What is Meat Preservation?

Janis Adams
Janis Adams
Sliced frozen meat.
Sliced frozen meat.

There are many different methods of meat preservation, from drying to salt curing to adding sugar to preserve it. The purpose of meat preservation is to add to the length of time that meat is fresh, healthy, and bacteria free for human consumption. Meat is preserved using many different processes. The process a specific meat is preserved under is largely determined by what the meat will be used for when it is consumed. Whatever the process, meat preservation is in place to save those who consume the meat from contracting food-borne diseases.

Cured meat, like bacon, usually contains nitrates, which help preserve it.
Cured meat, like bacon, usually contains nitrates, which help preserve it.

The most important part of any meat preservation process is to ensure that no nutrients are lost. Of course, preserving taste and texture is an important factor as well. The specific meat preservation process chosen for any type of meat is most often determined by the purpose for which the meat will be used once it has been preserved. For example, drying beef would not be a good process for meat that would be intended to be used for grilling. Dried meat would be better served when planning the meat to be eaten without the cooking process or as a part of a chipped beef recipe, for example.

The hot smoking method helps cure, cook and preserve meat.
The hot smoking method helps cure, cook and preserve meat.

Meat preservation not only adds to the life of the meat, but in certain preservation processes flavor is added as well. For example, smoking a piece of meat to preserve it lends a quality of richness that a meat that has not been smoked will not have. Smoked bacon is enjoyed by many and chosen simply because of its taste. Different types of woods add different flavors to the meat. Preserving meat with salt and spices will also tend to enhance the flavor of the meat.

The oldest method of meat preservation is drying. Warm air with an approximate level of 30-percent humidity is optimum for meat drying. The first day meat is set to dry will be the day when the most water loss will occur. Following that, water will continue to diminish, just at a much slower rate. Meat preservation using the drying process greatly diminishes the weight and mass of the meat, as most of this comes from the presence of water.

Meat preservation, also known as curing, includes the process of adding flavorings and spices, which in turn preserve the meat. Sausage making is one example of meat preservation that began as a process whose sole purpose was to have meat last longer and taste better once it was consumed. Curing meat can also be done using the chemicals nitrate and nitrite. These bacteria killers also provide flavor and color to meat that will not be consumed the day that it is harvested from an animal.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - I've seen markets in places where they still preserve meat and fish the old fashioned way and they usually aren't that appealing. When fish is properly dried out with the intention of storing it in a place without refrigeration it becomes rather disgusting. It's usually ground up as a sort of seasoning or thickener rather than eaten directly.

I imagine fish that has been completely smoked is the same. It's not like the ones we usually get in the supermarket, which are intended to be eaten quickly or stored in a fridge.

And most meat preservation involves a lot of salt, to the point where it would take hours of cooking just to make it edible again. It's actually pretty fascinating reading about the history of food preservation. I recommend a book called Salt: A World History if you're interested in the different techniques people used way back when (and sometimes today).


@pastanaga - I sometimes make jerky in our food dehydrator, as it makes a good snack. My parents used to make it in the oven when I was a kid, but it's very messy if you've put the meat strips into some kind of marinade so I prefer the dehydrator since it's easier to clean, even if it doesn't quite work as fast.

I'd like to get a smokehouse so I can preserve the fish my friends sometimes give me when they've had a good day out on the water. I just freeze it at the moment (whatever I don't eat straight away) but I've always loved smoked fish, particularly freshly hot-smoked fish. It's got to be one of the most delicious things in the world.

I don't know how people who used to have to smoke fish for preservation managed to stop themselves from eating all of it right then and there.


My father had a really good recipe for jerky that he used to make all the time, but it wasn't very good at preserving meat. It was so tasty that we would basically eat all of it, usually before it had even finished drying out properly. So it kind of had the opposite effect.

I remember when I was a kid he tried to tell me that it was "grown-up food" and could be dangerous for a child to eat, so that I wouldn't eat all of his jerky. In the end he would put ground pepper on half of the supply and that would be his and I could have the rest.

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    • Sliced frozen meat.
      Sliced frozen meat.
    • Cured meat, like bacon, usually contains nitrates, which help preserve it.
      By: Kelpfish
      Cured meat, like bacon, usually contains nitrates, which help preserve it.
    • The hot smoking method helps cure, cook and preserve meat.
      By: podm
      The hot smoking method helps cure, cook and preserve meat.