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How to Pickle Meat With a Centuries-Old Recipe

Patty collects recipes and gadgets from the past and is particularly interested in early American history and all Indigenous Peoples.

A delicious ham sandwich. The ham was pickled during the American Civil War days by my great-grandfather.

A delicious ham sandwich. The ham was pickled during the American Civil War days by my great-grandfather.

Pickling During the American Civil War

Pickling meat is a way of curing and preserving different types of meat. This method was developed before the days of refrigeration or easy access to ice for keeping meats cold. Thus, we have pickled pigs feet, pickled herring, and other pickled meets. fowl, and fishes.

Pickling was, during the War Between the States, or the Civil War, performed with saltpeter, and we don't see much of that anymore. Today's pickled meats take on special flavors of a variety of spices used to preserve them. This pickling process is more about flavor today than preservation.

This is an early meat pickle recipe that my ancestors in the Civil War learned to use to their advantage. He later used the process to pickle meats on the farm back home. It was likely passed through his sons and wives and their children. My ancestor, being English-Irish, was partial to corned beef, another sort of preserved product.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • One large stewpot
  • One large crockery or glass container

The Pickle or Brine Mix

  • 6 lb. salt
  • 1 lb. sugar
  • 4 oz. saltpeter
  • 4 gallons water
  • Meat (whatever will fit in your crock)

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

20 min

30 min

50 min

Several; after 3 days' pickling time

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A ceramic pot is good for use as a crock. A metal pot leaches metal molecules into the mix and produces an off flavor..

A ceramic pot is good for use as a crock. A metal pot leaches metal molecules into the mix and produces an off flavor..

How to Pickle Meat

Instructions

  • Bring 4 gallons of water to a boil over high heat. This was done originally outside over a large camp file, but it can be managed on a home cooktop these days.
  • After the water is at a rolling boil, add all of the salt, sugar, and saltpeter.
  • Boil the mixture until a large head of foam appears. Skim this head off the foam. Next, remove the pot from the fire and allow the pickling mix to cool to room temperature.
  • Pour the cooled pickling mixture into a large crock and add the meat that you wish to preserve. This is usually beef, pork, or venison. In order to submerse the meat and keep it totally under the pickling liquid, place a clean cutting board on top of it and weigh it down with something healthy, In the Civil War days and on the farm, they simply used a heavy, large, flat stone.
  • Leave the meat in the pickling liquid for three days.
  • Keep the pickling mixture!
  • Use the pickling liquid again by adding additional salt, about two pounds worth.
  • Place over high heat to a rapid rolling boil. Boil the liquid until scum rises visibly to the top and skim this off. Cool the liquid as before and reuse it to pickle additional meat.

In its standard use with red beans and rice, pickled pork is called "pickle meat"

The New Orleans Variety

For its usual standard use with red beans and rice, pickled pork is called "pickle meat" and reminds me of pickled pigs feet, but more flavorful. You can use smoked ham, ham hocks, or whatever pork you have handy,

Ingredients

  • Use a large enamel cooking pot or any pot that is non-reactive (don't use aluminum).
  • 2 lbs of pork cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces (I like the ham best)
  • 1 Qt white vinegar (cider vinegar will change the flavor)
  • 1/2 cup mustard seeds
  • 1 Tsp celery seed
  • 2 Tsp hot sauce
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cracked. Don't mash it or dice it.
  • 1 Tsp kosher salt (regular table salt won't do)
  • 12 peppercorns

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients except the meat in your pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  • When the pickle liquid is cooled to room temperature, add the meat. Stir well, cover, and set the pot in your refrigerator, or put it all into a large food container of plastic first. Keep the container in the refrigerator for three days to allow the pickling process to progress and enjoy your pickle meat.
  • This meat can also be preserved further by the canning process with glass jars and a pressure cooker.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: In the second recipe in this article, is the ham mentioned a fresh ham or "cured and smoked"?

Answer: The ham you use in this recipe can be cured and smoked, or just cured. The fresh, uncured ham gives a different flavor that some people do not enjoy.

Question: What does saltpeter do in the pickling process?

Answer: Saltpeter (or saltpetre) is the name of a group of substances that contain nitrogen. In the given meat-pickling recipe that is over 100 years old, it is used as a food preservative. Rarely used for preservation of foods today, you will find it in things like gunpowder!

Question: How long would it take to can pickled pork with a pressure cooker?

Answer: I do not recommend a pressure cooker for this recipe, because during the times I tried it, the consistency of the end product was sub-par; even at a range of different times, the meat seemed mushy in the end.

© 2007 Patty Inglish MS