In any long-term survival situation that happens to be in an austere environment, meat is an incredibly precious resource.
Whatever your moral and philosophical hang-ups about the consumption of meat might be, there is no denying that human beings derive tremendous reserves of nutrition and energy from animal flesh and it is, in many ways, the ideal food.
However, in the context of survival there are major complications concerning meat, namely its acquisition and, more importantly, its preservation. Meat spoils quickly unless steps are taken to preserve it, and that is all there is to it.
Lucky for us, then that our modern existence has furnished ubiquitous freezing and refrigeration technology as a cornerstone of meat’s proliferation throughout the land as a dietary staple. Sadly, those technologies don’t do us much good in the wild.
How then, are we to preserve our hard-won meet attained in the wild? You might be surprised to learn that there are many reliable ways to preserve meat even in the most remote and austere settings so long as you have the right materials and the right knowledge. This article will show you 10 ways to do exactly that.
Table of Contents
Effective Preservation of Food is Essential for Long-term Survival
Imagine it. You’re in the middle of the woods, two weeks into a harrowing survival situation in the aftermath of a light plane crash.
Your meager rations were exhausted a week ago, and since then you have subsisted by forging on edible berries, plants and mushrooms.
It’s keeping you alive, barely, but a profound hunger has taken hold. Mentally, you aren’t quite as sharp. Physically, you’re slowing down.
Then, eureka! You bring down a deer. Truly, such a massive gain in high quality animal protein must be heaven sent. You have tears in your eyes imagining the juicy, delicious venison steak you’re going to be enjoying over your campfire and just a few short hours.
Problem is, much of that life-saving meat is going to go completely to waste.
Sure, you might be able to process the entire carcass but there is no way to keep that meat viable for any great length of time even if you can manage to cook it all.
You aren’t looking a gift horse, or rather deer, in the mouth but that is just the way it is. Best to take what you can to make use of it and forget about the rest, right?
Except, that doesn’t have to be the case. With a good grounding in the fundamentals of austere environment food preservation it is entirely possible to save the investment of effort you made in acquiring that protein so that you may draw on it over time.
Whether you are staying put or on the move, food preservation allows you to make much larger deposits in your food bank, and therefore greatly reduces pressure on you to produce one of the most important survival necessities.
Electricity Not Required!
And this is not going to be an exploration of what your generator can do for you when you go off-grid. In fact, electricity will not be required for any of the methods we are going to explore. No solar charger, no generator, no windmill, no hydro, nothing.
Instead, you’ll be taking advantage of ancient, time tested, and survivor honored techniques that can be employed in various environments and in various combinations.
No matter where you are, no matter what kind of meat you are trying to preserve and no matter what sort of resources you have or lack, within reason, there is a way to preserve the bounty of wild game that you manage to procure.
But make no mistake; none of these methods are foolproof. They will require a certain amount of resources, ingenuity and sometimes a little bit of luck to pull off. Preserving meat in the wild is definitely not a chore for the lazy! But then again, that’s not you.
Work hard, act fast and know what the heck you are doing and your one big score of wild game during a survival situation could last you for many moons. Now then, let us get on to our list.
9 Ways to Preserve Meat in the Wild
Drying is a well-known method of preservation that dates all the way back to at least 12,000 BC. Employed by various peoples through various methodologies for all kinds of foods around the globe, meat has nonetheless been dried as much as any of them, if not more, and is especially well-suited to the process.
The drying of meat is done using a combination of methods, including open air drying, exposure to direct sunlight, hot air convection and more.
Drying works as a method of preservation by removing moisture from meat, and with the moisture gone are bacteria, mold, yeasts, and other microorganisms typically responsible for spoilage and decay, that are radically inhibited or even stopped outright.
Doing nothing else, this is a big net gain in longevity and shelf life, but in conjunction with other methods of preservation it is possible to keep meat for an impressively long time completely edible.
The biggest shortcoming with drying, if you want to call it that, is a significant change in taste and texture although the majority of nutritional value is retained. Certain greatly beloved trail and survival foodstuffs like beef jerky are produced by drying.
Stewing is another ancient and generally efficient method of preserving meat so long as adequate fuel is on hand to keep the source of heat going indefinitely, or nearly so.
Stewing, like other methods of cooking, changes the taste and consistency of meat is enhanced but, more importantly for our purposes, raises the temperature of the meat too high for there to exist any microorganisms which could spoil it.
One time honored method that has been utilized around the world for centuries if not millennia is the perpetual stew.
