you may think. There are a number of methods that you can use.
In this article, we will discuss 14 different ways to improve the shelf of your meat without relying on electricity.
From the simple to the highly technical, there is a process on this list that is suitable for any environment, requirement, and preference.
Some methods are more complicated than others, but they all have one thing in common: they will help keep your meat fresh for a long time.
You Don’t Need Electricity to Get Long Shelf-Life from Meat
Aside from basic staples like beef or deer jerky and the chemically preserved meats you can get in a can at the grocery store, most people these days believe that the only way to reliably preserve meat is through refrigeration.
And when talking about refrigeration, you know you’re going to need electricity – and plenty of it for the purpose.
This is something of a bummer for people who want to be prepared in the long term with ample stores of food, including meat.
Sure, most of us already have a backup refrigerator or even a full-size freezer for the job, but what happens when electricity is anything but dependable during an emergency or long-term disaster?
Even if you have your own methods for generating electricity, that seems like a tenuous way to keep your meat preserved.
The good news is you genuinely do not need electricity, in any way, to preserve meat. People in cultures around the world have been preserving meat for millennia without the benefit of electricity, and you can too if you know what you are doing.
The following list contains 14 methods that are guaranteed to improve the shelf life of your meat so long as you implement them correctly and pay attention to the details in the process.
Some of these techniques are more suitable for various climates and environments, but others are adaptable and can be done anywhere.
No matter who you are and no matter where you live, there is bound to be at least a couple of techniques below that you can use to preserve meat the old-fashioned way.
Drying is probably the most well-known method of preserving meat, all kinds of meats, without the benefit of any electricity.
This time-honored technique stretches back in human history across many centuries and many different cultures all around the world.
In fact, no matter what kind of meat you are trying to preserve, from beef and pork to poultry and fish, chances are there’s a time-tested way to dry it successfully.
Drying is quite simple compared to other methods in this article, but as with many things, the details matter.
Drying works by removing moisture content present throughout the meat. Deprived of this moisture, microorganisms that are responsible for decay such as bacteria, yeast, and others cannot survive and flourish.
Naturally, this means that your meat will last much longer without breaking down. Dried meats that are carefully stored can last many months or even as long as a year.
If you are planning any sort of off-grid or austere environment preservation of meat, drying should be one of the first and best tools in your arsenal.
It is versatile, adaptable, and relatively easy to perform at scale. It also lends itself to the truly primitive setting as well as a technologically enhanced one, even one without electricity.
You can air dry meat using nothing but the power of the sun or rig up a solar drying apparatus, hot air blower, or other systems to speed things up.
Smoking is another excellent method of preserving meat that can be adapted to many environments and situations.
The process works by using smoke and gentle heat to dehydrate the meat while also imparting it with a distinctive flavor. I think most readers probably already know how delicious smoked meats are in various cuisines!
Smoking works in much the same way as drying, by removing moisture content from the meat which prevents microorganisms from growing and causing decay.
It’s even more effective at destroying bacteria and other microscopic life that is responsible for the spoilage and breakdown of meat, because it heats the meat gently and evenly.
This is because smoke contains chemicals known as phenols and other compounds which are absorbed into the meat during the smoking process.
These chemicals act as natural preservatives and help to further extend the shelf life of the now-smoked meat.
Smoked, dried meats can last for several months if handled and stored carefully, but the biggest drawback to this method is that you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel over a long period of time to generate enough smoke to complete the process.
Salting is another one of the better-known methods of meat preservation it has been around for quite a long time.
Famous, (or infamous, depending on your point of view) salting works to preserve meat through something of a one-two punch.
It both dehydrates the meat, by drawing moisture out of it, and also alters the pH balance of the meat itself.
This makes the “environment” within the meat, for lack of a better word, highly adverse to the microscopic life that causes spoilage and breakdown.
Salting is usually accomplished through one of two primary methods. The first one is done simply enough by packing and completely encasing the cut of meat in a solid shell of salt.
Over time, once all the moisture has been drawn out of the meat, the now hard crust can be chipped away and the meat eaten.
The other method involves immersing the meat in an extremely salty solution, sometimes referred to as brining, before drying it some other way.
