Preserving Meat in the Wilderness

In any long-term survival situation in the wilderness, meat is an invaluable resource. While you may be able to sustain yourself for awhile foraging for plants, meat can provide you with an abundance of nutrients and energy necessary for survival in harsh circumstances. 

If you’re lucky enough to acquire wild game out in the wilderness, you have the potential of having a source of protein to sustain you for a meal or potentially days, weeks, or even months. The issue with a surplus of meat is finding a way to preserve it, as fresh meat spoils very quickly. Unless you’re planning to eat it all immediately, a hefty amount of meat won’t do you any good, even if you manage to cook it all if you’re not able to preserve it properly. Without preservation, meat will spoil quickly which can result in food poisoning. 

While symptoms of food poisoning might be unpleasant in the comfort of your home, they can lead to a fight for survival out in the wilderness. Thus, the ability to preserve meat correctly is a key survival tool necessary to keep you safe, healthy, and of course, not waste the precious animal you’ve sacrificed in the name of survival. A wilderness herbal first aid course (HFA) can be beneficial to learn how to forage for plants that can be used as medicine if you or a member of your crew do happen to fall ill. 

The good news, however, is that there are many ways to preserve your kill, providing you with months worth of food and a safe source of protein. Without the use of modern-day technology in the form of refrigerators and freezers out in the wilderness, you’ll need to resort to more primitive forms of preservation. The goal of preserving the meat is to remove moisture from it, prohibiting an environment for microbial or bacteria to grow. 

Here are some common ways meat can be preserved out in the wild, no electricity required. 


One of the oldest and simplest methods of preserving meat is by drying it in the sun. This will ultimately make a jerky. To effectively make a jerky, simply cut the meat into thin strips and hang them, allowing the strips of meat to dry in direct sunlight and open air. Drying works by removing moisture from the meat, which discourages bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms from thriving. 

Not only is drying meat a simple and effective way to preserve meat, but it also significantly reduces its bulk and weight, making it easier to transport if you’re on the move. When stored properly and used in conjunction with other preservation methods, jerky can last months, potentially even up to a year. 


Another tried and true method of preserving meat is curing, also known as salting. With this method, the meat is completely covered in salt and allowed to dry. This process draws out the moisture eliminating bacteria and prohibiting it from growing. 

Alternatively, you can also choose to wet cure your meat which involves fully submerging it into a salt solution or brine. This is often a safer alternative as it ensures the meat is completely covered, and it typically preserves it longer than dry curing. 


When salt or sunlight is hard to come by, smoking is a great alternative form of meat preservation with delicious results if you’re able to build a fire. Smoking is not only effective at preserving meat but also greatly enhances its flavors and leaves the meat very tender. 

Smoking works similarly to drying meat with the intention of removing moisture, however, gentle heat is used to slowly dry the meat. This  process drys it quicker than open air or sun would, and as a result, eliminates bacteria and prohibits its growth. During the smoking process, using different kinds of woods can result in different flavors. You can also use smoking in combination with curing for a longer shelf life and incredibly tasty flavors. 


A confit is a cooking technique that preserves meat by first salting the meat and then cooking it in the fat of the same animal. This process keeps the meat moist and tender while also removing excess moisture from it while the fat forms a protective barrier around the meat, stopping bacteria or other microorganisms from growing. Once completed, the confit meat is covered in melted fat. When properly stored, a confit can last for several months. 


While burying your meat in the ground may not seem like the most hygienic method, it will protect it from decomposition by lowering the temperature, starving bacteria from oxygen, and lowering the pH levels of the meat. For best results, the soil should be extremely dry. This method works best in cooler climates, of course, as the soil will be cooler.

In the past, many cultures first cured the meat and covered it in wood ash or animal hides before burying it to aid in preservation and ward off insects and animals. If you happen to be out in freezing temperatures, being able to bury your meat in snow and ice will work similarly to a freezer, preserving the meat until you’re ready to cook it.