Because there’s just too much to keep up with, news-wise, in the real world…
I’ll caveat that I’m absolutely not an expert on preserving meats; there are oodles of books and websites and YouTube channels out there by people with significantly more experience and knowledge than I. Please, take advantage of them.
That said, where I recommend starting is with the simple things: whole-muscle cures. What this means is, in essence, taking a single large muscle group–the belly, or a brisket, or a loin–and curing them with salt. (Doing things like uncased sausages will bump up the complexity level; beyond that is getting into salami and pepperoni and the like. Somewhere in between there is the meat canning process.)
At its heart, this is exactly what it sounds like. The simplest version, recipe-wise, would be duck breast prosciutto: take a duck breast, rinse it, pat it dry, then cover it on all sides with salt. Let sit for a few days to a week. Remove from the salt, rinse it, pat it dry again. Liberally coat with pepper (white pepper is traditional, but black will certainly work). Wrap it in cheesecloth or linen, and put it somewhere cool (the top shelf of the fridge works). After about another week, remove it; you can now either slice it thinly and enjoy, or vacuum-seal it and freeze it for later. It’ll keep for about two weeks in the fridge, or months in the freezer.
Simple variations include adding a few other flavors to the salt: pepper, rosemary, juniper, and the like. You can also add some of these during the “cold curing” part (directly on the meat, under the cheesecloth).
Moving beyond this, you start getting into bacon, or actual prosciutto. (The two are nearly identical in preparation, except that prosciutto is rolled tightly, while bacon is left flat.) Added “special” ingredients will be “pink salt” (aka “Prague Powder,” aka “curing salt,” aka Sodium Nitrite), and whatever flavorings you want to add. I also like to use two-gallon sealable plastic bags, because the bacon-curing process generates quite a bit of liquid. It’s also a little bit more hands-on, requiring flipping the slabs of pork belly every day for about a week; after they’ve brined sufficiently, you smoke them (hot-smoke, or cold-smoke), then divide them up as you wish (into rashers), vacuum-seal them, and freeze them.
Corned beef is, essentially, taking a beef brisket, trimming most of the fat, then submerging the meat in a gallon or more of water, with lots of salt (the amount will depend on the weight of the meat) and other spices added. Again, after a period of curing, the meat is ready to be used in whatever “Irish dish” (it’s not really Irish) you care to use it in. Or, smoked, it becomes a type of pastrami, and goes great on sandwiches…
I’ve also done basturma, which is a piece of beef that has been cured in spices and pressed. And there’s lonza, which is cured pork loin. Traditional recipes for these abound, on the internet.
The goal of all of the various whole-muscle cures is to remove a sizable chunk of the moisture from the meat, and either leave it dry, or replace it with a high-salt brine. Most spoilage bacteria need moisture to do their dirty work, and there are very few salt-loving spoilage organisms to worry about, as long as you keep things cool-to-cold, and don’t take more than a few days to a couple of weeks. (Even traditional cured hams are just pork legs, covered in salt and a few spices, and left to dry out…)
Ground meat preserving (sausages and salami) are definitely beyond the scope of this article, but worth looking into. And yes, meat can be preserved by canning it (as you would can fruit preserves and the like). The USDA and FDA don’t have any approved methods; there are far too many variables, and it’s too easy to cut corners, to dangerous effect. There are instructions for the process out there; if you’re comfortable with using a pressure canner, and familiar with the chemistry of canning things, you can research them, and proceed on your own recognizance.
One of the best sources I’ve seen for this sort of thing is Ruhlman and Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. (I don’t have a link readily available, but it’s on Amazon–and I’ll come back and fix this at a later date.) There’s also Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which has lots of recipes and ideas.
Yes, I know this has been quick, and maddeningly short of detail… But things have been ridiculous at home and at work, and it’s what you’re getting, this time. I hope to address things in more detail, in the future. Enjoy!