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A Little History on Meat Storage.
Before refrigeration, one of the nicest things about Pork and Beans or Baked Beans is that the ingredients could be stored with little or no refrigeration. The beans and sugar could be stored dry in tins and and the salted pork could be stored in a wooden barrel.
Salt cures and smoking were the earliest forms of meat storage methods known. There is documentation of salt curing that dates as far back as the ancient Greeks. As for smoking, the Native Americans were known for hanging meat in the top of their tee-pees utilizing the smoke from the fire below to preserve it.
Other methods came popular later on. When canning of foods appeared, the canning of meat became a popular storage method. Even pork could be canned without salt curing it. Another method for storing pork in the homesteading days was the use of small crocks and lard. The pork was cooked and placed in the small crocks. Then the crocks were filled with hot lard covering the cooked pork. The hot lard killed any bacteria, yeast, or mildew that contaminated the meat and sealed it from further contamination with the air. The crocks were covered with wax paper and a lid to protect their contents further from exposure and, of course, vermin. The crocks also had to be stored in a cool place such as a cellar or else they didn't keep. One of the advantages of this method was the ease of resealing if all the meat in the crock wasn't used in one meal. The lard was reheated. The remaining meat shoved back down into the crock and recovered with the hot lard. The wax paper and lid were replaced and the crock was once again sealed.
My Grandparents used one or more of the methods above for meat storage. My mothers parents also used a method similar to today's freezer storage. In the winter months of the year, they wrapped their meat cuts with a wrapping paper and stored them outside in a wooden box. The wrapping paper protected the meat from the cold or freezer burn and the box kept it safe from the cats and the dog and the other carnivorous varmints that roamed the prairie. This was a cleaner alternative to hanging meat out in the cold winter air on the side of the barn or shed. The barn hanging was a method used mostly by bachelor men and was usually ended by their newly wed wives. (It's true! One of my grandfathers used to hang meat on the side of the barn in the winter until he married Grandma. She promptly put a stop to it.) (As a further note for safety, I don't recommend the barn hanging method due to the health risks involved.)
My dads parents hung salted pork in a shed during the cooler months of the year. They suspended it from a wire or rope high enough off the floor to keep the varmints from reaching it should any get into the shed. However, their neighbor had a St. Bernard that could get the shed door open and reach the meat inside. He was usually about over the hill on his way home packing a chunk of meat in his jaws before anyone noticed him.
Now, refrigeration makes meat storage a breeze. Oh, the old methods have not entirely been abandoned. I know of people who still can meat. Also salt cure and smoking are still used in meat processing today but mostly for flavor instead of preservation.
My Recipe for Bean Bones. (What You'll Need.)
What are Bean Bones? You may call them ham hocks or pork neck bones or ham bones. The bean bones I refer to are a combination of the three cuts mentioned above and more. Bean bones (see picture below) are fist sized bone cuts with enough meat on them to give them some food value. If you intend to try the following recipe, you may want to start with just 2 to four pounds of meat. Also, you don't necessarily need to use pork bones. Pork cut into two to three inch squares or even pork chops may be used. It's up to you. One thing you should remember is the smaller your cuts, the less time they need to salt cure, and the larger your cuts the more time.
Example of Meat cuts In the recipe and method below, I use Morton's Tender Quick Home Meat Cure. (It's not a good idea to substitute another brand of home meat cure for this recipe. You'll need to follow their meat curing recommendations printed on the back of their container if you do.) The nice thing about Morton's Tender Quick (shown below) is it's all ready to use for dry rub or brine curing. There is no need to add any thing other except water for the brine curing. Morton's Tender Quick can be acquired from most grocery stores. If yours doesn't carry it, you can purchase it on line Here.
You'll need a smoker. I use Little Chief smokers. They are small and economical and electric. If you don't have a smoker, you can purchase a Little Chief smoker Here for around $100.00 USD or if you have a friend that owns one and will let you use it, that works too. I don't recommend going all out and buying a big refrigerator style smoker or building a smoke house if you're just experimenting with home curing and smoking. A little smoker like
Fist sized bean bones ready for the salt brine above and
a two pound bag of Morton Tender Quick (right).
the Little Chief smokers are excellent for small time home curing when you're only smoking a few pounds of meat such as what we are doing here. Refrigerator sized smokers or smoke houses are for the home food processor who intends to smoke a hundred or pounds of meat or more.
