Freezing meat for Self Sufficiency
Freezing meat for long term storage can be an effective way to reduce your food budget. Watch the grocery store ads, look for sales, buy in bulk when it's cheap, and freeze it for use over time. I remember as a kid, my parents going in half with my grandparents to buy a whole hog or steer, having it processed at the local meat locker, and putting it in the freezer.
Short of raising your own livestock, that's just about the ultimate example of buying in bulk. We ate sausage and pork chops or hamburger and roast for the entire year. If you have the freezer space, you can do that too. If you don't, you can still take advantage of buying in bulk.
Freezing Meat - Buying in Bulk
When you find a sale on meat that your family will enjoy, it is worth the extra effort to buy some in bulk, have it processed by the butcher, and freeze it in serving size portions. Normally there is no added charge to have the butcher process bulk meats.
As an example: Freezing Pork - Often times we will buy two or three pork loin roasts at a time. When they are on sale for $1.29/pound, it's well worth it! We usually have half processed into chops, and half into tenderloins, and occasionally have some ground to make fresh breakfast sausage. It's usual for us to get about 12 chops and 12 tenderloins from a single loin roast.
Often times we'll see chicken leg or breast quarters on sale cheap. Leg quarters are usually the least expensive - occasionally as low as 30 cents/pound, but you can still find deals on breast quarters as well, so freezing chicken is a good idea as well.Even chicken breast tenders are on sale on occasion, and we'll get them when they are.
Freezing Meats - Preventing Freezer Burn
After you get have your purchase processed, you'll want to make sure that you make special effort to preserve it to maintain it's quality. Preventing freezer burn is the biggest issue that people experience when storing frozen foods. The more air you can remove from the packaging, the less likely you are to have freezer burn later. That's why we vacuum pack all of our meats before we freeze them.
Proper handling after freezing is important as well. You can take all the care in the world when packaging, but if you throw and slam frozen foods around in your freezer while you are looking for something else that's buried, you can easily puncture a bag, which will allow air in, and cause freezer burn. Keeping frozen foods organized neatly, and handling them carefully are the best ways I've found of preventing this.
Freezer burn itself doesn't make the food go bad. It will still be edible, but the flavor will fade quicker. Meats with freezer burn can still be used in stews and soups without much bad effect.
Freezing Meat - Vacuum Packaging
Vacuum packaging is the best way to preserve the flavor and quality of meats. It can also extend the shelf life of frozen meats considerably. We use a Food Saver brand vacuum packager, and are really pleased with it's performance. It has a setting for wet or dry, depending on what you packaging. When we package meats, we use the wet setting, which draws less vacuum, and prevents juices from being sucked into the works of machine (which I can't imagine would be good for it!).
The Ball Blue Book suggests that most fresh frozen meats can be stored for 8-12 months before the flavor and quality starts to deteriorate. Our experience has been that with vacuum packaging, you can double or triple that time with very little deterioration of quality.
Freezing Meat - Labeling
Always label packages before freezing. You would be amazed what kinds of things look similar after freezing. A simple black felt tip marker seems to work best for us. We use an industrial "Sharpe" brand marker to label all of our frozen and canned goods. As you can see in the photo, my wife gets creative with labeling!
It's also a very good idea to date each package, so you can use the oldest first, and be aware of how long a particular package has been in your freezer. Remember FIFO - first in - first out...
Buying meats in bulk when they are on sale and freezing them for long term use is a great way to extend your food budget. If you can join forces with another family and buy a whole beef or hog, and have it processed at a meat locker, can save you even more. If you have the land, time and resources, you can even raise your own livestock for food. These kinds of activities are more ways to increase your level of self sufficiency, by reducing your food expenses, and reducing your dependence on the local grocery or Superstore. Having a freezer full of meats and other produce can help ease your way through hard times when they come as well.
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