If you’re a meat-eater, hunting can be a good way to obtain your own sources of meat. It can also be an opportunity for connection if you go hunting with like-minded people. Like any food source, wastage can be a problem if you obtain a large amount of meat on a hunting expedition. To minimize the risk of wasting what you catch while making the meat safe to eat over long periods, there are a few steps you can take to prepare, treat and store different meats. Whether you’re hunting as a recreational pastime or you’re looking to make sure you have the foods you enjoy available at all times in the event of food shortages, dehydration is a great way to preserve and store meat for up to six months safely.
Many people have opted to source food that’s local and as untouched as possible in recent years. Some people like getting their produce from farmers markets or growing their own fruits and vegetables. Hunting can take a similar approach, allowing you to source your meat from what’s available in your area. This article provides a guide to making the most of your hunting efforts by safely dehydrating and storing meat, so you always have your desired ingredients on hand for snacking or cooking.
The types of meat that you can find when you’re hunting will depend on where you are in the world. Common types of animals you may encounter when you’re hunting include rabbits, upland birds, waterfowl such as ducks and geese, fish and seafood, and if you’re a fan of Joe Rogan’s podcast, you probably know this one — deer, elk and cervids. You also need to make sure you know what species are protected in your region so you’re not contributing to endangering protected animals. It’s important to make sure you only catch what you know you can consume to reduce waste. Knowing how to correctly prepare and preserve the meat you catch while hunting can further reduce waste while making sure you always have the foods you like available at all times.
Bacteria, mould and yeast need moisture to grow and multiply, which is why foods require preparation such as dehydration for long-term storage. It’s important that you keep all preparation, cooking and storage surfaces clean and dry throughout the process, and always wash your hands after handling raw meat.
As the term suggests, dehydrating meat removes water content. The good thing about dehydrating meat is that it prepares it for longer term storage without impacting its nutritional content. It’s important to remember that dehydrating meat will only heat it to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). This temperature doesn’t cook the meat or thoroughly kill all bacteria, so you need to take some extra preparation steps to make sure the meat is safe to eat.
To prepare the meat, cut it into portions based on your storage and cooking needs. This may include larger pieces of meat for hearty meals such as soups and stews that require chunky pieces of meat. For other meals such as curries and stir fries, you may opt to cut the meat into uniform-sized pieces. If you’re making jerky, make sure you thinly slice the meat prior to dehydration. Once the meat is portioned and cut, you can roast or boil it in a marinade and heat it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) before dehydration. You could also cook the meat in the oven to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) — hot enough to kill bacteria but not so hot it starts to cook the meat. These methods kill harmful bacteria that aren’t killed in the dehydration process. Common marinades and seasoning ingredients include condiments such as soy sauce or worcestershire sauce and herbs and spices including salt and pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and hickory smoke.
Pork also needs to be pre-treated to kill trichinella (the parasite that causes trichinosis). To kill trichinella, cut the meat into pieces less than 6 inches thick and freeze it at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) for 30 days.
Once you’ve completed the preparation steps outlined above, your meat is ready to be dehydrated. Make sure you dehydrate meats that require similar temperatures and dehydration times in the same batches. You’ll also need to make sure the pieces in each batch are as close to uniform sizes as possible. To make this easy, consider batching meats that you’ll use for similar dishes such as the meats you’ll use for stews and soups, meat for stir-fries and curries, and meat for snacking such as jerkies. The temperatures and dehydration times will vary based on the machine you use and the type of meat that you’re preserving. The table below provides a guide.
Once the meat is dehydrated, you can store it in clean, dry containers, but you need to allow some rest time first. Rest time is the period where meat needs to remain at its highest dehydration temperature once removed from the machine. Over this time, the meat will remain at the highest temperature or increase slightly, which helps to ensure harmful bacteria is killed. The rest time required for most meats is around three minutes.
Dehydrating meat doesn’t have to be for your meals only. You can make hearty pet treats and meals for your furry friends by following the same process outlined above and keeping some aside for your pets. What you create will depend on the meat you have available and your pet’s preferences, but options such as jerkies and chewy treats are perfect for larger dogs.
Dehydrated meat is best stored in an airtight container or jar that is free of moisture. Vacuum packing the meat once dehydrated is another way to ensure dehydrated meats are kept dry and safe. Once packaged in a container, jar or vacuum sealed bag, the meat should be stored in a cool, dark area such as your pantry. If you store the meat in your kitchen pantry, make sure it’s not too close to your oven or stove where the risk of the meat heating and becoming unsafe to eat rises. Dehydrated meats can be kept in an unrefrigerated place for up to two weeks. After two weeks, the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends placing the dehydrated meat in a freezer or refrigerator for no more than six months. As you prepare the meat for storage, it’s a good idea to label each container with the date of dehydration so you know how long it can be stored in a cool, dark area and how long it can be refrigerated or frozen before it’s no longer safe to eat.
There are three main methods you can use to rehydrate your meat and cook it — soak and simmer; soak, simmer and set; or boil in bag. Here’s a brief outline of each method:
You’ll likely have other elements to add to your meal apart from meat, so make sure you adjust the water, cooking temperature and time to thoroughly cook all elements of your dish.
The options for cooking with dehydrated meats are endless. Like the dehydration process where heat and dryness are key, water, heat and time are the key factors in rehydrating and cooking with dehydrate foods. With your dehydrated meats, you may opt to eat some ingredients on their own as a snack if you make jerky or biltong, or you could cook meals using your dehydrated meats. Think of it like the dehydrated foods available for people who go on extended outdoor expeditions where there is limited or no access to food. It’s best if you have a general idea of how you want to use the ingredients throughout the dehydration process so you can portion and prepare the meat accordingly. Meals that are easy to prepare with dehydrated meats include risottos, pasta dishes, casseroles, soups and stews, curries, and chilli con carne.
In the event of food shortages or times where you don’t have quick access to a range of foods, you may grow tired of similarly prepared meals such as those listed above. To mix things up, consider homemaking other elements such as bread so you can make meals such as burgers and wraps with your dehydrated meats. Making staples such as bread are also a great accompaniment to soups and stews.
Getting out and about on a hunting adventure takes time, effort and planning in the lead-up and on the day of your expedition. Using a commercial-grade dehydrator for the meat you catch can help you make sure your efforts don’t go to waste. With some preparation and understanding of how to dehydrate different types of meat, you can safely store large amounts of meat in your home for many months to come. Enjoy your dehydrated meats as a snack if you make jerky or biltong, or prepare, dehydrate and store meats ready for use in meals so you always have healthy ingredients on hand.
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All data is based on information publicly available at the time of publication.