Preserving meat and poultry to ensure your family will continue to have protein to consume during a SHTF disaster does not require any expensive equipment, or even a dehydrator.
Drying meat for long-term preservation involves cutting it into small pieces of meat, and decreasing the amount of water or moisture in the meat to prevent the growth of bacteria and spoiling. Bacteria requires moisture to grow, some species of microorganisms can thrive in even miniscule amounts of water.
Eating rancid meat even before things go critical and you have access to a fully-functional hospital can be deadly. Doing so after the SHTF could be equally deadly, but in a far more rapid and painful manner.
Drying food to keep it from spoiling is one of the oldest food preservation practices. Because the drying process eliminates as much moisture as possible, it makes the meat far more lightweight and portable – a big plus during a doomsday disaster when you may have to bug out.
Dried meat does not require refrigeration, another huge bonus during a long-term disaster.
Best Types of Meat For Drying
Lean meat is always the best type to dry, or really preserve in any manner. As noted above, always strip away as much fat as possible before drying meat of any variety.
- ✅ Turkey
- ✅ Deer
- ✅ Buffalo
- ✅ Goat
- ✅ Brisket
- ✅ Pork Tenderloin
- ✅ Pork Chops
- ✅ Mutton
- ✅ Lean beef
- ✅ Salmon
- ✅ Pork Shoulder
- ✅ Pork Ribs
- ✅ Chicken
- ✅ Elk
- ✅ Squirrel
- ✅ Rabbit
Note: to speed up the drying process, you typically need to provide a low humidity environment, not to increase temperature! Low humidity can be achieved by speeding up the air current. relative humidity is also of concern, and should carefully be monitored.
Sun Drying vs. Oven Drying
An interesting study compared the two preservation methods with regards to the loss in nutritional value. It’s pretty clear that the dried pieces of meat will still retain a lot of micro and macronutrients when subsequently consumed.
All in all, both preservation methods are excellent for survival and prepping purposes. The sun drying method doesn’t even require electricity, so it can be employed in a grid-down situation.
Solar drying and sun drying are not exactly the same thing – yet both use air circulation and sunshine to preserve food.
Sun drying is the hanging of food stuffs outdoors, usually from a rack or tree branch, and exposing it directly to the air and the sunshine.
Sun drying is great for preserving herbs, nuts, and some types of fruit and vegetables, but not or meat. It would become rancid far before the meat would actually dry from too much exposure to air flow.
Kitchen Oven Meat Drying Method
- Line the bottom of the kitchen oven with aluminum foil to reduce the amount of clean up required after drying meat and to catch the significant amount of dripping that will occur as the meat dries.
- Preheat the oven to 160 degrees F (72 Celsius) – or 180 F (83Celsius) if your oven does not go down that low.
- Cut the meat, pork, or poultry into thin strips or cubes of 15 – 20 inches (40 – 50 cm) in length.
- If you want to season the meat with either dry or liquid ingredients, do it now. This step is often reserved for making jerky and not simply drying meat to preserve it, but that does not mean you can’t go ahead and add some flavoring to the meat to enhance taste. Adding salt to the meat should help reduce the chance of bacteria growth. Marinated meat will likely increase drying time and cause more mess in the oven.
- Place the meat strips directly onto the oven racks. Make sure they are about one-fourth of an inch apart to allow for adequate air flow.
How long it takes to dry the meat depends on how thick the strips are and how much fat is on the meat. Typically, it will take five to 12 hours (sometimes 18 hours) to dry meat in a standard kitchen oven.
How to Dry Meat in the Sun
It is easier, quicker, and safer to dry fruits and vegetables outdoor than meats, because of their high acid and sugar content.
There are just two important components to solar drying: sunshine and air circulation. Keeping the temperature as controlled as possible in a solar oven is essential to thoroughly and evenly drying meat to remove moisture and to kill bacteria.
To use the sun to dry meat, the temperature must be at least a minimum of 85F (or 30C) throughout the entire process. The higher the temperature, the more moisture will be removed in a timely manner.
A humidity level at or below 60% will be most beneficial or solar oven drying – particularly for meat.
A commercially manufactured solar oven, a homemade solar oven, or racks and screens placed up on blocks – or in a survival situation, the cleanest screening material you can find placed over a concrete slab.
The screens and food being dried cannot come into contact with the ground because that would infuse the moisture from the grass, dirt, wood, dirt, debris, or concrete back into the food, and prevent necessary airflow.
The same thing can happen if you place your food to dry in a windy area: dust particles will go right in if you don’t offer adequate protection!
To keep bugs and debris off of the meat, place a screen both on top of and beneath the meat being dried if going an open rack method. Ideally, the screens and racks should be placed on top of a sheet of aluminum foil inside a DIY solar oven or manufactured solar oven.
The aluminum foil will also help increase the drying temperature, especially when the racks and/or screen are placed inside a solar oven:
It is highly recommended to avoid using racks or screens that are made out of aluminum, copper, or hardware cloth (rabbit hutch wire) because is it essentially galvanized metal that can oxidize, creating residue on the food being dried.
