One method of preserving meat for prolonged storage is to smoke it. There are compounds in hardwood smoke that provide antioxidant and antimicrobial protections as well as the distinctive taste and aroma. This process, born out of necessity, has grown into a tradition for many families and a commercial enterprise for others (beef jerky).
Types of Woods Used for Smoking Meat
Generally, hardwood chips are used to smoke meat. Hardwoods contain much less resin than softwoods such as pine, where the resins impart an unpleasant flavor. Even in hardwoods the quality of flavor varies.
Mesquite has good flavor while other, softer hardwoods are lacking. This is sometimes attributed to the higher burning heat of mesquite, which could produce more of those compounds that may contribute to the flavoring of the meat.
Smoking Meats for Preservation
Smoke itself may not have originally been seen as a way to preserve meat. However, it has been shown that heat used to dry out foods will preserve meat longer. Meat and fish will not go rancid as quickly when dried, and smoke lends that smoky aroma and taste to otherwise dry bland meat. The constituents of smoke, like phenols, slow rancidity.
Other compounds such as formaldehyde produce an antibacterial effect which helps to slow the breakdown of organic material by bacteria. Smoking meats is not a complete preservation method since the smoke does not penetrate the meat; which means its effects are on the surface only. Thorough drying will complete the process of preservation.
Health Concerns About Smoked Meats
Phenols and formaldehyde occur because of the incomplete burning of gases. Though these compounds have beneficial effects, they are also carcinogenic (cancer causing). Meats and fish absorb other compounds through smoke such as nitrates. This in turn, could change to nitrites in the body, causing low blood oxygenation.
Liquid smoke is an alternative to traditional meat smoking. During the production of liquid smoke many of the carcinogens are removed, making it a safer alternative. Marinate the dried meat in liquid smoke to get the smoky flavor minus the carcinogens.
Economy of Smoked Meats
Having a method to preserve food without refrigeration takes a smaller slice out of the financial pie. Knowledge of these kinds of methods; which were once very common to everyone, will pay off in big dividends in the areas of greater financial and personal independence.
Earlier generations smoked meats and fish to put by when needed. The next generation can pick up where they left off – ushering frugality back into fashion.