Dehydrating for Bag Meals or Provisioning

12:04 p.m. on September 16, 2013 (EDT)
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Since the discussion was sidetracking the other thread...

It seems useful to exchange some info among those of us already doing this and I imagine it might answer some questions for people thinking about starting.

I dry for bag meals exclusively as I really like not having to clean pots and dishes. It limits what I can make and the quality compared to what you can do cooking in a pot, but so far I'm willing to make that trade off.

I dry items in bulk and then store them individually in the freezer. Meals are bagged right before a trip.  I note the date on each package so I can make sure I cycle through stuff on schedule.  Meat I try to use up in a few months, veggies within 8 months so they don't lose flavor and texture, pasta and rice have a long shelf life but I tend to use them up fast since they are in most every meal.

One of the bonuses of storing the food is I have emergency blizzard supplies to last for weeks and a few times when I didn't make it to the grocery I was able to whip up dinner ;)

If you are already involved in this maybe you'd like to share what you're doing, what works for you or what doesn't.  If you're curious about starting feel free to ask questions.

11:43 a.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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I have just gotten into dehydrating. I've done some meat (jerky) and also some fruits & veggies.

I'm interested in learning how to dehydrate ground beef. I think it was be really useful for creating lightwieght hearty meals in the back country.

Do you precook the ground beef prior to dehydrating?

How do you ensure it isn't over or under dehydrated?

How long will it keep?

 

12:02 p.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Yes, precook it.  Be careful of foods that spoil easily (Fats, Sugars, Proteins) since these can be very dangerous.  Hamburger has lots of fat and protein for bacteria to feast on.  Also dairy might be a bad idea to dehydrate.  The time it takes to dehydrate something and the temps a dehydrator runs at give a great opportunity for bacteria to grow so thats why many things people dry are already salt cured (jerky) or low in the dangerous ingredients such as vegetables.  Freeze-dried works faster and safer for the hazardous foods (meats).

Having said that I really like dehydrating cooked beans, rice, spices and veggies to make soups.  I add flavor packets saved from other mixes or my own salt and spices from the garden.  Dried tomatoes or dried tomato sauce make a really good addition to soup or a soup base on their own.  You can buy hamburger or tuna cooked and ready to eat in foil packets in many grocery stores.  I like them a lot and the little bit of weight isn't too much of a penalty.  Of course nothing beats home made.

Thats my 2 cents, hope it helps.

4:02 p.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for your 2 cents. I appreciate it.

In the past I carried more canned food, but now I'm hoping to venture further. And to do that, I'm trying to pack lighter.

It makes perfect sense to avoid dehydrating ground beef. That probably explains why it's so hard to find information about it.

4:46 p.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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malotrekker...I dehydrate ground beef all the time and store it in my closet for months (stores longer in a freezer). It is very safe as long as you follow a few guidelines. I like to start with low-fat ground beef...but this isn't really necessary (also more expensive) since I also rinse my ground beef several times to remove as much fat as possible. After I rinse several times and there appears to be very little fat remaining (since fat floats it is easy to see on the surface of the water in the pan)...I then flavor it with finely diced vegetables + fresh herbs + dry seasonings + etc.. I also make sure to break up the ground beef into very small pieces (as a general rule you want everything you dehydrate to be in small pieces...in technical terms you want a lot of surface area)...so that it dehydrates (also re-hydrates) as quickly as possible. I do not dehydrate my meals into components like a lot of others...but if you want to...now is the time to place the ground beef into the dehydrator (dehydrate at 160 degrees till completely dried through...test it!).

I prefer to dehydrate my meals fully composed as a one-pot meal...I think it gives me more control over the end product...if it taste great in the pot before I dehydrate it...it will taste great after I rehydrate it...texture is really the only tricky part...and only then if you're picky like me. If my meal has any meat in it (many do not)...I dehydrate at 160 degrees until it is completely dried through (break some larger pieces apart and check...this small test will prevent a lot of wasted labor). If my meal does not have meat I dehydrate at a lower temperature (saves on electricity and less risk of further cooking things like pasta and rice). I have never came across any issues with over-drying...other than it waste electricity...so over-dry is MUCH better than under-dry...but do not get your temps above 160 or you risk actually cooking the food still further (very bad for pasta and rice).