Salting has been one of the very best methods for creating long-life, ready-to-eat cuts of meat that function as rations for anyone on a long journey.
Although they generally taste pretty good, or at least agreeable, salting does significantly change the taste and texture of the meat; it might be an acquired taste.
This is one method that can keep meat good for many months and is easy to do safely so long as you have a large supply of salt to work with.
Curing is a process of preserving meat that is much like salting, only it takes the method above and beyond by using several additional ingredients, namely sodium nitrate in conjunction with salt as well as other spices to both enhance flavor and provide a measure of antibacterial performance.
Curing is another method with a diverse and rich cultural history, and is responsible for producing unique dishes from around the world.
But more important to our interests is the fact that cured meats can last a very long time when prepared correctly.
After cleaning a cut of meat, common salt, sodium nitrate, and various spices are thoroughly rubbed all over and into every crevice on the cut before it is allowed to rest in a cool environment for as long as a week.
After this initial rest, the meat will be rinsed, wrapped in cheesecloth or other breathable barrier, and then hung up in a dark, dry environment and allowed to further cure for anywhere from several weeks to several years.
The end result looks downright peculiar, but so long as quality control is carefully implemented the end result is delectable and completely safe to eat.
This is one technique that is adaptable to many different environments, and considering the spices used for the process are easy to transport and easy to handle, one you are well advised to learn.
Probably one of the most surprising entries on our list, sugaring (sometimes called sugar curing) is a method of preservation that works with meat in a similar way to salting. Like salting, it draws moisture out of the meat to dry it out and impair or kill bacteria.
Also like salting, it does alter the pH balance of the meat, further impairing any microorganisms that might cause the meat to spoil.
Sugaring definitely works, and like salting has been around for a very long time throughout history, and was typically performed using a highly sugary liquid like honey.
However, sugaring is far more tricky and perilous for the preservation of meat compared to salting.
If you aren’t paying attention during the process or conditions are not correct, sugaring might do the opposite of preserving your meat and instead promote spoilage by keeping the meat moist, and providing bacteria with more food.
Additionally, compared to salting, you’ll also have to keep an eye out for blooms of yeast which could be a risk of spoilage on their own.
Sugaring meats for preservation is a technique that is viable, but one that requires considerable practice and experimentation in order to rely on even marginally.
That being said, this is still a technique with a history of success on its side and might be a valuable addition to your bag of tricks if you have a large supply of honey or sugar on hand.
When you hear of “stewing” and “meat” in the same sentence, you probably start thinking about a dish, be it the aforementioned savory stew or a tasty soup.
But stewing is more than that, as it can actually be a method of preservation unto itself. You know that high temperatures preserve meat by cooking it, killing off any microorganisms that might be lurking within and preventing spoilage.
But what you might not know is that you can gently cook meat in this way for a very long time in order to keep it viable.
This is what is known as a perpetual stew: a dish and a method of preservation where a master broth is never allowed to completely diminish and ingredients are constantly added to the stew pot, kept at a simmer, in order to keep the pot replenished.
Keeping the pot of stew, and the meat within, at this elevated temperature makes it impossible for any bacteria or other microorganisms to live.
This is an especially viable technique in a large camp or village setting where one will constantly have an influx of different ingredients to add to the pot and keep it replenished. It also ensures that, even when eaten slowly over time, your meat will remain viable.
However, like most other heat-intensive methods you’ll need a lot of fuel in order to keep the stew simmering, and the whole thing will be vulnerable to spoilage if it is allowed to cool down for any length of time.
Another temperature-dependent method of preserving meat. Chilling is most commonly employed for preserving meat through the modern process of refrigeration.
Chilling is highly effective and a simple method of preservation, but it should be noted that it only slows, not completely halts, the processes of bacteria that result in the spoilage of meat.
If you live in an area that is dependably cold all the time, all you’ll need to do to chill your meat is to set it outside in a sealed container or even place it in a root cellar dug for the purpose.
This requires a little else to be effective for preservation other than wrapping the meat in a clean cloth or some other material.
Now, even if you live in a place that might be considered a little too warm for effective chilling out of doors, you still have options for using the method.
