Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to Dehydrate Hamburger

When backpacking, food needs to provide the most bang for its buck. You want a power house of calories. Anytime you can get some protein in there is pretty darn rockin' too. The best way I have found to tackle this is to dehydrate hamburger. It is light weight, flavorful, versatile, and cheap. The texture is slightly different since it tends to crumble more when dehydrated versus freshly cooked, but it still tastes like beef and adds the same consistency when mixed with other stuff. You could probably dehydrate bigger chunks to save on texture, but then your rehydrate time (and fuel usage) would be much higher.

It used to be that you could purchase dehydrated hamburger by itself. That was about a decade ago, if I remember right. It wasn't sold everywhere, but if you wanted to find it you could. That was before the freeze-dried, fancy MRE craze which seems to have hit every outfitter we know. Now the dehydrate hamburger exists, but it can only be found inside Tasty Enchilada Bake or Beef Stroganoff Supreme. If you want to purchase it by itself, it has to be drop shipped to you an is crazy expensive. So, I just go back old school and dehydrate our own.

Dehydrator Considerations
The main thing to be sure of is the dehydrator is designed for fruit and jerky. The temperature for jerky dehydrators goes up to 155 or 160 degrees. Apparently this is what takes it out of the danger zone for germs. If your dehydrator is only for fruit and veggies it will probably only go up to around 135-140. I honestly don't know how important this is (growing up we had an Excalibur and now ours is a jerky machine) but the last thing you want out on the trail is an upset stomach or food poisoning. If you are going to try it with your home machine, I'd eat a meal at home and see.

The second consideration is fat. Fat doesn't dehydrate well. It makes things really strange and often times goes rancid rather easily. We avoid this by using canned hamburger. When you can the hamburger it is thoroughly cooked and all the fat cools on the top. If you are using fresh hamburger, be sure you cook the snot out of the meat and strain off all the fat. Next, pour in enough water to cover the meat and stir vigorously to rinse. Dump all the water off and then pat dry in a paper towel.

When canned, the fat rests at the top away from most of the meat. It can easily be removed and you are left with almost fatless hamburger to dehydrate.

To remove the fat layer, merely use a fork and pry it up. As long as the can is at room temperature, the fat will stick together (for the most part) and come up in a couple pieces. Sometimes, if I have overfilled the can with meat, I will need to either discard a bit of meat, or try and separate the fat from it. This is a bit annoying, but not too terrible. Don't fixate too much on removing all the fat - it's never going to happen. Just get most of it.

If you are crazy like me, you can save the fat for making gravy or stew. Ours lives in a small dish in the refrigerator and freaks Jules out.

Once the fat is removed, line a dehydrator rack with a single sheet of wax paper (or enough to just cover the rack). When wet, the hamburger is big enough to stay above the holes. When it dries, however, it falls through and is a total pain to try and get out. Spread the meat out on the rack however it will fit. It can touch each other and be all stacked up, and whatever. Doesn't seem to matter.
The tray seems very full right now, but it will look almost empty when dehydrated. Hamburger is just fluffy. This is the entire pint. You can do smaller batches, but it seems to take as much time as a large one and yield the same result.

Dehydrate for about 10-12 hours at 155 degrees. Check the meat every hour after 8 hours. It is done when it is hard and crumbly. You squeeze it with much pressure and it literally turns to dust. Take out the smaller pieces when they are done. Larger bits may need to be turned or rotated a bit. They will feel hard on the outside, but still squish when squeezed. You don't want the meat to yield to pressure. It should either be rock solid or fall apart when you push on it.

Try to remove the meat as softly as possible. Once fully dry, the meat tends to crumble and fall apart very easily.

The longest we have kept the dehydrated hamburger in our household is 8 months. A package of hamburger gravy got lost in the back of the pantry. On the next backpacking trip it was promptly eaten. According to the crazy survivalist websites (which call them "Hamburger Rocks") they will last for a couple years.

2 thoughts:

Anonymous said...

Great instructions. I use 93/7 beef or above (used 94/6 last time - worked great but pricey). I put the cooked hamburger into a food process and grind it up. Put it on wax paper in dehydrator. Does an awesome job - overnight was very dry.

Granola Girl said...

Anonymous ~ the 93/7 meat is great, but you are right about how expensive it is. We are starting to lean to non-meat alternatives when hiking to cut the price down a bit, but they just don't seem to fill us up as much.

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