Farm families usually butchered during the late fall when cool weather kept the meat fresh during processing. In an average butchering season, a farm family produced enough pork, beef, and mutton to last the year. Before refrigerators and freezers, families smoked much of their meat to preserve it for later use.
First, women soaked the meat for 4-6 weeks in brine, a solution of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), salt, molasses, and water, to remove excess moisture. Then they hung large pieces of this cured meat in the smokehouse. Smoke from burning corncobs, apple wood, or hickory wood left a layer of creosote that sealed the meat and protected it from insects and mold.
Before cooking, housewives cut off the creosote and repeatedly soaked the meat in fresh, boiling water to remove the salt left from the brine. Finally, the meat was ready to cook.
Creosote, the black stuff on smoked meat, works like plastic wrap; it keeps out air and water so that the meat stays fresh.
How long does meat in your refrigerator last? Salted and smoked meat is good for more than a year! Just keep bugs, mice, and water away.