Dehydrating is one of the oldest food preservation techniques known to man, and it’s a method still used today. The process is simply a combination of correct air flow with sunlight and/or low heat. The objective is to eliminate a food’s moisture content while preventing the growth of harmful microorganisms. Once the moisture is removed, the food can be stored for long periods of time without spoiling or contamination.
All methods of dehydrating have evolved with modern technology advancements. These techniques were originally used solely for food preservation. Today, they are more of a convenience in support of our busy lifestyles. As our technology improves, so does the quality, nutritional value and variety available.
Dried foods suit our liking because they are lightweight and easy to pack in the field or on the trail. Also, if the food doesn’t need refrigeration, we have more flexibility to travel to remote places. We are all familiar with dehydrated or freeze-dried camping foods; however, such foods can quickly become expensive.
The advantage of dehydrating at home is that once you have the equipment, the process will cost little more than your time. Plus, your end result can be as rewarding as serving a gourmet meal. There are three commonly used methods of dehydration.
Sun drying is the most ancient form of drying. It’s relatively effortless, using the sun’s rays to dry and slightly heat the food. It takes the longest amount of time, and you need to make sure the food is protected from insects, birds and moisture.
Oven drying is simple yet time consuming and limits the amount of drying to the size of your oven. Use the lowest heat setting and prop the door ajar to get the desired temperature. Utilize a convection oven and commercial drying racks to promote air circulation whenever possible.
Dehydrating ovens are available in countless styles and sizes, and work by heating the food and combining it with airflow to cause evaporation. Dehydrators have been developed to provide consistent temperatures and airflow, thus removing moisture from the food uniformly and consistently.
Creating jerky is probably the most common method of drying meat, and there are countless recipes available. Choosing between ground and sliced meat, and using marinade or a dry rub are two of the largest factors that affect flavor and drying time.
For all meats, it’s important to remove any excess fat and to dehydrate at a high temperature when making jerky, at roughly 145 degrees.
Determining when a product is finished drying can be tricky. When dried, the meat should be pliable but shouldn’t break. Always make sure the product has cooled completely before checking for doneness and dryness.
Tear the product and check to see if any moisture beads on the edge of the tear. If it does, more drying is needed.
Dehydrating cookbooks are available with recommended drying times for nearly all meats, as well as what physical characteristics to look for when a product is done drying.
Properly storing dried foods is as important as the dehydrating process. Dried foods need to “condition” before storing, to allow what little moisture is left after drying to redistribute back throughout the food. If you seal foods in an airtight container too soon, the condensation could potentially create mold.
I recommend storing jerky and dried meats in the freezer for longer shelf life. If not frozen, keep dried foods in a cool, dark and dry location.
If you can capture the flavor by dehydrating and storing these items for a later date, you can enjoy the hunting memories and fruits of your labor all year long!
2 lbs. venison, sliced ¼-inch thick
½ c. canned pineapple juice
½ c. wine vinegar
¼ c. soy sauce
½ c. brown sugar or honey
3 tsp. lemon pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
Method: Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine all wet ingredients in separate bowl; add to dry ingredients and stir well. Add meat strips and marinate 10-12 hours. Remove meat from marinade, place on racks and let drip-dry. Place the rack in oven or dehydrator. Dry until pliable and use as “trail chow.”
1 qt. plum or beefsteak tomatoes with the core removed
¼ c. kosher salt
¼ c. sugar
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
Method: Wash and clean tomatoes, removing the core. Slice tomatoes into three or four slices, pat dry and sprinkle with salt, sugar and pepper. Dry in oven on a sheet of foil or in a dehydrator. Once cooled, store in clean, dry container, or add to olive oil, fresh garlic cloves and fresh basil and store in refrigerator. Use as a garnish in dishes or sauces, or as an accompaniment for salads or ingredient for dressings.
1 qt. plump Bing cherries
Method: Wash, clean, stem and pit cherries, then either mash or cut in half. Pat dry and place on rack and dry till pliable. Store and use in trail mix with other dried fruits before using. These are excellent on the trail, mixed with other fruits as trail mix or reconstituted for cobbler on your next campout.
2 lbs. venison, sliced ¼-inch thick with the grain
½ c. soy sauce
¼ c. canned pineapple juice
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ c. brown sugar
Method: Combine all dry ingredients in bowl. Combine all wet ingredients in separate bowl; add to dry ingredients and stir well. Add meat strips and marinate 4-12 hours. Remove meat from marinade, place on racks and let drip-dry. Place the rack in oven or dehydrator. Dry until pliable and use as “trail chow.”