Dehydrating meat can be as simple as slicing up some lunch meat from the deli and drying it for a few hours in a food dehydrator. Once dehydrated, strips of deli ham, turkey, and roast beef can be eaten like beef jerky, or broken into pieces for use in a backpacking meal.
With a little more effort, you can also dry ground beef, turkey, or chicken. Read on for pictures and instructions. First we’ll cover deli meat, followed by ground beef, shrimp, and tuna.
Dehydrating Meat: Deli Style
Choose lean ham, turkey, roast beef, or chicken with fat content less than 10%. I prefer dehydrating meat that has not had any “solutions” injected into it, because that usually means high sodium. Ask the server to slice your deli meat thick, around 1/16 of an inch.
Cut deli meat into one inch strips and place on the dehydrator trays. Dehydrating meat takes about six hours at 125° using my Excalibur Dehydrator. If any oil droplets form on the outside of the meat, blot off with a paper towel. When the meat is completely dry, you will easily be able to break the strips into smaller pieces for use in backpacking recipes or leave as is for snacking.
Try munching a few slices of dehydrated deli ham with your oatmeal when backpacking. You can eat it cold and crunchy, or put it in your pot with a little water and heat. After a few minutes of warming and rehydrating, you’ll enjoy a chewy, near bacon experience. The photo at right shows how I include dehydrated ham in my recipe for Ham and Vegetables with Rice.
Dehydrating Meat: Ground Beef & Turkey
The one problem I encountered with dehydrated ground beef and turkey in my backpacking meals was that the meat didn’t fully rehydrate. It was tough-- my teeth got a workout chewing it. With a little experimentation, I finally came up with the secret to dehydrating meat so that it turns out tender every time… bread crumbs! When you add bread crumbs to ground meat before you dehydrate it, more liquid will penetrate the meat when you cook it in your pot, resulting in tender meat.
I recommend using only lean or extra lean ground meat. Meat with high fat content produces beads of oil as it dehydrates which you have to blot off throughout the dehydration process. Also, fatty meats may spoil on the trail, so stick with the skinny stuff. Pork is not recommended for dehydrating, with the exception of lean ham, because of its high fat content. Ground turkey breast is naturally low in fat. Check the labels for ground beef and shoot for a fat content less than 15%, preferably in the 7% to 10% range. Ground beef with 15% fat content is often labeled as Ground Round. Ground Chuck and Hamburger will have higher fat content. I dehydrate grass fed beef that has only 7% fat.
For each pound of beef, sprinkle ½ cup of bread crumbs evenly over the meat. Work the bread crumbs into the meat with your fingers. Unseasoned bread crumbs work well, but if you plan to use the beef in a pasta recipe, try Italian seasoned bread crumbs. I make my own bread crumbs by dehydrating bread slices in the dehydrator for a few hours and then chopping the dried bread into crumbs.
Break the meat into small pieces and stir continuously in a skillet over medium high heat until the beef turns slightly pink or brown depending on your taste. Remove from heat and blot off any remaining liquid with paper towels.
Place small pieces of ground beef on the dehydrator trays. I can fit about a pound of cooked meat on one Excalibur Food Dehydrator tray. I set the thermostat at 145° for the first two hours and then reduce the temperature to 125° for another six hours. There should be no moisture remaining in the meat when you break a piece in half.
Dehydrating meat with bread crumbs following these instructions will yield 2 ½ cups of dried meat per pound processed. Most of my backpacking recipes call for a ¼ cup of dried meat, so I get ten meals from a pound of meat. Of course, you may want to use more meat in your meals than me.
To save time, I buy frozen, pre-cooked and peeled, medium shrimp. Thaw shrimp, pinch off the tails, and rinse. Slice each shrimp into four or five pieces, arrange in a single layer on dehydrator tray, and dehydrate at 145° approximately six hours until hard and firm. There should be no moisture remaining when you cut a piece in half. Store shrimp in an air-tight container or refrigerate until ready to use. Dehydrated shrimp taste great in grits.
I dehydrate canned tuna for my tuna casserole backpacking recipe. Use only Solid White Albacore Tuna packed in water. Fattier varieties of tuna and tuna packed in oil may spoil. Drain off the water into your dog or cat's bowl. Break the tuna up into small pieces and spread out in a single layer on the dehydrator tray. Dehydrate at 145° for six hours until crispy. I dehydrate tuna on the front porch during the day to avoid stinking up the house. Don’t try it at night or a raccoon might steal your tuna. Six ounces of tuna will weigh a little over an ounce when dry and yield about half a cup.
How long will dehydrated meat last?
Dehydrated meat will last at least two months if stored in a low humidity environment or up to a year if you use a vacuum sealer.
See how I use a vacuum sealer to pack meals for long backpacking trips.
Now that you know how easy dehydrating meat is, try dehydrating vegetables.