Digging a pit into the ground or installing an aforementioned root cellar will allow you to take advantage of the substantially lower temperatures beneath the ground and will allow you to reliably and, most importantly, safely prolong the shelf life of your meat.
Other options for people in areas that can take advantage of it include stashing your meat in a cave (caves are invariably much cooler than the surrounding area) or even placing your meat in a tightly sealed container and submerging it in cold, running water of a stream or creek.
Far and away, one of the very best methods for long-term preservation of meat is freezing. Like chilling, modern technology for freezing requires considerable amounts of electricity, but so long as you live in a cooperative climate, you’ll still be able to freeze meat dependably.
Compared to chilling, freezing doesn’t just slow down the microorganisms that cause decay; it absolutely stops them and will destroy many of them by bursting their cellular structure as the moisture within them crystallizes. For sheer reliability and certainty of long-term preservation, freezing is very hard to beat.
But this simplicity is also its drawback. You’ll only be able to rely on freezing in areas that are extremely cold and stay that way.
Additionally, meat that is frozen must be thawed before it can be eaten, and meat that is kept frozen for too long might freezer burn, negatively affecting its quality, taste, and texture.
Pickling is one method of preservation that everyone is already familiar with, but one that is rarely encountered for the preservation of meat outside of certain culinary circles and cultures.
You already know, likely, that you can pickle pretty much every kind of vegetable and fruit, but you can also pickle proteins, including meats.
One of the most well-known, though ghoulish to some, pickled cuts of meat is pig’s feet! Not my dish of choice, I assure you, but if I had a choice between that or going without me at all I can tell you what I’d choose!
Immersing your cut of meat in either a pickling brine for the purpose or straight vinegar will radically alter the pH balance and kill off bacteria, or will ultimately promote anaerobic fermentation which can preserve the food.
Different pickling techniques and solutions will produce a different texture, taste, and alteration to the end product. All function by eliminating the microscopic life responsible for the spoilage of food.
Pickling as a process takes time and specific ingredients, and much of the time herbs with antimicrobial properties are added to further enhance preservation and also alter the taste profile.
This is one method that you’ll have to be patient if you want to employ, and have appropriate supplies on hand but this is another excellent option for long-term storage.
To most of our readers, probably the strangest and potentially the most repulsive method of meat preservation is accomplished through immersion in lye.
Also known as sodium hydroxide, this method of preservation relies on the wholesale chemical alteration of both the proteins and the pH balance in the meat. Instead of making food too acidic to support microscopic life, it makes it too basic, or alkaline.
Like other methods relying on pH alteration, taste and texture both are changed significantly, and especially with this method, not for the better.
This means that virtually all forms of bacteria and other microscopic life will be completely unable to live in or on the meat, and that means it will spoil at a radically slower rate.
Lest you think I am crazy, you should know that the preservation of food using lye is another method with a long historical precedent.
Olives and other vegetables, breads, and more have all been preserved for centuries using sodium hydroxide, and one of the most famous dishes of the type is the Norwegian lutefisk.
This is definitely a niche, but viable, method of preserving meat. First, you’ll have to have large quantities of sodium hydroxide for the purpose.
Second, even preserved, there are few people who will be able to get past the taste of meat preserved in this way.
Still, if it is something you want to rely on for survival purposes or preparation make sure you sample before you go all in!
Jellying is a method of preservation whereby any item of food is cooked in a substance that will solidify into a gel state.
Chances are the term made you immediately think of jellies, perhaps jams or even preserves, and after that gelatin.
You are on the right track, as gelatin is typically employed for creating the aforementioned toppings but this is not the only food that can be preserved through the use of gelatin and not the only way to use the process of jellying.
Fruits and vegetables are commonly jellied for preservation, but you can do the exact same thing with meat, including whole cuts, if you want to.
You’ll need a gelling agent for the task, and for this you might use gelatin for the purpose, maze flour, or proteins derived from other animals.
Anytime you jelly meat as a method of preservation you’ll be both cooking and softening it, making it easier to eat in the future.
However, even though jellying is viable for the preservation of meat when used this way it is definitely best if you can keep it cool or very cold.