When using an actual solar oven, whether it is homemade or manufactured, you should leave the door propped open slightly to enhance the circulation of air – about two to five inches should work just fine.
Leaving the door open to create more air circulation around the meat will cause the temperature to fluctuate more during the drying process.
For the sake of safety, place a meat thermometer or an oven thermometer inside the solar oven to gauge the temperature, then check it every 20 to 30 minutes.
Drying meat in a solar oven can take up to two days, depending upon the density and the amount of meat, the quality of oven construction, and of course…the weather.
The most distinct disadvantage involved with sun drying is caused by the exposure to debris during the preservation process.
Wrapping the food in cheesecloth will help reduce debris from touching the entire surface of the food stuff, but will not prevent microbial contamination from debris that either touches the food or sinks into the cheesecloth.
If this type of solar preservation is your only option for meat during a SHTF situation, it might be feasible if the meat is first coated thoroughly in salt before being suspended and allowed to air dry.
Dried Meat Storage Tips
- Make sure the meat is completely cooled before placing it in its airtight container for storage. Any steam created after the meat is placed in the container will create moisture and enhance the chances of bacteria and mold growing on the preserved food.
- Pack the meat as tightly as possible into the airtight container. Avoiding air pockets will also reduce the chances of moisture forming.
- The best storage containers for dried meat include: Mason jars, vacuum sealed bags, and metal containers with a firm fitting lid. Use glass containers and not porous plastic containers whenever possible.
- Ideally, store meat in recipe or meal size amounts to reduce waste. Once you open a container of dried meat, moisture is allowed inside the bag, can, or jar, and vastly reduce the shelf life of the preserved food.
- Storing dried meat (and produce) in a cool dark area has been known to safely preserve it for 12 months.
- The hotter the temperature is in the storage area, the shorter the shelf life of the dried meat. Attempt to keep dried food in a storage area that remains roughly around 60 degrees and never exceeds 80 degrees.
- In addition to preserving and storing whole chunks or strips of meat, you can also used the preserved protein to make a powder. The meat powder can be used in stews, soups, gravy, or in other recipes to enhance the level of protein in the dish and to help keep the family strong and healthy during a long-term disaster.
To make powder from dried meat strips or chunks, pound a single piece with a wood kitchen mallet to create small particles or flakes.
While drying will increase the shelf life of your meat, there are additional things you can employ to maximize it, such as:
- curing meat
- adding various spices
- smoking it
Meat Drying Tips
• Boil the meat cubes or strips for about five minutes before drying to get rid of bacteria before oven drying. Allow the meat to air dry completely after boiling, before placing it in the oven.
• Cutting the meat uniformly will foster better and similar drying times.
• Cut away as much fat as possible before drying to help prevent bacteria growth and to deter drying time.
• When the meat is thoroughly dried it possess a leathery texture and feel somewhat sticky and leathery.
• All smoked meat must be stored in airtight wrapping or airtight container to ensure moisture does not have the chance to reach the dried meat and once again infuse moisture into it.
• If you do not boil the meat before oven drying, use a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches a safe temperature. Ground meats and pork should reach 160 internal degrees. Roasts, steaks, and various types of chops should hit 146 internal degrees. Poultry should reach 165 internal degrees.
• Properly dried meat can be stored for many months, up to several years. The meat should be stored in a cool and dry place to further deter exposure to the elements and increase the chance of bacteria growth.
• The evaporation of water content during the drying process will cause the meat to shrink at least somewhat and alter its shape slightly. Some of the meat might appear to be darker in surface color and more wrinkly, than other portions of the same piece of meat or from other chunks or strips being dried.
• The process of drying meat (and to a lesser degree, produce) is a slow one. Never attempt to speed up the drying by increasing the temperature or you run the risk of cooking the meat (or fruits and veggies) instead of drying it.
• When the humidity is high, it will take longer to dry the meat due to the added moisture in the air.
• It is possible to dry larger chunks of meat, but doing so in either a kitchen oven or solar oven would likely be extremely time prohibitive. That type of meat preservation is best conducted in a smoker or smokehouse outdoors. To preserve meat (either in large chunks like a whole roast or strips) in a smoker, keep the heat at 155 degrees for approximately 12 hours to 22 hours.
How To Rehydrate Meat
To rehydrate protein powder, combine the meat flakes with lukewarm water at a 1 to 1 ratio. Allow the meat particles to soak in the water for 30 minutes to a full hour, stirring occasionally.
If rehydrating (or reconstituting) dried meat strips or chunks, place the protein in a bowl with lukewarm water (cold can work in a pinch, but may increase rehydration time) and allow it to soak for 60 to 90 minutes – also stirring occasionally.
The dried meat will not need to be reconstituted if it is being used in a soup, stew, gravy or similar dish where the preserved protein will be mixed with liquid in a cook pot.