Last but not least, you'll need wood chips or sawdust for your smoker and not just any chips or sawdust either. Most of your smoking wood comes from hardwoods such as hickory, cherry, apple, ash, alder, apple, mesquite, or sugar maple. Do not use evergreen woods such as pine, cedar, or fir. The smoke from evergreen woods contains oils and resins that leave a bad taste in your meat and may be somewhat toxic. Do not use wood that has been oiled or painted for the same reason. It's best to buy your wood chips or sawdust that has been processed especially for use in a smoker. You can find smoker wood chips or sawdust at your local grocery
or hardware stores. Or you can buy it on line Here.
Summary of what you need for my recipe:
1. 2 to 4 pounds of pork bones, chunks, chops, or steaks. (or less)
2. A two pound bag of Morton's Tender Quick.
3. A small smoker. (Mine are Little Chief smokers.)
4. Smoker wood chips or sawdust.
The Curing Process.
You will need to experiment with the process in order to get the flavor of the meat to your liking. I recommend that you log the process in a note book for future reference. You'll need to log the amount of Tender Quick cure you use in the recipe, the time you allowed the meat to cure, and how it tasted after you cooked it. If it's too salty and it's cured all the way through, you'll need to reduce the amount of cure used in your recipe the next time or maybe reduce the cure time. If it is not cured all the way through you'll need to increase the curing time. How do you know if it's cured all the way through? The meat will be red all the way through after cooking. If the center is brown, it's not cured all the way through. It may take you two or more tries to get it right.
Thaw Your Meat
First, if your meat is frozen, you need to thaw it out. The meat must be thoroughly thawed before curing. Use safe thawing methods. Pork should not be left out of refrigeration for more than a day. I don't recommend that you set it out to thaw it. It is best to take it out of the freezer a couple of days before curing and place it in a pan in your fridge to thaw it out.
You need to decide what type of curing method you are going to use. Are you going to use the dry rub method or the brine cure method? If you have pork chops or steaks, I find the dry rub method is the best to use. Now on the back of the Tender Quick package, it says to use one Tablespoon of Tender Quick cure per pound of meat. I find that quite salty for my taste. I use One table spoon per two pounds of meat.
Weigh your meat to determine how much Tender Quick you need to use. ( Example: One pound of meat = half a Table spoon of Tender Quick. Two pounds of meat = one Table spoon Tender Quick. Three pounds of meat = one and a half Table spoons of Tender Quick etc...)
Lay your meat out on a clean sheet of wax paper or freezer paper on the counter or a table. With a Table spoon, measure out half the amount of Tender Quick cure needed and sprinkle it on one side of the meat evenly. (Try to get the cure on the meat and not on the paper.) With your hand (you can put on a clean plastic glove if you wish), rub the cure into the meat. Turn the pieces over after you have finished rubbing the cure in. Next, measure out the next half of Tender Quick cure and repeat the process. The idea is to get the cure spread out evenly and rubbed into both sides of the meat. Now place all of your meat in a clean plastic bag and seal it (Press the air out of the bag before sealing). Place the bag in a pan and place it in your fridge.
The Tender Quick recipe requires 4-8 hours of cure time for the dry rub curing process. Once again, I find this to long for my taste. I find that 2-4 hours, especially for cuts as thin as pork chops or pork steaks, is long enough. When the cure time is up, take your meat out of the fridge, remove it from the plastic bag, and rinse it off. It is now ready for smoking. If you can't smoke it right away, place it in a covered container and put it back in the fridge until you can. Try to get it smoked within the next couple of days. Don't wait too long to smoke it.
The Brine cure is a mix of water and Tender Quick. Your meat is submerged in the brine and allowed to soak for a period of time for the curing process. I find the Brine cure works best for the bones and the chunks. Now the Tender Quick recipe call for one cup of Tender Quick dissolved into four cups of water. Yikes! That is a lot of Tender Quick. I dissolve one cup into eight cups of water.
Find a container, preferably stainless steel, glass, or plastic (I use a large roaster or large bowl), that fits in your fridge and will hold all the meat to be cured. The container will need to be large enough so that you can completely submerge the meat in the brine. Use two containers if you have to. Place your meat into the container. Next mix up a batch of brine in another bowl. Pour it into the container with the meat. Does it cover the meat? No? Mix up another batch. Continue to do so until the meat is covered. Now you will find the meat will float in the brine so it will be impossible to fully cover the meat. What I do to remedy this is sprinkle a little Tender Quick on the exposed portions of the meat or half way through the cure process, I will
turn the top chunks over so their exposed portions are turned down into the brine.
