Dyckman House Museum
Built in 1916, this reproduction smokehouse represents an important aspect of 19th- century life: the preservation of food. Before the invention of electricity, people needed to preserve meat in ways that did not require refrigerators or freezers. Small, chimney-less buildings like this one were used to smoke meats so that they could last up to a year at room temperature.
The process of smoking meat was time consuming. First, the meat had to be soaked in brine (very salty water) because salt effectively keeps bacteria from reproducing. Next, the meat was hung from the smokehouse rafters and a low fire was lit on the floor of the smokehouse. The farmer had to maintain the fire carefully, checking it every two or three hours, day and night, to make sure it did not go out. After about three days, the meat was cooked through and had a blackened shell around the outside. It could be wrapped in paper or cloth and hung in a dry space to be eaten later.
We continue to eat smoked meats today because of the particular taste the smoking process creates. Bacon remains a staple breakfast food, and smoked turkey and ham are sold as sandwich meats in delis and often served during the holidays. Other less tasty methods of preservation, such as simply leaving raw meat soaking in a barrel of brine until it was needed, did not survive into the era of refrigeration.