Home dehydrating meats will add essential protein to trail meals, and is a very practical skill. Meat can be purchased on sale and dried for future use, which is great if you want a ready supply of meat available for trail meals, or do not have a ton of freezer space. A dehydrator is useful but an oven can be used as well.
Homemade meat jerky and sticks made from raw meats are delicious, and easy to make with the right equipment, but that is for another post. This post deals with drying already cooked meat that can be rehydrated in a freezer bag quickly in camp or a hotel room.
|Home Dried Ground Beef Ready for Trail Spaghetti|
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Dehydration is the process of removing enough water from foods so they can be stored safely for long periods of time without refrigeration. Bacteria and fungi need a certain amount of water to grow. The amount of water that can remain in our dried food and still be considered safe to eat depends on the microorganisms in the food to begin with. The practice of drying meat for storage has been used for centuries, and is still practiced in parts of the world without access to proper cold storage.
Home drying meats can be a little tricky if you don't want your rehydrated meal to be as tough as shoe leather, but with some trial-and-error you will quickly learn which meats and drying methods work for your favorite trail dinners. Fortunately, the nutritional content, including protein, remains mostly unchanged during the drying process.
First Step: Prepare your Meat
First, select meat that is fresh or fresh frozen, the leaner the better. Trim off any extra fat, since fat in any dried foods can make them go rancid. The meat needs to be cooked well to kill off any harmful bacteria like salmonella: make sure to heat the meat to an internal temperature of over 165° before dehydrating. Any extra fat can be removed by rinsing the cooked meat in water, especially ground meat. The meat should then be chopped or shredded into uniform shapes. Smaller pieces dry faster and rehydrate better later. **Update** Since writing this post I did a little experiment to see which meat is the best bargain. You can read the full article here. Since we are browning and rinsing the meat, you can use fattier meat for trail meals provided you brown the meat, rinse well, and dry it separately from your other ingredients.
Step Two: Dry the Meat
Drying the meat to remove all the water is easily done with a dehydrator, which can be purchased for about $50 at most department stores, or even less on Craigslist or Ebay. Spread a thin layer of the meat out evenly on the drying trays. Dry at 155°F or the high setting until the meat is slightly crisp to the touch, and ground meat crumbles easily into gravel.
Foods can also be dried in an oven. Make sure the meat is spread out evenly over a parchment-lined baking sheet without overlap. My experience is that many modern electric ovens do not bake below 175°F, which is a nice hot temperature to prevent growth of bacteria in stored meat. However, the meat must be checked frequently to prevent over drying or burning.
Drying meat at home may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't, especially if you simply cook a little extra with each meal, or use left-overs to pop in the dehydrator. I use my dehydrator for dozens of hours per month, and find the most time consuming part of drying is washing the trays after use.
Step Three: Storing your Meat
After dehydrating well, make up your meals in freezer bags for immediate use or store the meat in mason jars until you are ready to combine ingredients later for your trail meals. I always have ten or so meals prepared in freezer bags so they are readily available for last minute trips, but I keep the bulk of my foods stored separately. This way, if a food isn't dried long enough or goes rancid, I won't ruin a lot of meals.
|Another Dinner, Packaged and Ready for the Trail!|
Enjoy!Lastly, rehydrate your meat. You can toss it in freezer bags or simmer in a pot over a heat source. Home-dehydrated meat can be difficult to rehydrate to a pleasant consistency in freezer bag meals. Ground beef and turkey rehydrate much better than shredded chicken. Simmering the meals in a cook pot to rehydrate gives better results, but requires more fuel, as well as a dirty pot that needs cleaned.
Meat Processing Technology. (2007, January 1). Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/ai407e/AI407E00.htm#Contents