With the meat in the brine, Place the container in your fridge to cure.
Meat in the brine. Note there is a little not completely covered by the brine.
Curing time according to Tender Quick is 24 hours. I cure for twelve hours. That seems to do for me. Chunk meat larger than two inch cubes may need a few hours more but 2 inch cubes and bones usually cure through in twelve hours.
When the Curing time is up, take the meat out of the brine and rinse it off. It's ready for smoking. Once again, if you can't smoke it right away, place it in a covered container in the fridge until you can.
Log Your Recipe
Now is the time to log your recipe. Record the amount of cure you used and record the time you allowed the meat to cure. Leave space for future notes. You'll want to log if the meat was cured through and how it tasted in the future after you cook and eat it.
The Smoking Process.
Here are a few things you should know about smokers. Where there is smoke there is fire. You'll want to use your smoker outside on a concrete slab or a bare patch of ground. Have an extinguisher handy and a large bucket half filled with water. Why half full? This is where you'll place your wood ash during and after smoking your meat. The weather should not be very windy. Wind can carry sparks from you wood chip pan into dry grass or other flammable substances. If your smoker catches fire, it will most likely be a grease fire. If so, don't use water to put it out. You'll have to smother like you would a kitchen grease fire or use a fire extinguisher. Also kill the power to the smoker if its electric. Don't touch the cord if it's been melted by the fire or a short. You'll have to kill the power from your breaker box. You may also want to kill the power before attempting to extinguish the fire. If you are using your smoker for the first time, read the manual that came with it before using.
Note: The instructions below are for a Little Chief or similar smoker.
Get your smoker ready for use. Set it up on a non flammable surface. Fill a large bucket have full of water to dowse the ash in and set in a handy spot near the smoker. Choose a flavor of wood chips or sawdust, hickory, cherry, mesquite, and have them handy. Take the rack out of the smoker. Wash and dry it if you wish. Place your meat on the rack. Don't stack the meat pieces on each other. Place them so that there is a little space between them. You want the smoke to completely surround the pieces ( See pictures below). Place the rack and meat in the smoker and close the lid on the smoker. Remove the pan from the bottom of the smoker if you haven't already. Fill it with wood chips or sawdust and set it on the burner in the bottom of the smoker. You may now plug your smoker in and turn it on.
I use hickory sawdust in my Little Chief smokers because once it gets going, a pan full will last as long as I want the meat to be smoked. It takes about 30 minutes to get started smoking and then it will smoke for about 45 to 60 minutes. Plenty of smoking time for small cuts of meat. With the chips, I usually have to charge the pan every 20 to 30 minutes. To do this, remove the pan from the bottom of the smoker, hold it over the water in the bucket use a screw driver or something similar to remove as much of the dead ash from the pan. You want to leave any wood that is still smoldering in the pan if you can. This will help keep a steady smoke going in the smoker. Refill the pan again with fresh chips covering the still smoldering chips that were left in the pan and return the pan to the burner inside the smoker. Keep a steady smoke going for 60 or more minutes. Keep in mind that smoking time begins when smoke begins seeping out of the cracks of the smoker.
When the time is up and you are done smoking, unplug the smoker and remove the pan. Dump the pan out into the bucket of water. Remove your meat and and put it away in your refrigerator if you plan to use it right away or wrap it in freezer paper and place it in your freezer if you don't.
Now that I have salted pork, what am I going to use it for? Ah, stay tuned in the future for recipes of dishes that utilize bean bones or salted pork.
My two little smokers are set up and ready to fill with the salted pork. Notice that they are both top loading smokers. The little door on the bottom is for removing the pan to maintain the wood chips for the smoldering fire.
The meat is placed on the wracks. Note that the pieces are placed so they are not touching each other so the smoke can surround each individual piece.
This is the pan filled with hickory saw dust.
The burner is in the bottom of the smoker. This is where the pan will sit. The heat from the burner will ignite the sawdust and keep it smoldering through the smoking process.
The pan is set on the burner.
The meat is on the wracks inside. The pans are charged with hickory sawdust and placed on the burners. You can see the handles poking out through the slotted doors on the bottom of the smokers above. The smokers are ready to go and plugged in.
Now We're Smokin'. Now I'll just let the sawdust burn up in side the smokers. That takes about an hour. That's enough smoking for these cuts. When it's all done, I'll take the meat and wrap it in freezer paper and freeze it until I use it. What am I going to use it for? Stay tuned for recipes that use bean bones.
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