I'll just add...if you really like adding meat to your meals then don't stick with just beef...and don't stick with just ground meat...you can have your butcher in the grocery store ground any meat (not sure about organs) and dehydrate it using the steps above...just note that some meats are naturally low-fat (rabbit and turkey)...and will require less rinsing...while other meats tend to be higher in fat than (beef and pork)...and will require more rinsing. You should also not stick to just ground meat...because you can also dehydrate shredded meat using the same method as used for ground meat (it is the high surface area that is important). I personally like ground meat for meals that are going to be consumed thick...and shredded meat for meals that are going to be consumed more soup-like. Of course...how thick or soup-like you make it in the back-country often depends on the local conditions (in colder weather I turn almost everything into a "soup" to help me generate body-heat)...but I usually do have a way that I prefer the meal all things being equal (for example I like my "Shepard's-Pie" thick...and my "White-Bean Chili" soupy).

Hope this helps?

7:32 p.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Maotrekker like Jefferey has stated you cook at 160 for about 8 hours and throughly rinse the meat with Hot water to get rid of all grease..I also add panko breadcrumbs before I cook it.It helps it to rehydrate better..

2:01 p.m. on October 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Oh sure, I go offline for a week and you guys start talking about this ;)

Something to keep in mind, no matter what you are dehydrating, is how you intend to use it. Prepping stuff for one (or more) pot meals is different than stuff for just adding water to a bag.  Playing around at home is really valuable so that your stuff works for your style of cooking.  You don't want to be out on the trail and find out a meal is inedible

For ground beef I use the leanest I can find, around 95% usually. No sense paying for fat you are going to spend time getting rid of anyway. I'm only doing a pound at a time so it doesn't break the bank.  I work it hard as I cook it to break it into tiny pieces.  As said above that allows for better drying and rehydrating.

Now is where how I intend to use it comes into play.  Unlike most people I don't rinse the meat.  I drain it, let it sit and then drain it again.  Then I use a paper towel to blot any excess grease remaining which is almost nil.  I want to leave just a bit of it on the meat for flavor. If I was provisioning a thru hike or going on mult-week trips I'd sacrifice the flavor and rinse it twice as suggested.

Drying is pretty standard, 160° for at least 8 hours and longer if it doesn't crack or crumble if you pinch it with your fingernails.  I'd rather it be too dry than not enough.  As soon as I turn off the heat I spread it thin in a metal pan.  If I remember it I'll shake a little onion powder on it and shake it around.  This is partially for flavor and partially to coat the pieces so they don't clump. Then I pop the pan in the freezer.  Once its cool I'll transfer it to a ziplock, but that intermediate step avoids condensation in the bag as it cools.

I keep it, in bulk, in the freezer until I need to make meals. Some gets used in experiments at home and then when I'm going on a trip I'll make up individual bag meals.  I don't get to go on multi-week trips any more so the meat is rarely more than a few days out of the freezer before i eat it.

I had some for lunch today actually.  This batch was made in May and still is in great shape.  I'm starting to use this years meat supplies up now but the veggies I'll keep to use over the winter at home.

6:59 p.m. on October 31, 2013 (EDT)
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I thought of you the whole time LoneStranger:-) My hope is that this will be an ongoing feed that we continually return to...adding pointers and recipes...and having more discussion!

Leaner ground beef is more expensive here than fattier ground beef...so I could save a few bucks by buying the ground beef with a higher fat content...but out of habit (I guess) I always buy the leaner ground beef for dehydrating:-)

I thinks its interesting that you use onion powder...as I said...I wait till the meat has been rinsed and cleaned of access fat and then I add diced fresh onions and other vegetables and saute them to sweet transparent goodness (if I am going to saute vegetables I always leave just a small amount of fat to help with the cooking). Is there an advantage to the onion powder over fresh onions that I am missing...or does it have more to do with keeping your ingredients separate?

