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. Given the recent surge in meat prices, hunting presents an excellent opportunity to mitigate the impact of rising food costs. Over the past decade, the price of meat has experienced a notable increase, from $6.20 per pound to over $10 per pound during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, making hunting an increasingly cost-effective option for obtaining high-quality protein. 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 30 years if stored correctly.
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.
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 deer, turkey, elk, pig & boar, rabbits, upland birds, waterfowl such as ducks and geese and many more. 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, mold 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 is important to keep in mind that when dehydrating meat, reaching the internal kill step temperature of 165°F is crucial. By achieving this temperature, you are ensuring that all harmful bacteria are eliminated, preventing any potential sickness and extending the shelf life of your meat. It's worth noting that many dehydrators available in the market may fall short of reaching this temperature. That's why, when selecting a dehydrator, it's essential to verify its temperature capabilities. At Commercial Dehydrators, our dehydrators can reach up to 195°F, providing a comfortable margin to make sure the meat's internal temperature achieves the kill step and ensuring a safe and secure preservation journey for you and your family.
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. Ensuring that your meat is properly marinated is essential to achieving an exceptional flavor profile in your jerky. Popular marinades and seasoning ingredients include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and hickory smoke. It's worth investing the extra time to allow your meat to soak up these delicious flavors, as it can make a significant difference in the end result.
It's crucial to note that if you plan to use pork in your jerky, pre-treatment is necessary to eliminate trichinella, the parasite responsible for trichinosis. This involves cutting the meat into pieces less than 6 inches thick and freezing it at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) for 30 days. Taking these precautions will ensure the safety of your meat, and you can enjoy your delicious jerky without any health concerns.
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 optimal temperatures and dehydration times for preserving different types of meat can be found below. These time frames are for jerky cut at a ¼-½” thick, add 2 additional hours per ¼” thickness or until desired consistency. It is important to note that achieving the kill step temperature of 165°F is essential when dehydrating meat. To ensure that all bacteria are eliminated, start the dehydration process by increasing the temperature of the dehydrator for a few hours to allow the meat to reach an internal temperature of 165°F. Once the kill step is reached, reduce the temperature to the recommended level as outlined in the table below and continue the dehydration process until the meat is fully dried. Following these guidelines will help ensure a safe and successful meat dehydration process.
After successfully dehydrating your meat, the next step is to properly store it. Your storage options will depend on your intended use for the meat and can also impact how long it will last. It's important to keep this in mind when choosing your storage method.
If you plan to consume your meat within the next few weeks, storing it in an airtight container will work fine. Ensure the container is fully sealed and store it in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or refrigerator. Using this method, your meat can last for up to 2 months. It is also a good idea to put the date of dehydration on the container so you can keep track of how long you have left to consume your product. Be sure to discard any product that develops a bad or off smell, as this could indicate improper dehydration or insufficient sealing.
For a longer-term storage solution, vacuum sealing with an oxygen absorber and placing the meat in Mylar bags is your best option. This method, combined with storing the bags in a freezer, can extend the shelf life of your meat to up to 30 years or even longer. This is a great option for those who want to stock up on their favorite jerky or preserve their meat for future use. By following these guidelines, you can enjoy your delicious, perfectly preserved meat for years to come.
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 a heat-proof cooking 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.
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, organ meats, offal, and chewy treats are perfect for dogs.
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.