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When backpacking we often carry raw beef which we have salted and frozen, usually cut into strips that can be easily cooked through. I'm confident that this is good for 24 hours, and I know that meat actually keeps for a lot longer than we think after growing up with refrigeration.

How long is it safe to keep raw meat on a hike? (assume temperate conditions, not jungle, not dessert).

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I'm OK with dried/smoked, but fresh tastes better, IMO :) – Russell Steen Feb 1 '12 at 18:59
@MatBanik -- Happy to discuss in chat. This is really not the place for it. – Russell Steen Feb 1 '12 at 19:54
The cow will last several years... just take a living one with you. – Tomas Feb 1 '12 at 19:55
@MatBanik, interesting discussion, especially in the context of our discussion on hunting a moose. In this light it makes much more sense. Please don't delete your comments here. – Tomas Feb 1 '12 at 20:06
@Tomas -- Comments aren't the place for extended discussion. The nature of the discussion isn't the point, the point is that is not what comments are for. – Russell Steen Feb 1 '12 at 20:10
up vote 14 down vote accepted

It would say it varies to a high degree since the source of the meat and the cut of the meat will be the primary factors in determining how many bacteria (and which type) will be on the surface of the meat. I wouldn't want to trust hamburger or mass market ground meat for even a few hours not refrigerated - so any meats that are mechanically tenderized or ground would be off my packing list. Assuming a solid cut of meat, you have to now think about surface bacteria primarily and rancidity / decomposition of the entire cut of meat secondarily.

Practically, a nice cut of meat from my local butcher might be something I'd keep for three days or longer with temperatures in the 40 F (4.4 C)range. The USDA standards for refrigeration and meat preparation are good ones to know for both cooking (assuming your meat is contaminated and you need to kill harmful bacteria) and storage. There is a margin of safety on the USDA guidelines, but at least you'll know what risks you are taking when you exceed them.

I would feel much more comfortable if I was bringing solid cuts of meat from a butcher that I know has whole animals or high quality sources. Your butcher will be invaluable for advice as well on how long certain cuts of raw meat will age. He or she can steer you towards the best cuts when you let them know your plans.

I would be inclined to salt or seal the exposed portions of a large cut of meat and slice off portions as you eat along the journey. Proper cooking will be even more important since bacteria will have much more time to grow if you cannot maintain the meat in the temperature range where bacteria are dormant. With all the sous vide methods for cooking meat inside a sealed package, it seems like you are taking a lot of risk for no real payback in terms of quality of the campsite meal by packing raw meat.

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Good advice on the butcher! And yeah, definitely a no on the grinding. Sous vide seems like a good option and we know someone who has one of those. Hadn't really thought of that before. – Russell Steen Feb 1 '12 at 19:01
And don't forget the poor man's sous vide - ziplock bags and a pot of boiling water. The meat isn't as tender, but somehow the seasoning provided by eating in the backcountry after a long day hiking works magic on just about any meal. Do read up on the botulism concerns if you plan on bringing "cooked" meat unchilled to the backcountry. – bmike Feb 1 '12 at 19:12
bmike -- Do you have a link for the USDA standards? Google is failing me at the moment. – Russell Steen Feb 1 '12 at 19:22
Just thought I'd add a cautionary note about sous vide with ziplocks. I've seen a lot of criticism of boiling ziplock bags due to the plastic releasing chemicals. I haven't seen anything definitive, but look into it and be careful. – Greg.Ley Feb 15 '12 at 22:45

Best I found is to freeze. I know it's against the point of having as fresh as you can but cut in meal portions. Then freeze. wrap in freeze paper then pack in soft lunch cooler. it can be attached to side of pack. and u can hang in a leak proof bag at start of day or night before your next meal. Depending where u hike any raw or thawing meat you carry, can draws all kinds of predators just as bad as walking around with open wounds be careful to know what's in your aria of hike. Wolves can smell blood from miles away especially if you are thawing while walking if allowed to drip they can follow right to your camp. Best to hang packs if any meat has been or being stored in or on. I learned that the hard way. One of my first hikes I was 10 miles in the Adirondacks and lost 90% of my gear from animals tearing into it while I was sleeping.

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