Also...as you said above...if you're planning to cook the meal in the field or simply rehydrate it will determine how you should dehydrate your food components. I do both...and have had a lot of success with dehydrating items individually for composing (cooking) the meal in the field...it is in the one-pot (no-cook) meals that I have been less pleased...and only because textures for pasta and rice can get tricky...and I am SUPER picky about having my pasta al-dente...and my rice dry and fluffy:-)

10:00 p.m. on October 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Yes, the onion powder is more about coating the meat and keeping it from sticking together in clumps.  I try not to use too much because I don't want to over do the flavor.  I add onions as needed to meals as well.

For pot cooking I'd under cook pasta/rice before drying so you can sneak up on perfection later.  You may need to add it later to time it right.  I've learned to get nutrition and flavor while accepting some things might be mushy and some crunchy, but I'm always trying to get better at it.

10:16 p.m. on October 31, 2013 (EDT)
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How long you cook your rice longstanger and when do you pull it? I been trying to work that one the most. Pasta Iam pretty good with..

11:38 p.m. on October 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Lonestranger...we are thinking along the same lines...if I am cooking in the field then I cook my pasta and rice from their original dried form...no problems with texture and integrity here...and I find cooking in the field a wholly enjoyable task when canoeing and kayaking.

However...I rarely cook in the pot when backpacking...too much energy and time required to cook and clean...I find hiking for 12 hours or more a day really takes it out of me...and I often barely have the energy to shove food into my mouth (another reason a stick to hammocks and bivies instead of tents). So with backpacking I am typically just re-hydrating an entire meal in a single pot (actually a foil pouch). Like you suggested I under-cook my pasta and rice before dehydrating it...particularly if I am dehydrating it with meat because at 160 degrees the pasta and rice continue to cook. Under-cooking pasta works better than I expected...or at least it doesn't make me gag...but with rice I found that the type of rice used is more important than under-cooking it (which I also do...but less so than with pasta). Basmati tends to have a little more structural integrity than other rice through the whole cook + dehydrate + rehydrate process. Jasmine...my favorite rice...becomes rather bounce-less...making the assortment of Thai and Indian curries I dehydrate it with significantly less yummy:-(

8:18 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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@denis I do all my meals in bag so rice is one of my biggest texture issues too.  I fully cook it before drying and try to allow extra rehydrating time for rice meals in camp.  It comes out crunchy a bit too often for my tastes so I've been experimenting with adding enough cold water to moisten the meal before I even start heating water.  That seems to help get rid of the crunch leaving it chewy at worst. 

@Joseph  Basmati has nutritional advantages over other white rices so is my choice as well at home or on trail.  Not as good as brown rice but I'm not a fan of that stuff.  For bag meals I fully cook my rice but agree on slightly underdone pasta.  I've been experimenting with different pasta shapes finding which ones rehydrate best.  Like everything else ratio of surface area makes all the difference.

I want to do some drying time experiments on the rice this winter.  I think I may be over drying currently.  My tendency to err on the dry side with meat might be influencing me to over do my rice.

One thing I've found with rice meals is if the sauce and other goodies are tasty enough it is easier to ignore texture failures ;)  My favorites are also curry based with lots of veggies.

9:30 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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So far the only meat I've dehydrated is jerky. My dehydrator is a cheap model, and it doesn't allow me to set a specific temperature. It's either on or off.

I just moved, but once we finish getting settled in, I'll be pulling out the dehydrator and doing some experimenting.

 

10:22 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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When it is all said and done my rehydrate meals taste a billion times better and add a lot more variety than anything freeze-dried you can buy...so while the textures aren't as pleasing as I would like them to be (neither are they in freeze-dried meals)...there really is no contest between the two. Besides...it is fun to prepare new dishes for the backcountry.

By the way LoneStranger...thanks for the heads-up...I never considered the danger of over-drying rice...I do not eat a lot of rice with meat so I typically dehydrate it at a lower temp...my problem has primarily been mushy (bounce-less) rice...but I will certainly be on the look-out for over-drying the rice when I do prepare it with meat.