Although not strictly necessary, you can still get a significant increase in shelf life even at room temperature if you choose to jelly your cuts.
An older and culturally rich way to preserve meat is through immersing it in lard, typically after salting it or cooking it in some other way.
Relatively labor intensive, this method has the added benefit of allowing you to use portions of meat as you need them without completely compromising a batch. This affords you a certain amount of flexibility and your food supply.
To confit, consider that sturdier cuts of meat like beef, pork, and lamb do best, although the technique is viable with most meats except perhaps fish.
If beginning with salt-cured meat, you are ready to immerse right away, but otherwise cook the meat as if you were going to serve it immediately.
The prepared cuts are then placed inside a crock and hot pork fat is poured over it so that the meat is completely immersed on all sides with at least a few inches of fat.
The confit should then be sealed with a piece of wax paper on top of the congealing lard, and then the crock or jar itself sealed with a tightly fitting lid.
Placed in a cool area out of direct sunlight, you should expect your cuts of meat to last a minimum of 3 months, and perhaps as long as half a year.
Just be sure that whenever you take meat out of your crock you ensure all other pieces of meat are completely surrounded by the fat.
Additionally, if you live in a hot climate or your confit jar is allowed to warm up, you might have problems with spoilage.
Pemmican describes a Native American dish and the process to make it. Pemmican is a combination of dried and pounded meat, berries, and animal fat that proved to be highly nutritious, long-lasting, and easy to store.
Long used by the Native Americans for overland journeys, trade, and hunting forays colonists soon learned to make their own in order to make the most of their meat and provide themselves with rations for similar purposes.
This process is one that is more than the sum of its parts, with the additional steps and ingredients serving to increase the nutritional payload of the meat, but also to help preserve the meat longer than it would be if it were simply dried or smoked.
Pelican has a major advantage in both transportability and ease of consumption, but the biggest problem is that the process for making it from scratch is highly involved and detailed.
Additionally, many modern renditions of the method vary quite a bit from each other in terms of details and ingredients. This is an option you’ll need to be ready to experiment with if you want to rely on it in the future.
But despite these drawbacks, pemmican is a generally tasty, long-lasting, and nutritious food, and one of the very best ways to preserve your meat in a ready-to-eat way.
With little doubt, this is probably going to be seen as the strangest method of preservation included on this list.
But you aren’t seeing things, and that’s not a typo: It is possible to preserve meat by digging a hole in the ground, placing the meat inside, and then covering it back up. How?!
Well, there is slightly more to it than that, but only slightly! If you have paid attention throughout this article you are aware that spoilage is usually caused by bacteria in the meat.
Bacteria are tiny organisms, with requirements for life all their own. Deprive them of these requirements, and they will be degraded or even die off, slowing the process of spoilage.
Done carefully, and in the right conditions, burying can do exactly that – deprive bacteria of what they need to live.
Burying is something of a triple threat in this regard, and works by preventing bacteria from getting oxygen, significantly lowering the temperature of the meat, and in the case of certain types of soil, negatively altering the pH balance of the meat through high alkalinity.
Instead of just tossing your meat in a hole in the ground, this method will be more successful if you first dig the hole and then line the entirety of it with naturally antiseptic wood ash, or some other substance.
Also, any meat stored this way should be cooked first, then placed in the hole, covered with fresh wood ash, and then finally covered completely with dirt.
The wood ash, aside from altering the pH balance of the meat, will also help repel insects and animals which might come looking for a free meal.
This technique, as you might imagine, is fraught with peril and will definitely require experimentation and certainty concerning soil type and ash used for the purpose, but it can work, especially if you were in a deep wilderness or other austere environments.
No Electricity, No Problem
The long-term storage of meat is something that seems only possible thanks to copious chemical preservatives or modern, electricity-intensive refrigeration. But this is not the case.
There are more than a dozen methods of preserving meat that have been used successfully by cultures around the world for ages, and you can use any of them to help preserve your meat without the benefit of modern technology.
Review the list, practice your chosen methods, and pretty soon you’ll have a couple of reliable ways for traditionally preserving your meat.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.