Oven Drying Fruits And Vegetables
You can also preserve fruits and vegetables by drying in a solar oven or kitchen oven. The dried produce does not require refrigeration to remain shelf stable, it also far more lightweight than it was in its fresh state, and only need a small amount of water and a couple of minutes to reconstitute.
Fruits and vegetables only need to be dried at a temperature of 140 degrees F (60 degrees Celsius) to remove moisture and prevent the growth of bacteria.
Some of the most common fruits and veggies to dry include:
- ✅ beans
- ✅ grapes
- ✅ tomatoes
- ✅ bananas
- ✅ apricots
- ✅ cantaloupe
Kitchen Oven Drying
You can dry ripe or just slightly overly ripe vegetables or fruit – or even fruit from a can purchased from a store if you come across a great deal. Store bought fruit is already swimming in preservatives and will likely take slightly longer to dry and may become tinged with a little bit of brown on the edges during the long-term preservation process.
- Wash the produce in cold water.
- Cut away any blemishes or bad parts – and pits. Removing the skins is not required and is left up to personal preference. To remove skins both quickly and easily on most fruits, score the bottom of the whole fruit using a paring knife, then dip the fruit into boiling water for about 30 seconds. Immediately, transfer the fruit to a bowl of cold water and “wash” the skins off gently with your hands.
- Cut the fruit or vegetables into thin slices or small chunks. The more evenly the produce is cut the more accurate the drying time will be for the batch.
- Optional – soak the produce in a mixture of equal parts cold water and lemon juice for five to 10 minutes and allow to air dry or blot dry, before drying. This process often helps prevent brown spots from forming on the produce, especially, fruit, while it is being dried.
- Preheat the oven to 130 degrees. If your oven does not go that low it is still possible to use it for drying if it is set at a maximum of 160 degrees or lower. Berries, especially strawberries, seem to dry best in up to 160 degree heat. Vegetables and fruit that are thinly sliced, like apples, tomatoes, and onions, usually dry best on the 130 degrees end of the spectrum.
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Place a metal rack – a bread cooling rack works great, on top of the parchment paper. You can also dry on parchment paper alone, but that increases the drying time slightly and requires rotation of the produce to thoroughly dry both the front and the back.
- Space the produce on the rack with enough space in between to foster adequate heat and air flow during the drying process – never allow any part of the fruit or vegetables to touch.
- When produce is completely dry it will still be slightly pliable, but also boast a leathery texture
- Remove the dried produce from the oven, and place it in a glass container – but do not secure the firm fitting lid just yet. Allow the preserved produce to cure for five days to allow any excess moisture to evaporate. Do not pack the glass container too firmly with fruit to prevent moisture from coupling in between the layers. Shake the glass container daily to toss the produce about a bit to ensure all surface areas can relieve moisture.
- Secure the lid on the glass container and store in a cool dry place. If dried and cured properly the fruit should last at least 10 months.
It typically takes six to 12 hours to dry produce in a standard oven. For example, peaches, apples, pears, and bananas take about six hours to oven dry. Grapes take about 9 to 10 hours, cherries and berries will need to be in the oven for approximately 12 hours to dry completely.
Sun Oven Produce Drying
Protecting fruit and vegetables from cold evening air is an extremely problematic part of preserving food in this manner. The cool air will infuse moisture back into the produce.
Typically, you will have to bring in the trays of produce each evening until they complete the sun drying process of use a solar oven that absolutely does not allow any air to infiltrate the produce being dried.
It can be highly difficult to dry produce in a sun oven, and sometimes even cause a loss of half the food stuffs loosely placed onto the trays. This is the reason fruit, vegetables, herbs, and nuts are typically either dehydrated or “room dried.”
Room drying involves hanging the food in a well ventilated room or from a porch by twine or rope – or suspending them from hanging racks in the sun until evening.
Loosely covering the food with either cheesecloth or a paper sack will help keep debris and insects away.
1. Follow steps 1 through 4 in the above kitchen oven drying instructions. Dipping the produce in lemon (or lime) juice is not really optional when preserving fruit and vegetables in a solar oven – especially fruit because it browns both easily and quickly.
2. Place the fruit slices in the solar oven – elevated at the top of the oven or on racks propped up on several bricks, works best.
3. If using a solar oven, make certain to prop open the lid at least an inch or inch and a half to facilitate proper airflow and prevent condensation from forming on the inside of the oven.
4. To prevent as much debris and insects as possible from touching the produce being dried, affix cheese
5. cloth or some type of mesh screen or netting, across the opening.
6. You can turn the fruit once every hour, but this is not absolutely necessary.
7. It will take at least 10 hours to completely dry thinly sliced fruit or vegetables in a consistent 85F degree heat.
8. Thoroughly dried fruits and vegetables will still be somewhat pliable and have a leatherlike consistency.
9. Place the dried produce in an airtight container, and store in a cool dark place – for likely up to 12 months if preserved and stored properly.
last update: 10/06/2021 by Dan F. Sullivan
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.