Drying meat was the prevalent method of conserving meat cuts when food could not be chilled. But dried meat products developed into delicacies and remained a culinary mainstay long after the functional need for preservation was answered with refrigeration. The ancient techniques have been replaced by dried meat processing equipment, but the time-honored recipes remain unchanged.
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Dried meat processing equipment for thawing raw products
Slaughtered animals are chilled to ensure decontamination and delivered frozen. Before the raw material can be cut into strips, the temperature has to be brought back up. Thawing is achieved at 0°C, but mechanical cutting can handle the process at the tempering phase (around -5°C).
Thawing systems apply either surface conduction or electrical heat transfer. The former includes immersion in liquid media and vacuum heat technology. Electric equipment such as microwave and infrared technology are faster and do not alter the appearance of the material.
Soak meat cuts in a saline solution to keep the surfaces moist
A fundamental characteristic of meat drying is trimming the parts into equal strips to ensure homogenous evaporation and aging. But the moisture in the muscle structure must be released gradually, starting with the innermost layer. If the surface layer dries up before the lower tiers, it blocks water discharge, providing a welcoming environment for microorganisms.
Immersing the strips in a 14% salt solution before drying forms a hygroscopic layer that keeps the surface moist. Additionally, the salt protects the meat from pathogen growth.
Salt treatment tenderizes cured meats
Salt is the star ingredient in cured meats like hams, salami, and liver sausages. The meat strips are tumbled with the mineral before being set for drying.
Besides adding flavor, salt lowers the water activity values to fend off microbial attacks. Salting also leads proteins in the muscle tissue to swell and dissolve, producing a tender texture in the final product.
Increase the surface area of dried meat snacks to reduce moisture further
Dried meat processed for snack foods such as beef jerky or biltong has a lower humidity level than cured meats. The water activity value is below 0.80, while moisture content ranges from 22% to 24%.
The meat strips are further sliced down to increase the surface area and release more moisture during drying. Some methods, like gueddid and bak kwa, call for overnight marination before they are finished by smoking or cooking.