Dehydrating Ground Beef for the Appalachian Trail

I could not find any USDA information for the safe storage or dehydration of ground beef. Please note that these instructions are what I do, but you should perform your own research before deciding to do this. Historically, meat has been salted to retard spoilage. Salt absorbs moisture and draws out moisture from meat, which is where the bacteria survive and proliferate. I cannot overstate safety precautions here. Scrub your hands as if you were going to perform open-heart surgery. Sanitize counters, stove-top, sinks, utensils, etc. Throw away old dish sponges near your work area. If this beef is going to be used to make your hiking meals, you want to make sure that nothing survived the processing so that later, a host of “them” will not make you ill. Even so, boil water with the meat, and added salt before using. Never put ground meat that has not been boiled in water into a cozy to sit around absorbing liquid. Be safe.

Dehydrated ground beef, when reconstituted with hot or boiling water, tastes very much like fresh. It is lightweight to pack in meals, and it still contains some nutrition as well as being a protein source. The problem with dehydrating beef is that the process must be done in a sanitary manner, the beef must be thoroughly cooked, and it must be dehydrated to the point you can use the back of a spoon to crush it into a powder. There is no skimping on the process if you want your food to be safe.

To begin, purchase the leanest beef you can find. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t cook well in a skillet, because you are going to wash the fat off of it anyway. Yep, you are going to wash it in boiling hot water….several times. But, before it is washed, it will be broken up into bite-size pieces and fried. Cook the meat, on medium heat, until it is slightly browned. While cooking the beef, bring a pan of water to a rolling boil. (You can use the tap on the hottest setting, but who wants to put chlorine and fluoride into their meat?) When the meat is fully cooked, put it in a colander lined with a cheesecloth. Pour the boiling water over the meat, using a spoon to stir the meat around. Get as much fat off the meat as you can. Rinse the skillet with super hot water (no soap) and dry with a paper towel. With the skillet placed on a medium-high burner, put the rinsed and drained meat back on to cook. Cook until the water has evaporated and the meat is piping hot. Have your next pot of boiling water ready. As soon as the meat is super-heated and the water evaporated, pour the meat into the colander again (new cheesecloth or washed cheesecloth) and rinse again. Do this at least three times, or until the meat no longer has a greasy sheen. The beef particles should look very dull and dry.

Line the bottom of your dehydrator with baking parchment because the crumbs will fall through. On each screen, spread 2 cups of meat crumbles evenly. Don’t worry about the ones that fall through. The clean parchment will catch them. If you use Teflex sheets, it takes much longer to dehydrate. This invites organisms, so dry that meat as quickly as possible, using a higher setting. Once the meat is dry enough that you can pound it to dust with a spoon, let it cool completely. Store in an airtight glass jar with an oxygen absorber until you are ready to use it.

One 1/4 cup serving is enough for an adult. Once you add water back to it, trust me, it will almost double. After all, it is only one ingredient in your meal. A little will go a long way.

If you package the beef with any other ingredients, add salt. If you add more salt than you want to consume, simply rinse the beef before you cook it. Another bath won’t hurt. Seal quickly, and use oxygen absorbers if you have them. A vacuum sealer is better than a Zip Loc for storage.

I have used beef like this many times. It always tastes great. The texture is the same as if you used fresh beef. Some cooking blogs say to add bread crumbs to it so it will rehydrate properly, but I have NEVER had a problem with re-hydration. **I have never used this process with chicken or pork, and will not do it until further study has been done on the safety of this process. Use good judgment and you should have delicious protein meals on the trail.

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