Are you tired of tough and chewy meat when rehydrating it on the trail? We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll share some tricks that will greatly improve the tenderness of your dehydrated meat for backpacking meals.
Maximizing Shelf Life
Before we dive into the process of dehydrating meat, let’s address a common question: How long will dried meat keep? Freezing dried meat can preserve it for several years. To prevent freezer burn, it’s best to vacuum seal the dried meat before freezing. Freezing stops all biological processes, hence ensuring long-lasting freshness. However, freezing isn’t necessary for use and storage under a year, as long as you take reasonable care in drying and packing the meat.
When dehydrating meat, it’s important to only use lean cuts and remove any excess oil during the drying process. Fat in meat can turn rancid over time when exposed to oxygen. Oxidation is accelerated by heat and light, so it’s essential to store the dried meat in a cool, dark cupboard away from any heat sources. For optimal shelf life, store low-fat dehydrated meat in jars with oxygen absorbers or vacuum-sealed jars. I have successfully stored dehydrated meat for up to a year using these methods. If you want even longer shelf life or additional peace of mind, vacuum-sealing the dried meat in bags and storing it in the freezer is recommended. Remember to let the food return to room temperature before opening the bag to avoid condensation.
For more information on best practices for storing dried meat, including vacuum sealing tips, check out our comprehensive guide on storing dried food.
Dehydrating Ground Beef: Say Goodbye to “Gravel”
Backpackers often refer to dehydrated ground beef as “gravel” due to its lack of tenderness when rehydrated. But worry not, there’s a simple solution. By adding breadcrumbs to the ground beef before cooking it, you can ensure a more tender result every time. The breadcrumbs allow more liquid to penetrate the dried meat, enhancing its texture once rehydrated.
To prepare the ground beef, use lean or extra lean cuts with a fat content ranging from 7% to 10%. Grass-fed beef usually falls within this range. Ground beef labeled as Chuck or Hamburger tends to have higher fat content, while Ground Round is labeled with 15% fat content. During cooking, some fat beads up on the surface of the meat. To minimize the risk of spoilage, blot off any excess fat with paper towels. For each pound of beef, sprinkle ½ cup of finely ground breadcrumbs over the meat (or substitute with ground oats). Work the breadcrumbs into the raw meat using your fingers. You can make breadcrumbs by dehydrating bread slices for a few hours and then grinding them in a food processor. Form the meat into a ball and let it sit for a few minutes.
Next, break the meat into small pieces and cook it in a frying pan over medium-high heat until lightly browned and fully cooked. Continuous stirring is essential. Remove the cooked meat from the heat and squeeze it between paper towels to remove excess moisture.
Spread the small pieces of ground beef on dehydrator trays, placing Excalibur Paraflexx® sheets under the mesh sheets to catch any small pieces that might fall through. If you’re using Nesco Dehydrators, opt for the clean-a-screen or fruit-roll trays. Dry the ground beef at 145°F (63°C) for approximately six hours, or until it becomes hard. During the drying process, move the meat around and squeeze it with a paper towel to remove any oil. Wipe off any oil from the non-stick sheets if needed. If some pieces of meat are drying slower than others, break them in half. Dehydrating ground beef separately allows for a wide variety of recipe options, combining it with different starches (potatoes, rice, and pasta) and vegetables. For a complete collection of recipes that include dehydrated meat, make sure to check out our book, “Recipes for Adventure.”
Exploring Other Dehydrated Meats
While dehydrated ground beef is a popular choice, there are other meats you can dehydrate to add variety to your backpacking meals.
Dehydrating Sliced Ham
Lean precooked ham is a fantastic option for dehydrating. Choose ham with a fat content of less than 10%. Deli ham sliced for sandwiches, approximately 1/16 of an inch thick, works well. Similarly, you can also dry sliced roast beef or turkey, but ham is more cost-effective.
Cut the ham into ¾ to 1-inch wide strips and place them on dehydrator trays. Dry at 145°F for about six hours. Remember to blot off any oil droplets that form on the surface of the meat with paper towels during the drying process. Once completely dry, break the ham strips into smaller pieces for use in your recipes. Dehydrated ham adds a unique chewiness to meals, making it a great addition to dishes like Ham & Cheese Macaroni. Boiling the meal for two minutes will help soften it up.
Why limit yourself to land-based meats when there’s a whole world of dehydrated seafood to explore? Dehydrating seafood can expand your menu options for backpacking trips.
To save time, opt for frozen, precooked, and peeled medium shrimp. Thaw the shrimp in the refrigerator or ice-cold water, then remove the tails and rinse. Slice each shrimp into four or five pieces and arrange them in a single layer on dehydrator trays. Dehydrate at 145°F for approximately six hours until they become hard. Ensure there is no moisture remaining when you cut a piece in half.
Choose Solid White Tuna packed in water. Fattier varieties of tuna and those packed in oil may spoil. Break the tuna into small pieces and spread them out in a single layer on the dehydrator tray. Excalibur mesh sheets will prevent tiny crumbs from falling through. Dehydrate the tuna at 145°F for about six hours until crispy. Keep in mind that drying tuna will create a distinct smell in your house.
Dehydrating Imitation Crab
Imitation crab meat, usually found refrigerated in vacuum packs, can also be dehydrated. Pull the meat apart into smaller pieces and dry at 145°F for approximately six hours until it becomes hard. Rehydrated imitation crab meat works well in various meals.
Expand Your Culinary Horizons with Dehydrated Meats
These tips and techniques will revolutionize the way you prepare your backpacking meals. From tender ground beef to chewy ham and flavorful seafood, dehydrated meats offer a world of culinary possibilities. Experiment with different recipes and enjoy delicious and convenient meals on the trail.
For more detailed instructions on dehydrating meat, including meatloaf, meatballs, chicken, and more, make sure to check out our book, “Recipes for Adventure II: The Best of Trail Bytes.”
Don’t forget to share this article with your friends on social media and spread the joy of dehydrated meals! And for the best barbecue experience, check out Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ.
Images and videos courtesy of the original article.