There is a very old method used to preserve some types of meat and fish in a crock. The method is known as “potting” or “crocking”. It is a non-electric method of meat and fish preservation that was widely prevalent before the advent of home canning.
Potting or crocking meat and fish is a method that is no longer recommended by the USDA because of the potential for botulism food poisoning.
But in many areas of the world, especially France, it is a method that is still widely practiced.
In fact up until the Second World War, many American housewives and farm wives used the crocking or potting of meat for short-term food storage.
After WWII the USDA made a concerted effort to educate American housewives and improve the safety of food preservation. It was at this point in time that the USDA began to strongly emphasized pressure canning as the only recommended safe method of preserving low acid foods. But old habits can die hard. And many American households refused to give up the old ways and continued on with food preservation the way they always had.
WHAT EXACTLY IS POTTING OR CROCKING?
Potted or crocked meat is meat that usually has been fully cooked and is laid down in a sterile crock and then enveloped with lard, butter or some type of grease. The crock is then covered and is usually stored in a cool, dry location.
The science behind crocking or potting is that in theory, cooking destroys potentially harmful bacteria in the meat. The subsequent encasement of the meat by fat seals the meat from the air and no further spoilage can occur.
Potting is a method in theory that is very similar to home canning – that is heat destroys bacteria and a lack of air or vacuum leaves the food in a type of suspended animation.
The risk with the potting or crocking method, is that the fat or grease in the crock can insulate botulism spores that may not have been destroyed by cooking and protect them in the anaerobic environment of a grease laden crock.
This is the exact same type of risk with the home canning of bacon or butter that is now making the rounds on the internet.
But here’s where the talk about risk and the USDA guidelines get tricky; the actual risk verses the theoretical risk of home canning or potting bacon is unknown.
Without expensive laboratory testing and because of the wide range of individual kitchen practices and sanitation, it is impossible to know what exactly is going on in any particular crock or Mason jar. What I can tell you is that the word botulism derives from the Latin word “botulus” or sausage and botulism is a very old food safety issue and bad sausages and food poisoning have been around for a long time.
And while my crocks of sausage patties or bacon may be safe – my neighbors may be not safe. With that said, what follows below is to be used at your own risk.
HOW TO CROCK OR POT MEAT
In the example below I’ve used bacon. Sausage patties and sausage links can also be used. I have no personal experience with any other types of meat or fish.
Wash a ceramic crock with very hot soapy water. Then sterilize by pouring boiling water into the crock. Hold the hot water in the crock until just before filling with meat.
Cook the sausage patties, links or bacon completely. You want the internal temperature of the sausage or bacon to reach well above 250ºF. When the meat is cooked remove it from the heat source and allow the meat to sit in the grease.
Empty the water from the crock and wipe the crock dry with a clean towel.
Place hot grease in the bottom of the crock so that the bottom of the crock is covered. Next place a layer of cooked sausage patties, sausage links or bacon into the crock. Cover with hot grease.
Add another layer of meat and repeat adding hot grease. When the crock is full or you run out of meat, cover the meat with at least 2 to 3 inches of hot grease.
Cover the crock with a plate or a cloth. Store the crock in a cool, dry place.
When you want to eat the sausage or bacon, remove the meat carefully with a fork.
Place the bacon or sausage in a frying pan and re-fry and heat thoroughly. You want the internal temperature of the meat to reach at least 250ºF again. With bacon this takes just about 3 or 4 minutes on a high heat. With sausage patties or links it takes about 6 or 7 minutes. It is vital that the meat be reheated to 250ºF to kill any potential botulinum toxin.
There is absolutely no taste difference in the sausage or bacon when storing by this method. The bacon in the photos was crocked on February 3, 2011 and finished at breakfast on May 16, 2011.
Crocked sausage patties and links are superior in flavor and taste to canned sausage patties or links.
WHY I DON’T CAN BACON
One of the reasons that I’m no fan of canned bacon is because from my point of view, it is a big waste of time, stove fuel, Mason jars, lids, bands, paper and human effort.
Why go through all the trouble to fiddle with a pressure canner, paper, scissors, canning jars, lids and bands – not to mention the wood, gas,coal or electric power needed to fire the pressure canner – when you can have a product that takes lots less time – and is just as unsafe?
In fact a good argument could be made that crocking or potting bacon is actually safer and less risky than the popular internet method of canning paper wrapped bacon.
The current popular internet method of canning bacon wraps the bacon in layers of rolled paper. It is a “copy cat” of expensive canned bacon manufactured by big industrial food.
Paper layered bacon is inserted into a quart size canning jar and processed at the standard canning pressure and processing time of 10 lbs. of pressure for 90 minutes at altitudes less than 1000 ft. sea level.
The problems I see with this method are at least twofold.
First because this method is food science laboratory untested, there is no way to know for certain that the core temperature of the jar has reached 240ºF for a long enough time to guarantee a 100% bacteria kill.
With the addition of layers of paper there is an added layer of insulation.The extra layers of rolled paper surrounding the bacon may act as a cushion and insulate the inner core of the jar from the heat. The fat present in the bacon in theory can insulate the spores of clostridium botulinum and the presence of heat may actually begin to activate dormant spores which will soon be in an anaerobic, moist environment – an airtight stored canning jar – and begin to produce toxin.
Secondly paper is not inert. Unless food grade paper is used toxic and unwanted chemicals can be leached into the bacon.