Meat can be stored for the long haul in a range of ways, from dehydration and canning to pickling and freeze-drying. Freeze-dried meat undergoes a process that is the opposite as canning, using a flash freeze instead of heat to kill bacteria. This is followed in shortly by a powerful vacuum during the application of heat that turns the ice into vapor, making moist meat become dry chunks that can be rehydrated later.
Though freezing the meat is involved in the process of making freeze-dried meat, the resulting product does not need to be stored in a freezer. Meats are typically cooked first, cooled and then flash frozen. A special process then lightly heats the meat while it is vacuumed-packed. This results in the moisture of the meat freezing and then turning to vapor without ever returning to a liquid. According to several survivalist Web sites, this long-term preservation method has the least loss of flavor and texture.
Since special equipment is needed to properly make freeze-dried meat, many turn to commercial brands or prepare preserved meats using the dehydration method. These store-bought foods are most often sold at hiking supply outlets, but some grocery stores carry some freeze-dried meat products. Most commonly used by campers and survivalists, these foods are easily prepared by simply adding warm water and waiting a few minutes. Then, any extra water can be poured away, and the product can be consumed or cooked. Some store-bought offerings are ready to eat upon rehydration — recipes like beef stroganoff and chicken a la king.
According to the Be Prepared Web site, maintained by freeze-dried meat manufacturer Emergency Essentials®, dehydrating meat shrinks the product, allowing more to be stored in tight quarters. The freeze-drying method, however, is renowned for retaining the most flavor and being the fastest to prepare. Emergency Essentials® claims that these products can last for as long as a quarter of a century if stored in darkened, airtight containers. After opening the package, the food should keep for a year.
Hikers and outdoorsy types typically vacillate between dehydrated and freeze-dried meats due not only to the well-preserved nature but also because these processes make foods lighter to carry. Other methods might be more suitable for home storage though. These include canning, pickling and dry salting. In all of these methods, the meat can be unseasoned, marinated or dry-rubbed before preservation, resulting in a more ready-to-eat product.