Add a little beef to your backpacking meals!
When people think of dehydrating meat, beef jerky is usually the first thing to come to mind. While jerky is a trail favorite, and a staple of many back-country expeditions, there are plenty of other options for dehydrated fare that can add flavor and fullness to your repertoire.
Ground beef goes with a lot of things. You can add it to dehydrated pasta sauce and noodles, toss it with rice and beans, or scoop it into tortillas. Most any normal ground beef recipe can be modified to work on the trail. The trick to dehydrating ground beef, is doing it in such a way that it re-hydrates into edible meals, and not chewy clumps of something that resembles ground rubber bands.
I found this advice on Backpacking Chef (a great site, with lots of great advice and recipes centered around dehydrated foods) and so I decided to give it a shot myself. Here are the details.
Lean or extra lean ground beef (the higher the fat content, the more grease is going to ooze out of it during the dehydration process)
1/2 cup bread crumbs per pound of beef (I dehydrated a baguette, and then put it through my food processor)
Any spices you like, such as taco seasoning, depending on the planned application of said beef.
Weigh out beef, and sprinkle the bread crumbs, pepper, and spices over top. The breadcrumbs are necessary in order to fully re-hydrate the beef later. Bread is absorbent. It will suck up the water and hold it inside of your crumbled beef, and it also bulks it up a tiny bit, which never hurts. It might seem like 1/2 cup per pound isn’t enough, but it should be plenty. Work it all together until it’s totally mixed.
Cook the beef, using as little extra oil as possible. I usually give my pan a quick spray, and then add a bit of water when it seems a lot of the beef is sticking to the bottom. You can add more water, since it will evaporate off later, but try to take it easy on added oils, which will not dehydrate and just collect on top of your meat.
Make sure the beef is thoroughly cooked. It should not be pink.
I like to spread my cooked beef out on paper towel to drain and cool before I put it in the dehydrator. This removes some more of the excess fat.
Spread it out on your dehydrator trays (on either a tray liner, or parchment paper, NOT waxed paper) and dehydrate at 145° for two hours, and then lower the temperature to 125° and dehydrate for an additional 6 hours. There should be no moisture left in the meat once it’s finished.
I don’t feel comfortable storing meat at room temperature for a long period of time, so if I am going to use it within a few days, I put in the fridge, but if I am dehydrating over winter, in preparation for summer, I throw it in the freezer until I am going out on the trail.
This recipe also works on ground turkey, but I don’t recommend pork, due to it’s high fat content.
On the trail, I like to throw lunch/supper in a wide-mouth Nalgene bottle at least three hours before we plan to eat, and then pour an equal volume of boiling water over it (so if you have three cups of dehydrated food, you add three cups of water, etc.) and then screw the lid on and leave it soak until meal time. I find this especially awesome on hikeing days, since you don’t have to waste a lot of time with meal prep if you still have distance to cover. Stop for lunch, pour your already hydrated meal into a pot, heat, eat, and get back on the trail!