A perpetual stew is exactly what the name suggests, a stew pot to which all edibles, including meat, are added to an existing broth and, over time, as the stew is eaten, other foraged or hunted ingredients are added depending on what is on hand.
Though it sounds odd to many westerners today, it has many advantages, namely producing a dish with typically delicious flavor, but also maintaining an environment in which bacteria cannot grow thanks to the temperature.
If you have plenty of fuel on hand and are sure you can keep a fire going creating a perpetual stew with your collected meat and other ingredients is an excellent way to maintain it even for weeks or months on end.
Believe it or not, certain perpetual stews in restaurants are maintained for years at a time, with the “master broth” constantly being replenished as servings were ladled out.
Smoking works similarly to drying for the preservation of meat, and it fits neatly under the dehydration “family” of methods, but where smoking differs from drying is that it typically slowly but significantly heats the meat, killing off bacteria more quickly and drying out the cells of the meat more rapidly.
Not for nothing, it also lends food that indescribably delicious and alluring flavor.
Smoking is yet another method of preservation that has been employed around the globe for ages, and it is a method that works just as well on mammalian protein as it does fish, reptiles and pretty much anything else you can catch or kill that is worth eating.
Smoking also has a major advantage and that any fire that has been set up for other purposes can be put to use at least partially for the purposes of smoking.
Like other heat intensive methods on this list, smoking requires copious amounts of fuel and a lack of fuel or inability to start a fire is a limiting factor for employing this method.
But, so long as you have a good supply of fuel you are likely to find that smoking is a reliable, not to mention delicious, method of preservation.
This entry on our list is likely to be the most eyebrow-raising, spine-chilling and controversial inclusion. As hard as it is to wrap your mind around, the simple burying of food can do much to help preserve it.
Try and wrap your mind around it: How on Earth could digging a hole in the ground, ground that is by nature fantastically filthy, and sticking your food in it before covering it up with said dirt do anything but help accelerate spoilage?
It starts to make a lot more sense when you understand the mechanisms of spoilage. As mentioned above spoilage typically occurs as the result of various microorganisms, namely bacteria, that come into contact with or multiply in meat.
These microorganisms have their own requirements for survival, namely oxygen, a suitable temperature range and a pH balanced environment. Deprive these microorganisms of one or more of their survival necessities and they die, preventing spoilage.
Burying can help us do exactly that by lowering the temperature, starving bacteria of oxygen, potentially lowering the pH level drastically, and helping to draw moisture out of the meat.
This obviously has some requirements of its own, namely soil that is extremely dry and quite salty. Very cold or frozen soil also works best.
Though typically employed for sturdy vegetables, meat can be buried under specific circumstances and with the inclusion of special additives like wood ash.
First cooking and then covering meat completely in wood ash before placing it in a hole filled with the same ash and then burying it can serve as a stable environment for the meat that will also repel pests alongside nasty germs and therefore preserving it. Incredible, but true!
Refrigeration, as mentioned above, is an indisputably effective method of preserving food.
However, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees concerning cold temperatures for the preserving of meat considering you might not need to do anything in order to produce those temperatures!
In cold climates, or wherever cold temperatures can be accessed, chilling proves to be an extremely effective method of extending the safe shelf life of meat.
In a wilderness situation taking place in a cold environment, you might not need to do anything except wrap the meat in something to help keep bugs, dirt and other contaminants off of it.
Even in places prone to temperature swings (or only nightly temperature dips) digging into the ground even a little can produce an environment that is more or less temperature stable.
Also consider the efficacy of caves and other subterranean environments that are cool round the clock, 365 days a year.
With the right supplies and a little creativity you might be able to utilize other natural terrain features to chill your meat.
If you are smart enough to bring with you gallon size Ziploc freezer bags as part of your survival kit, which you should be doing anyway, you could close your cuts of meat up in them and then immerse them into a cold, cool stream that will in essence act as a refrigerator.
Obviously this method is not nearly as viable in the hottest and most arid climates on Earth but in the right season or the right place you can effectively make the setting your chiller.
For the ultimate in long-term meat preservation in austere environments, nothing tops freezing, just like in our modern, everyday lives in society.
Once again, we see people’s and societies around the world relying on freezing to gain maximum shelf life from precious meat, and depending upon the environment freezing could have served as the first, best and only method of preservation employed for practical purposes.
Freezing, in all practical terms, halts the formation and life cycles of microorganisms that result in spoilage of meat. Many such microorganisms will be destroyed by freezing since the moisture in their cells will expand, rupturing them.
