As any regular dehydrator-enthusiast knows, meat is the biggest challenge in the food drying world. This holds for whether you are making jerky or simply drying meat for other uses. Ask yourself the following as you consider how to dehydrate meat.
What’s the Difference?
Now that I’ve mentioned it, I should explain that a bit further. Jerky is dried meat that has been soaked in a spicy marinade of some kind and that has been dried raw. It’s the popular mainstay of hikers and survivalists around the world. The sodium in your marinade helps with preservation and makes the raw meat chewier in the final dried product. Making jerky is really a separate topic, so I’ll stick to the plain meat for now.
Normally, you can dry just about anything even with a low-end cheaper machine. But when it comes to meat, your equipment is going to matter. You need higher heat to dry meat safely. You should only be trying any of this if your dehydrator has an adjustable thermostat that can reach 140F (60C). If your machine doesn’t have a temperature setting or indicator, you can’t really trust that it will reach this heat, or maintain it with any regularity.
You can dry just about anything. Although you should avoid pork due to the high fat content. No matter how dry something gets, excessive fat will still go rancid on you. But other than that, you can dry beef, chicken, fish, and all kinds of game meats. Obviously, lean is best. Prepare your cuts by trimming away any visible fat.
This is one spot where it differs from making jerky, you should use cooked meat when drying. Tender meat will dry the best, so braise your meat, though fish is better if you poach it.
Cook your meat. Then, either slice it thinly or cut it up into small chunks (1/4 to 1/2 inch). Spread the pieces out on your trays. Then start up your machine.
One thing that is unique to meat is that oil that will start to bead up on it as it dries. Keep an eye on your trays and use a paper towel to blot it all off as it shows up. To keep on top of this, it’s best to dry your meat during the day so you can watch it, rather than let it go unattended all night. The more oil and fat you can remove, the better.
Drying meat and fish creates aromas. So you probably shouldn’t dry your meat when you have company over.
Here are a few times for the basic types of meat you might be drying. This is just a rough approximation as different cuts and types of meat will add some variety to consider on how to dehydrate meat. Use your best judgement and check your meat often. It should be pretty hard and tough when properly done.
- Beef – 5 to 7 hours
- Chicken or other poultry – 8 to 10 hours
- Fish – 4 to 6 hours
- Seafood – 6 to 8 hours
- Venison – 8 to 10 hours
Once it’s done, wipe off any remaining oils and store in an air-tight container. Dried meat is a great addition to any emergency food you keep on hand. It can be cooked up like other dried food with a little simmering in water.
Cooking & Eating Tips
Unlike jerky, plain dried meat isn’t too tasty to eat on its own while still dry. Expect to cook it for at least an hour before its ready to eat, with plenty of liquid to help it rehydrate. You can just simmer it in water, or it to a soup or stew. Or, if you have a casserole dish with enough liquid in it, you can bake your dried meat instead. Again, it should be cooking for about an hour if you want it to get soft enough.
Dehydrating is a good way to store excess meat that doesn’t put it at risk of a freezer failure, and it’s easier than canning. Dried meat probably isn’t going to become a staple of your daily diet, but it can be pretty handy sometimes. And tasty. So, now that you’ve got a handle on how to dehydrate meat, why not try your hand at some recipes?