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Build Your Own Meat Safe

Clockwise from top left: Wrap the frame in shade cloth; The door is made from another frame that slots inside the bigger frame; Prosciutto and salami in the making; The meat safe, placed under the eaves on the south side of the house. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Making your own preserved meats such as salami, chorizo and prosciutto has been a tradition among Italian communities for a long time. With a growing interest in good quality homemade food, the tradition is gaining popularity here in Australia too.

An important part of the creation of preserved meats is the drying process. If you are making your own preserved meats you’ll need somewhere secure to hang them while they dry and age. A DIY meat safe is a good option which you can build to suit your specific situation.

Where you position your meat safe is important as the process depends on having a dry, well-ventilated place where your meat can age for several weeks and up to several months (until the meat has lost all its moisture and developed its flavour). Generally meat preserving is done over winter when the weather is dry and cool.

BASIC DESIGN

While the basic design can vary depending on the size and shape you want and the materials you have at hand, there are some key functions the safe will need to accomplish.

Your meat safe will need to:

  • Allow good air flow around the food to facilitate drying and to prevent mould growth.
  • Protect the food from the weather while allowing airflow.
  • Keep out all kinds of little creatures who might want to share in your spoils.

With these design features in mind, this food safe is built from a combination of recycled and bought materials. The following description will provide the approximate measurements, but keep in mind that you can alter them to make the finished article suit your exact needs. There are no hard and fast rules as long as the basic key features mentioned above are met.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • Thick 90% shade cloth (enough to wrap around the sides of your safe)
  • Mouse and snake mesh (enough to fill in all four sides)
  • A pallet, cut to size
  • Timber lengths approximately 70 x 35 mm in diameter
  • Screws
  • Drill
  • Corrugated iron for the roof
  • LaserLite for the front
  • Amounts will depend on the size of the safe you build and the materials you find.

METHOD:

THE BASE

An old pallet was used for the base and a starting point for the whole project. The pallet was cut in half to become 600 mm x 1200 mm, these dimensions allow for an average shoulder width person to step inside comfortably.

By its nature a pallet has gaps between the boards so these would need to be filled in with boards to prevent animals getting in. Alternatively the floor could be lined with plywood.

THE FRAME

The body of the safe was constructed by making two identical frames out of scrap hardwood (50 x 35 mm approximately). If you are buying new, 70 x 35 mm untreated framing pine is best as it is cheap and easy to work with.

The frames were as wide as the pallet at its short dimension (600 mm) and high enough to walk into (1850 mm approximately). The frames should be fixed together with wood screws or nailed.

Cut four more pieces of timber the length of the long diameter of the pallet, minus the thickness of both frames. Run these between the four corners of the frames and fix. You will now have effectively created a large rectangular box.

Fix down through the bottom of the frames into the pallet to join it all together.

VERMIN PROOFING

Wrap three sides of the safe in thick shade cloth to keep out flies and bugs. This also reduces the amount of light getting in. You need to carefully fix the cloth with staples or clouts at one edge and work around the three sides, trimming with a Stanley knife as required.

Once the cloth is in place, cover the entire frame with mouse and snake mesh. This stuff isn’t cheap but ensures nothing on four legs will ever find its way in. This is very important if you don’t want your goods nibbled. Once the shade cloth and wire are in place, run some thin timber battens around all edges to hold it well in place.

THE ROOF

Cut a piece of 6 mm plywood to cover the top of the frame and tack it down. This makes sure the safe is sealed from the top. On top of this put some scrap sheets of corrugated iron extending approximately 300 mm out to form an eve. These should be fixed with roofing screws into the frame edge.

To really make the roof waterproof, attach a piece of polycarbonate (LaserLite) corrugated sheet to the long side that faces out. With this design being approximately 750 mm wide it came down far enough to ensure no sideways rain could wet the hanging produce inside.

THE DOOR

Making a door simply involves building another frame to fit exactly inside one of the end frames and covering it with shade cloth and mesh as per the sides. Screw some pieces of wood onto the insides of the frame to act as stoppers and the door just pops in and out, held in place by some swivelling stoppers on the outside.

Finally, cut and fit some heavy square mesh to the underside of the roof to provide multiple hanging points. Strips of wood could be screwed across the underside of the roof with a similar result, or screw metal hooks into the plywood top.

That’s it! Obviously the safe should be placed completely out of direct sunlight against a south facing wall, or even better, in a cellar with good ventilation. Either way it will provide a perfect home for your meats to cure in, safe from pests.

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