Saturday, March 16, 2013

Brine Salt Preserving Meat for the Long Term

(The entire Salt Preserving Test from beginning to end lasting over 4½ months)

I've always been interested in how the Pioneers lived and survived depending only on themselves. No grocery stores along the way to buy food and no refrigeration. Truly self-reliant, survivalist type people. I’ve read many times that they would salt cure and preserve the meat they needed and always wondered just how that was done?

Today, I am going to Brine (salt) Preserve some red meat to test a proven recipe and see for myself how the process is done and what the meat tastes like months after preserving with the Brining method. This method I’ve been researching for years, searching the web, reading books and even contacting Morton Salt for instructions but always left me with doubt that is was truly safe. No one seemed to want to commit to a recipe.

The Survivalist and remote homestead lifestyle at times does not include the luxury or convenience of refrigeration. To keep up strength and health meat is important in your diet. The problem with meat is preserving the harvested meat from your hunting or live stock butchering so you can eat it for many months until your next harvest.

Here are several known ways to preserve red meat. They are, Pressure Canning, Brining and Dry Salt preserving. There’s also Cold Smoking and Hot Smoking methods which I will review those another time.

Pressure Canning:
Is the most popular, easiest, safest and provides great natural tasting meat. There is an investment up front for the canning equipment and jars but the food quality makes it well worth the price. Once the equipment and jars have been purchased, you will only need to purchase just the lids for future canning. Today there are reusable lids that may save on that cost.

Red meat preserved with the brining method is reported to last several years, although I know of no one who actually brined meat that long. Dan and Sheila at have successfully brined game meat for three months and detailed how they did it in their book noted below. The process is easy and very quick to do. However, Brining or Canning Salt must be stocked in sufficient quantity for this method and salt may be hard to come by during SHTF events. The down side to brining is the meat will be very salty and is limited in its use. Normally the brine stored meat is best used in soups and stews. Taking a steak out of the brine and grilling it up is not a very good option.

Dry Salt Curing:
Similar to Brining the difference is the meat is packed in dry salt. My opinion is brining is better than the dry salting method because the liquid brine gets into all crevices of the meat where dry salting has to be rubbed and packed into every crevice of the meat. Sometimes this is difficult to do and spoilage of the meat can result. Although, this method has been successfully practice for hundreds of years.

Why use Salt?
Salt contains sodium chloride which is the main ingredient in preserving food when used in large quantities. Salt, sodium chloride, helps to restrict the growth of microorganisms in food through the process of osmosis. A concentration of about 20% salt is required to kill bacteria. If food is well salted, it prevents the growth of harmful microbes and thus can be preserved for a long time. Use only a non-iodized salt for brining or dry salting such as canning and pickling salt.

The Brine Recipe to Make 1 Gallon of 20% Brine:
A safe brine solution is 20% by weight salt to water solution.
2 2/3 cups of Canning Salt (2.66 cups of salt per gallon of water)
1 Gallon of Water
Need more brine? Just multiply the recipe by the gallons you need.

Boil the gallon of water.
Add and completely dissolve the salt in the boiling water.
You can add sugar and other spices to the Brine at this time to enhance the meats flavor, I did not for this batch. I want to see just what the meat tastes like just brined.
Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before adding meat.

For this Brine I will not use anything but salt and water. I want to see and actual taste the meat using only the basic Brine preserving method.

(This Brine recipe courtesy of Dan and Sheila at from their book “Surviving Survivalism…or…How to Avoid the Survival Culture Shock”. A great Survival reference book for only $4.95 by people who live the Survival Life. Visit their website above to purchase a copy)

Equipment Used:
Use a Stainless Steel stock pot or a porcelain water bath canner pot. Do not use aluminum, plain steel or cast iron pot. The salt solution will etch them and off flavors can develop. I would use a porcelain water bath canner pot if I had one. I used my Stainless stock pot that’s used for water bath canning. I’m using a one gallon RubberMaid plastic jar and lid for the brining container. If I were to use this preserving process all the time I would use a Stoneware Crock.

For this brine preserving I used a Stainless Steel Stock Pot, One Gallon Plastic Jar and Canning Salt.

Shown here is an egg floating in the brine solution, actually with this much salt I think you could float a Chevy in it. Egg floating, is a much talked about test to verify that the brine salt concentration is strong enough for safe brine meat storage. I don’t recommend it at all as there are too many variables with an egg to be accurate. A ‘salinometer’ is the best way if you are going to practice this type of raw meat storage.

The meat purchased for this Brining Test, an inexpensive ‘Chuck Tender Steak’. The 4 pieces will work out great for the test. I plan to remove one piece from the jar every 30 days, sniff test it, cook it and taste it. Yes I will sacrifice my body for you readers!

The meat trimmed of as much fat as possible. The pieces were already cut to about ½ inch thick. All meat you brine should not be thicker than 1 inch! This thickness of 1 inch will allow full penetration of the brine.

A Solo Cup with the bottom cut out of it:
This cup will be what I’ll use to hold the meat submerged while in the brining jar. The hole will assure the salt enters the inside of the cup and cover all the meat with the brine solution. With the high salt content everything wants to float and you need something to keep the meat covered in brine or spoilage will result.

Here it is, the meat in the brine with the Solo cup holding it submerged for the next 120 days. Right now I have it sitting on the shelf above my computer in my computer room to keep an eye on it. I plan to stir and separate the meat pieces everyday for the first 5 days, then after that once a week to be sure all the meat surfaces are in contact with the brine. As time goes and if the brine gets funky I will decide to dump the old brine and replace it with a fresh new batch of brine. I did not have to do that.

