For most people, when they think of any kind of dried meat at all, they immediately get a picture in their head of some form of jerky.
But what a lot of people dont realize is that many different kinds of meat were “jerked” (what we know as dried) for umpteen zillion years before the freezer was invented.
I mean, have you ever heard of “chipped beef” for sandwiches? It used to be relatively popular when I was a kid, cooked up and served in a gravy over buttered toast. I am sure someone, somewhere, from the heath police came along and told the American public their health was in danger from eating it (along with eggs and a bunch of other things that they have been wrong about over the years), and so it faded out of fashion.
Other than salting meat, and smoking it for storing purposes, dried meats were the standard form of preserving meat for any period longer than a couple days for many centuries. It was done by the Romans, the Greeks, and many other ancient cultures. The Native American cultures, many of them, used some form of dried fish or other meat as a mainstay in their diets over the years before European cultures moved in.
Not only is drying meat relatively easy, it is amazing how little space and time it takes to have a store of healthy, shelf-stable meat that you can use for your family.
My dehydrator has been running constantly for the last couple of days as I have been processing certain parts of the garden for storage. I have been blessed to get an abundance of zucchini again this year, after three planting that were eaten by the soon-to-be-dead-if-he-throws-another-nut-at-my-head squirrel from the backyard walnut trees. We use a lot of zucchini, and so I did not think I was being too generous in planting six zucchini plants this year, but with the crazy heat and drought we have had, I am thankful for every single one of those green baseball bats that have come out. However, the reason I am telling you this is because I will have very little pictures of dried meats to add to this post because we are out of almost everything I normally keep in jars. I have done it for years, and will link a blog by a dehydrating mentor who DOES have pics you can look at on the bottom of this post.
Meat is safest when dried at 155* or above. My husband, who is the meat guy in this family, insists on the setting being at 160*, and he personally checks the dryness of the meat when it comes out each time. That tends to be much more of a fall pursuit for us around here, because the garden has finished for the year, and temps are dropping, which means the hum and warmth of a dehydrator running is much more welcome than in the hot days of summer.
BEEF: I have dried hamburger, and beef chunks, as well as jerky that was made here at our home. Hamburger is easy, as you just fry it up really well (NO PINK MEAT), rinse to get most of the fat off, and then place on the racks to dry. You might want to consider parchment paper as they will really shrink and you dont want to lose any of your precious meat. I fry it up, rinse it, pat it dry, and then dry. To Â be honest, timing depends on the humidity that day and since I have a timer, I tend to just crank it for 12 hours and walk away, so I couldnt tell you it takes X amount of hours. You will know. They are called “Hamburger Rocks” for a reason. And if you happen to drop a tray on the floor, think you have everything swept up and then step on one in the middle of the night while on your trek to the bathroom, I am quite sure you will agree with me that they hurt your feet about as bad as legos do. 🙂 Beef chunks are easy but take longer. I brine my meat overnight with seasonings like soy sauce, or apple cider vinegar and garlic, then cube the meat, slice each cube in half so it is thinner, then lay on the racks and dry. Same temp as all the other meats are done at, and halfway through when they are dry to the touch, I take them out, flip them, and continue until they are rock solid hard. You should not be able to bend them at all, and in fact, they should be as hard as rocks. If you are not sure, take one out and try to cut through the middle of it. If you need a serrated knife, and it is tough going, I am quite sure they are just fine. 🙂
POULTRY: Â The only way I have luck with this is by drying shreds of either chicken or turkey. I tried a friend’s suggestion and rehydrated the little bit of chicken I had left in the crockpot overnight with chicken broth, and was thrilled to have found a solution on how to get it back to normal eating ability. I have had trouble with that in the past, and that is why I have not done chicken or turkey this last year. Now, those birds are going down. ANY TIME you are drying meat you need to trim all visible fat, and some, such as beef tha tis marbled, rinse them well after cooking. I do not dry any meat that is raw, no matter what anyone says, because I cant see how raw meat sitting at 160* for 12 hours or more can possibly NOT begin to harbor bacteria or anything that can make my family sick. I brine my chicken and turkey overnight in a salt water solution, and then cook the next day. Shred, and dry.
FISH: This is probably the easiest one, especially if you are using a fish with little fat and flaky skin when cooked. I have dried this in chunks, or fillets, and placed right into a jar for use later. It will be hard with very sharp edges, as most meats are, so you must be careful if you are going to package it in a food saver, or a mylar bag, as it will slice right through the bag. Dried fish makes an amazing almost instant soup for cold days, if you carefully crumble it into a mug of hot water with other seasonings and veggies.
PORK: I do not recommend drying pork, and that is because of the fat content. Any fat left on any meat will quickly go rancid, thereby ruining all your hard work. Pork is almost impossible to completely get the fat off of and out of, and so any pork that you dry should be either placed in the freezer (which in my mind defeats the purpose of drying it), or eaten relatively quickly (within a couple weeks at most). Honestly, I just avoid this meat and can it up instead as that is the best way to make it shelf stable for a long period of time.
WILD GAME: Â Venison can be treated exactly the same way you treat beef. Pheasant, ducks, geese, etc should be treated as you did the poultry above. Raccoon and a few other meats that are more fatty need caution and personally, since they contain so much fat, I would probably can them first before I even tried to dry them. Not that we have done that lately. But that squirrel is driving me nuts, literally, so if he keeps it up you just might find a bag on my shelf labeled “Squirrel”.
I hope this gives you information that you have been looking for in dehydrating. I will be covering drying herbs tomorrow and a few cautions with that, and then, after a short day on Wednesday catching you up on the Welcoming House going-ons in pics, we will dive right into a bunch of recipes that you can use all your dried foods for!
Â Check out these two places:
Linda Elegante’s Blog: Dehydrating Way Beyond Jerky
and the FaceBook Page that goes with it:
Dehydrating Way Beyond Jerky Facebook Page