Meat is one of the staples of a traditional diet in most parts of the world. Until the advent of modern refrigeration techniques, meat spoiled quickly without some type of treatment. As methods for preserving meat were developed, the number of meat-product types increased as well.
Processed meat products are those that are chopped and developed into a product that has additives and a different texture than the original meat. Many common types of prepackaged meat-based foods fall into this category, including lunch meats, some sausages and many canned meats.
Meat that has been cured usually retains the shape and texture of the original cut of meat. Cured meat is treated for a long period of time in a liquid solution, which may contain many ingredients but always a high concentration of salt. Most hams are cured with a combination of salt and sugar. Corned beef is cured in a spiced salt solution.
Smoked meats are those that have been preserved through the use of heat, smoke and often salt. Typically, the flavor of smoked meat comes from the type of wood used for smoking, such as applewood or hickory. Bacon is a common smoked meat, as are some hams and sausages.
Pickling meats is a method of preparation that closely resembles curing, but with the addition of vinegar to the solution. The combination of salt and vinegar that is allowed to seep into the meat gives it a sharp flavor; because of this, the method is mostly used in areas where it is traditional. Pickled herrings are common in Scandinavian cuisine, while many pickled meats, such as pig's feet, are common in the American South.
Drying meat is one of the oldest methods of treating meat. The method involves cutting meat into small strips and placing it on an outdoor surface, allowing the ambient heat of the environment to reduce the water content. Today, a quicker and safer way is used: Meat is cut into appropriate-sized pieces and placed into a low-temperature oven to dry. Two common types of dried meat are jerky and chipped beef.
Fermented meats are generally ground, spiced and made into sausage. These meats also can be smoked, cooked, cured or uncooked. After the meat is prepared, it is generally hung and left to ferment for varying amounts of time depending on the type. Common types of fermented meats are salami, pepperoni and summer sausage.