Note: When placing the meat into your jar, crock or whatever, do not pack the meat in the container. Leave it loosely placed inside so the brine is free to contact all surfaces of the meat, all the time. For this experiment/test I used .85 lbs. of meat but could have preserved 4 lbs in this gallon jar.

Here’s another photo of the brining jar just 5 hours later. You can see the brine has already begun to draw off the meat colorant and internal liquids. Above the meat, the reddish color, is the junk coming out of the meat while below is still clear.

Some friends say it looks like I have an alien life form in the jar :-)

The meat has taken in or absorbed the brine and expelled the blood. At this stage it has now settled to the bottom of the jar. I will remove the solo cup at this time and stir to separate the meat. This is all there is to salt/brine meat preserving!

The Salt Preserving Test Results

1st Piece of Meat Tested: Pan Frying
The first way I cooked the preserved meat was frying without boiling the salt out. It was terribly salty! You need to boil the salt out of the brined meat first.

2nd Piece of Meat Tested: Boiling
I boil cooked the second piece which is the best way to cook the meat. The salt is barely noticeable.

3rd Piece of Meat Tested: Soups and Stews
It was boiled to remove the salt then boiled to cook it. Then diced and added to the soup.

After 4½ months and the last piece of meat in this salt preserving test has now ended.
Here’s the brine at 4½ months old. As the salt draws the blood out of the meat it turns brackish in color. You can almost see the last piece of meat in the bottom. The brine still smells clean.

4th and Last Piece of Meat Tested: Used in Pasta
Here’s the last piece of meat just rinsed with fresh water and ready to boil the salt out of it. Looks and smells good!

After boiling the salt out I boiled the meat in fresh water to cook it and then diced it. The meat still tastes great.

I added the diced meat to my favorite Mac and Cheese made with long term stored Cheese Powder and Rotini Pasta.

Salt Preserving Test Summary:
This is the Pioneer or Mountain Man way to store fresh meat without refrigeration. The method uses a considerable amount of salt especially if you’re preserving hundreds of pounds of meat every year.

I’m glad I tried this type of meat preservation. It is easy to do and certainly is an optional way to store meat without refrigeration. However just to be clear I prefer modern pressure canning to salt or brine preserving. As long as I have a pressure canner, jars and lids pressure canning is the method I prefer. Pressure canned meat is more tender, tasty and without a trace of salt in it.

Preparing the meat to eat:
I have learned that boiling the salt preserved meat before cooking to eat is absolutely necessary to extract the salt absorbed into the meat, otherwise it is far to salty to eat. Boil thin sliced pieces like mine, for 10 minutes, longer if thicker and discard that salty water. Add fresh water and boil the meat until cooked.


  1. Thank you for the very informative post.

  2. Glad you like it! It was fun to do and I now know the pioneers had a safe way to preserve meat to eat through the warm seasons.

  3. Thank you for the detailed follow-up. A couple details I wonder about... did you leave this above your computer the whole time? Would you consider that a comfortably warm location? And is there a minimum ratio of salt water to meat or is it just a matter of there being enough salt water to cover the meat you have? Could you have put more meat in the brine you had?

  4. Hi Kristine,
    Yes, I did leave it on the same shelf the whole time and at room temperature.

    There is no ratio of gallons of brine to lbs. of meat that I know of. I don’t recall ever reading about that. I will say that you should not pack the meat in the container but just loosely add the meat so the salt water can contact every surface of the meat and so to speak float apart so the salt water can easily get between each piece. To be safe, be generous with the amount of brine.

    I could have put much more meat in the jug but for this test the amount used would prove the recipe.

  5. Fascinating!! I have always wondered about this method, even as a little girl reading my Laura Ingles Wilder books!! Awesome that you tested it for us! Thanks!

  6. Very good post.I have done a salt brine with pork.I got a wild hair to see if i could make salt pork for beans it worked well with a chunk of loin but i only let it stay in a month.Also tried to do a dry salt rub to see if a pork butt would taste like ham ill leave it at it didnt.thanks for the red meat post.Here is a sugar and salt brine then dry storage you may like to try.

  7. Hi Gary,
    Thanks! Glad to hear you have taken the time to experiment preserving raw meat with salt. I feel it should be tried by every Prepper just so they know how to do it. We just don’t know what disaster is around the corner where salt preserving may be the only option we have.
    I am aware of the sugar curing method but haven’t practiced it and probably won’t for a while, just too many other things to do first. Again, I prefer canning over salt or sugar curing/preserving.
    As for the link to Poverty Prepper; I read her post and was surprised to find out she has yet to eat any of the meat she preserved! As always, do your homework before venturing into these preserving methods.

  8. Awesome post! I've been wondering about alternative methods for storing REAL meat, and appreciate your sharing with us. Questions: First: How long CAN you leave the meat in the brine? If I did this, could I leave it for a year, if necessary? Would it still be safe to eat after a more extended period of time? Second: Can I do this with chicken or turkey, as well? (Can't afford to invest in canning stuff yet, but would like to store meat.) Thanks!

  9. Anon 10:28
    It appears that most people who store meat this way have never spoken about it being more than a year. Hunting season to hunting season!

    This is why I am in favor of pressure canning your food because multiple years can be on the shelf.

  10. Can you do the same thing with chicken or turkey, do you know? Thanks!

  11. Anon 2:59
    I don't know. I would think so however I would search on line for the approved procedures.

  12. Very good article... thanks for sharing... going to try it

    1. Lisa, it's fun to preserve the same way Pioneers lived but today I would only pressure can my meat.
      It's quick, simple and safe but without the slight salt taste.