As far as pasta goes...so far Macaroni is my favorite...the density is such that it has a little more integrity than Spaghetti (the worst pasta in my opinion)...but I once had it come out gummy (YUCK!). Angel Hair can just be added dried without dehydrating it...but I believe Angel Hair to be an abomination:-) The two pastas I am most interested in experimenting with currently are Farfalle and Linguini...the Farfalle being slightly more dense than Macaroni and the Linguini being slightly more dense than Spaghetti...but slightly less so than Macaroni. The hope is that between these pastas I'll find a sweet-spot:-)

malotrekker...if you have a simple meat thermometer you can stick it in your dehydrator and get a measure of the temp (probably at least 160 if you've made jerky). If you reach 160 degrees you can dehydrate anything...you simply will not have as much control (you'll likely over-dry) and therefore it will not be nearly as efficient (in terms of electricity used) as drying at lower temps. That is...drying at lower temps is an advantage mostly because things happen slower and cook less...and ultimately this allows you to save more energy (electricity). I own a Presto machine with a digital timer and temp control that I paid like 70.00 for (if I remember correctly). You can buy more expensive dehydrators with greater capacities...but these are usually over-kill in terms of dehydrating backcountry meals (unless you plan on making a bunch at one time). You can also buy dehydrators for much less...Presto makes machines that have manual temp controls (no timer) that are very nicely priced 30.00-40.00...these are perfectly adequate as long as you plan to be at home when it is time to turn the machine off...the only advantage to a timer is the whole set-it and forget-it thing. Also...Presto is one of many economical dehydrators that work perfectly fine (just make sure you can buy additional small-holed and "leather" drying trays...without these you will be extremely limited in what you can dehydrate!). In my opinion...when it comes to dehydrators the only things worth paying more for are capacity (not important for our purposes here)...and an automatic off-switch (which is really a self indulgent luxury).

11:02 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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When I first started using modern freeze dried/dehydrated products I marveled at how great they were compared to the old army surplus meals of my youth.  Now, as you say, it just can't compare to what I can do myself in terms of flavors.  I'm going to invest in some commercial freeze dried chicken next year I think because I can't dry that in any way I find palatable.

For a macaroni type pasta I've been using ditalini with good result.  Lot of surface area so it rehydrates fast and finishes cooking while the meat/veggies are soaking.  Linguini I cook a bit more than others before drying and break into thirds.  It is a hard one to get right due to its shape.  I do use angel hair just because it is easy to get right in a bag.

I use an American Harvest that has a temp control but no timer or on off switch.  Lower heat for things you don't want to over cook while drying like fruit and some veggies is nice.  The right trays for sauces and small items make life easier for sure, but so does prepping with dehydrating in mind.  I make my sauces really thick and concentrated so they dry easier.  Veggies and meats are prepped with drying in mind; small even sized pieces. I also believe in lots of experimenting because some stuff turns out terrible and I want to know that at home, not on the trail.

11:13 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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LoneStranger...good point about the thick (concentrated) sauces! If your sauce sticks to the carbohydrates + meat + veggies drying is much easier. I make my sauces concentrated so that I can make them more "sauce-like" by adding extra water when I rehydrate my meal later.

LoneStranger...have you tried shredding the chicken...I find the shredded pork and chicken worked reasonably well for me in soup-stew like meals...and also once in a Biryani dish. Of course...there wasn't actually a lot of texture since it was thin strings of meat...but it added a lot of protein and flavor to the dishes...and shredded meat has a lot of surface area for quick drying and rehydrating.

As far as freeze-dried foods go...the one freeze-dried food I admit is superior to dehydrated food is eggs...OvaEasy is far from eggs at home...but you don't have to worry about spillage or spoilage:-)

12:29 p.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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With the chicken I have tried tiny cubes and shredding neither of which rehydrated very well.  I ended up using it up in soup at home because it was just too much work to chew after hiking all day heh.  Again, maybe I'm over drying, but I've put it on my list of things not worth doing myself along with the eggs.

I do everything, sauces included, in bulk so if I'm doing a sauce it is just sauce on the tray. I like to do bulk then make meals later because if something fails it doesn't take the rest of the meal with it.  Also it lets me mix and match things for greater variety. With sauces I aim for one test meal and three trail meals in a batch.

Once it reaches firm leather consistency I'll tear it up a bit into strips then dry a bit more.  Then I freeze it and run it through the blender to pulverize before bagging and putting it in the basement freezer til needed. That powder form makes it easy to measure when I'm putting bags together and it doesn't require as much massaging to get it to turn back into sauce.

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