By whatever mechanism, freezing is undeniably effective. However, compared to chilling, freezing will only be practical or even achievable in the coldest environments. Freezing meat completely solid requires prolonged exposure to deep cold.
Freezing has some drawbacks, namely the fact that most meats so frozen will be entirely inedible until they are thawed and cooked.
Also, chances are you will have grave concerns about exposure yourself if you are surviving in such an environment where freezing meat is possible.
However, with reliable shelter and a method of physically protecting the meat from anything that might try to get to it living in such an environment, setting meat out to freeze is about as close to a set and forget method of preservation you are likely to have in the wild.
Sugaring is an effective if twitchy method of preservation that piggybacks upon drying or smoking. Sugaring is a process whereby meat is packed full of or surrounded with sugar, either sugar in the form of liquid or syrup or crystalline sugar if one has access to it.
Honey has been used for this purpose for thousands of years and it’s something else that you can access, if access with the greatest possible caution, in a survival situation.
Sugaring works to further draw moisture out of food, including meat, dehydrating and thereby exterminating the vast majority of microorganisms that could promote decay. However, sugaring does have some significant shortcomings which may make any potential increases in shelf life completely moot.
Done improperly or at the wrong stage of drawing, sugar can have the opposite effect and instead attract moisture to your meat which will hydrate it and promote the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms. An outbreak of yeast is especially likely to occur, and if it does, your sugars will ferment and usually ruin your meat.
Despite the trickiness of this method, it has been used with success time and time again and in certain environments that have abundant sugars this should be a tool in your survival repertoire, but when you should employ only after considerable practice with the method beforehand.
Curing, sometimes more commonly known as salting, is a well-known and time-honored method of preservation that delivers a strong one-two punch of dehydration and pH modulation toward the preservation of meat.
Packing meat with salt, or completely surrounding it with salt, draws out moisture as with sugar, and in the process eliminates bacteria or neutralizes them.
But compared to sugaring, salt curing has the advantage of further reducing the potential amount of water that the meat can hold, basically making it even less likely that bacteria can form or flourish.
Even an amateur student of history knows that civilizations around the world depended heavily on salt curing to provide stable, nutritious rations for soldiers, sailors, explorers and others who had to be able to depend upon the longevity of their foodstuffs.
Not for nothing, variations on salt curing have yielded many culturally significant dishes throughout time and are capable of producing preserved meat that still maintains much of its characteristic flavor profile.
Also, the ease with which basic salt curing methods can be learned and then employed makes this an excellent method of preservation in an austere environment so long as one has access to a large supply of salt in any form.
One of the best, and most intensive, ways to preserve meat is by converting it into a specific survival ration.
Over the many long centuries, countries and cultures around the world developed their own methods for making meat “go the distance” typically by combining one or more methods on this list.
Several of them are likely well known to preppers today, including pemmican, biltong, and jerky as mentioned above.
By cooking or otherwise preserving meat and then combining it with other ingredients that have a sort of synergistic effect on its integrity and stability, not to mention its taste, one can produce a ration capable of sturdy, long lasting storage even in challenging environments.
The preparation process for these rations, taking pemmican as an example, is often quite lengthy, but nonetheless is easy to learn and highly adaptable depending upon the ingredients one has on hand.
If you are able to scavenge additional foods for inclusion into these rations, it is possible to make a sort of survival superfood, one with excellent nutritional and caloric payload alongside superb shelf life and even reasonably good taste.
I would encourage all preppers to learn what they can from history, past cultures and austere environment specialist trainers who can teach you how to maximize your caloric return on your food procurement investment.
The reduction of waste through efficient use of resources is a watchword for all preppers and nowhere is this maxim more important than in the preservation of food, particularly meat, in a survival setting.
Meat is one of the single most nutritious, not to mention fulfilling, foods one could hope to have access to, but the difficulty and obtaining significant amounts of high quality animal protein mandates one be ready to preserve it so that you may make use of it.
Learn to take advantage of these methods of food preservation presented here so that you’ll be ready to save that precious harvest when you need it most.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.
2 thoughts on “Preserving Meat in the Wild 9 Ways”
Great stuff = “the old ways” were the only ways….if you wanted to live and for posterity’s sake never must be lost to the past…!!!
My dad made venison jerky, he cured it in brine for 7 days in the fridge then strung it on heavy thread and put it up between doorways. He never had a dehydrator until about 20 years ago. Hanging worked great in the winter.