How to preserve meat in the wild

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question,” how to preserve meat in the wild?”, and discuss the different methods used to preserve meat in the wild.

How to preserve meat in the wild?

The quality of meat and meat products degrade as a result of digestive enzymes, microbial spoilage and fat oxidation. Lipid oxidation, protein degradation and the loss of other valuable molecules are the consequence of the meat spoilage process. Therefore, the aims of preservation methods are: (a) to inhibit the microbial spoilage and (b) to minimize the oxidation and enzymatic spoilage (1).

Meat can be preserved in the wild by sun-drying, smoking, curing or a combination of all these methods.

To preserve meat in the wild, the moisture must be removed from the meat and any microbes residing in the meat must be destroyed.

The meat must then be stored away from possible sources of contamination such as insects and moisture.

How to prepare meat for preservation in the wild

  1. Cool the meat: lower temperatures reduce the growth of microorganisms. Refrigerating and freezing cannot be done in the wild, but there are other methods to bring down the temperature of the meat such as removing the fat.

Fat provides insulation and prevents the heat from escaping. Removing the fat will allow the meat to cool down faster. However, the growth of the psychrophilic group of bacteria, yeasts and molds is not prevented by all levels of refrigeration and both enzymatic and non enzymatic changes will continue at a much slower rate (1).

  1. Clean the meat: raw meat naturally contains many pathogenic bacteria. It is very important to wash the meat with cool water soon after butchering. Washing both cleans and cools down the meat. The best way to clean meat in the wild is to wash it in running water such as a stream. Storage time can be extended through hygienic slaughtering and clean handling of the carcass (1).
  2. Dry the meat: The next step after cleaning meat is to dry it. There are 3 methods to dry meat in the wild while preserving it. They are sun-drying, curing and smoking. We will discuss each of these methods next.

How to preserve meat by sun-drying

Sun-drying is a good method to preserve meat in the wild. 

  • To dry meat in sunlight, cut the meat into thin strips and hang it to dry in direct sunlight. You can also lay the meat to dry on a clean surface and flip it over every once in a while.
  • The advantage of sun-drying is that you do not have to carry any extra ingredients.
  • Use a wire mesh or net to protect the meat from insects during drying.
  • Sun-drying preserves meat for a couple of weeks. Sun-dried meat must be kept in sealed bags. This prevents the meat from spoiling due to oxidation.
  • The drawback is that enough sunlight must be available and any sudden showers may spoil the meat.

Dried meat products have a hardened texture and wrinkled appearance due to the volume reduction, and sometimes the meat has a hard crust on the surface. Aroma compounds are produced in the meat products as a result of lipid oxidation that imparts a characteristic flavor to the meat.The dried meat has a brown color, the color changes from red to brown according to the temperature. The salt added during drying also adds to the darkening effect. Nitrate/nitrites can also be added to modify the color and flavor of the meat. In dry cured products, the characteristic flavor is due to the metabolites produced as a result of the action of enzymes on meat (2).

How to preserve meat by curing

Curing is the process of adding salt and dehydrating meat. The salt draws out water from the meat through osmosis. The low moisture in the meat reduces the growth of microorganisms. However, a study showed that although salt-sensitive microorganisms, such as  Pseudomonas spp. and Eriterobacferiuceae did not grow in meat when the water activity (aw) was reduced from 0.99 to 0.97 with the addition of 4% sodium chloride, salt tolerant microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria and yeasts could grow at that level of water activity (1).

Sodium chloride addition results in a reduction of the free water in which microorganisms can grow; that is, by lowering the water activity (aw), spoilage is prevented. On the other hand, nitrate and nitrite salts have been known to create the pinkish red color and characteristic flavor of meat and increase their shelf life. Nitrite salts inhibit the lipid oxidation that imparts a rancid flavor to meat. Nitrites provide the red color and flavor of cured meat, and have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Nitrosyl myoglobin, which is the dominant pigment in cured meat products, is formed from the interaction of nitric oxide with the heme group of myoglobin (2).

Curing will preserve meat for a few months. There are 2 ways to cure meat:

  1. Dry cure: cover the meat with a layer of dry salt.
  2. Wet cure: cover the meat with a brine solution (a mixture of salt and water). 

If a brine solution is used, the meat must be allowed to dry afterwards by sun-drying or smoking.

The drawback of curing is the high content of salt used which alters the taste of the meat. Also, you need to carry a large amount of salt with you. In addition, recent studies have found a considerable amount of carcinogenic by-products formed as a result of adding nitrite to meat leading to the reduction in its use for curing (2).

How to preserve meat by smoking

Smoking is a very common technique used to preserve meat. Usually, smoking is done combined with curing and drying. Smoke process is an e ective treatment against pathogenic microorganisms (Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., etc.), and reduces the lipid oxidation, which leads to undesirable flavors and oxidative rancidity. Smoking reduces the water activity of meat, which affects the hardness of the product and the protein stability (2).

Smoking evaporates the moisture in the meat, making it less suitable for microbial growth. Smoking also creates an acidic condition on the surface of the meat which further reduces spoilage. Smoking adds a distinct flavor to the meat as well. 

Tips for smoking meat in the wild

  • Use the right kind of wood to build a fire. Always use brown, dried wood as green wood will not burn.
  • Use hardwoods because softwood will add a bitter flavor to the meat.
  • Build a canopy above the fire so that the smoke acts on the meat without dissipating into the surrounding. This can be done by using fire-resistant material.
  • The recommended temperature for smoking meat is 109 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Do not keep the meat too close to the fire as it would burn the meat.
  • To speed up the smoking time, cut the meat into thin slices.
  • For best results from smoking, cure and then sun-dry the meat beforehand.

Tips to prolong the shelf life of meat

Meat spoils quickly in the wild and you don’t have the options of refrigerating or freezing.

  • To extend the shelf-life of meat, you must store it in an airtight container.
  • Another option is to wrap the meat in cellophane.

Why must you preserve meat in the wild?

Meat is very easily contaminated. Microorganisms such as E.coli, salmonella and listeria are commonly found in meat. These microorganisms are pathogenic and can easily cause food poisoning. 

It is necessary to correctly preserve meat in the wild so that it is safe to eat.


In this brief guide, we answered the question,” how to preserve meat in the wild?”, and discussed the different methods used to preserve meat in the wild.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.


  1. Dave, D., and Abdel E. Ghaly. Meat spoilage mechanisms and preservation techniques: a critical review. Am J Agri Biol Sci, 2011, 6, 486-510.
  2. Gómez, Inmaculada, et al. The effects of processing and preservation technologies on meat quality: Sensory and nutritional aspects. Foods, 2020, 9, 1416.

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