Red meat such as beef, lamb, venison, and bison is composed of both lean and fat portions, and while the lean portion keeps fairly well when dried, the fat portion will soon turn rancid. To minimize this, only lean cuts should be dried, and all possible fat should be removed before drying. When working with venison, you must be certain that the carcass was properly dressed so there was no contamination by fecal matter; if you don’t know for sure, don’t dehydrate the venison.
When choosing chicken or turkey, select only perfectly fresh cuts; poultry that has been languishing in the butcher’s meat case should not be used for dehydrating. Duck and goose meat is generally not dehydrated because it is too fatty, although skinless breast meat can be used for jerky following the instructions for beef.
Ground red meat and poultry has more fat than lean whole-muscle meat, but it can be dehydrated with special procedures. The dried ground meat can be kept at room temperature for a week or two, making it safe to carry on a camping trip, but it should be refrigerated or frozen for long-term storage. Most cuts of pork don’t work well for dehydrating because of their high fat content, but lean portions of ham and Canadian-style bacon may be dried.
Leftover cooked roasts can also be dehydrated, as long as they have been properly handled. Roasts that are allowed to sit on the sideboard for hours before being refrigerated are not suitable for dehydrating; neither are fatty roasts or those that have been simmered with gravy or rich sauce. To prepare leftover cooked roasts, slice 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and cut into cubes, then proceed as follows, bypassing the cooking step.
Red Meat and Poultry Cuts
Yield: 2 pounds of uncooked, boneless red meat or poultry yield 2-1/2 to 3 cups of dried cubes. When rehydrated, 1 cup of dried red meat or poultry cubes yields 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups.
- For beef, lamb, venison, and bison, choose a lean roasting cut and trim off any exterior fat; for venison, also trim away any areas that were damaged by shot.
- For whole red-meat cuts, trim off all external fat. Place the meat on a roasting rack and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the internal temperature at the thickest part reaches 160 F. For thinner cuts, steam the meat or simmer it in a small amount of water until it reaches 160 F. Red-meat cuts may also be cooked in a pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using no added fat.
- For chicken and turkey, boneless, skinless breasts are preferable; thighs may be used but have intramuscular fat and veins that need to be removed, making them more difficult to work with. Timing on all cooking methods below will depend on the size of the cut, so times are not given.
- For whole or halved turkey breasts or whole turkey thighs, remove the skin and trim off any external fat; poultry may be roasted with the bone in or boneless. Place the poultry on a roasting rack and bake at 350 F until the internal temperature at the thickest part reaches 165 F. You may also cook it in a pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using no added fat.
- For chicken breasts or thighs, or smaller portions of turkey breasts or thighs, remove the skin and bones and trim off any external fat. Steam the poultry or simmer it in a small amount of water until the internal temperature at the thickest part reads 165 F.
- Preheat the dehydrator or oven to 140 F near the end of the cooking time.
- Allow the cooked meat or poultry to cool enough to handle, and then remove any bones.
- Cut the meat or poultry into 1/2-inch cubes, discarding any fat, gristle, or tendons you encounter.
- Spread the cubes evenly on the dehydrator trays, keeping a bit of space between them.
- Place immediately into the preheated dehydrator or oven.
- When the meat or poultry is completely dry, pat with paper towels while still warm to remove any oil on the surface.
- Cool the cubes completely before packing. Keep in the refrigerator or freezer for long-term storage.
- Very hard and dry; difficult to cut with a knife. If the cubes feel springy, they aren’t dry enough.
- To rehydrate, combine in a saucepan with water to cover very generously.
- Heat to boiling and remove from the heat, then soak at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Simmer the soaked meat in its soaking liquid over medium-low heat until no longer hard, about 1 hour.
- Use in any recipe calling for cooked meat or poultry; the rehydrated meat will have a firm, boiled texture. Include the simmering liquid in the recipe if possible, as it contains much of the flavor from the meat or poultry.
Drying Methods: Red Meat and Poultry Cuts
- Dehydrator or Convection Oven: Use screens on trays or racks. Precooked meat or poultry cubes generally take 4 to 8 hours at 140 F.
- Oven (Non-convection): Use screens on racks. Stir pieces several times during drying. At 140 F, precooked meat or poultry cubes may take as little as 4 hours to dry, or as long as 12 hours.
Ground Red Meat and Poultry
Yield: 1 pound of extra-lean raw ground meat or poultry yields 1 to 1-1/3 cups of dried ground crumbles. When rehydrated, 1 cup of dried ground crumbles yields about 1-1/2 cups.
- Buy the leanest ground beef, lamb, bison, or poultry you can find; if possible, have the butcher custom-grind a lean roast or skinned poultry. For venison, have the processor grind a very lean mixture.
- Fry in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently to break up chunks, until the meat loses its raw color completely and is evenly crumbled; if the meat is sticking to the skillet, add a little water but do not add any oil or other fat.
- Transfer the cooked meat or poultry to a wire-mesh strainer and rinse with hot water, shaking the strainer to rinse the mixture evenly. Let drain thoroughly; meanwhile, place screens on your dehydrator racks or trays, then cover the screens with paper towels.
- Spread the drained meat or poultry in a thin layer on the paper towel-lined trays. The suggested temperature for drying is 145 F.
- Hard, dark, and crumbly; if the crumbles feel springy or soft when squeezed, they are not dry enough.
- The dried ground crumbles may be added without rehydrating to soups and stews that will cook for at least 45 minutes longer.
- To rehydrate for use in recipes calling for cooked ground meat or poultry, hot-soak at room temperature until no longer hard, 1 to 2 hours.
Drying Methods: Ground Red Meat and Poultry
- Dehydrator or Convection Oven: Stir the ground meat or poultry every 2 hours. Ground meat or poultry generally takes 4 to 7 hours at 145 F.
- Oven (Non-convection): Stir the ground meat or poultry every hour, moving crumbles from the edges of the racks to the center and vice versa. At 145 F, ground meat or poultry may take as little as 3-1/2 hours to dry, or as long as 11 hours.
More from The Beginner’s Guide to Dehydrating Food:
InThe Beginner’s Guide to Dehydrating Food, 2nd Edition: How to Preserve All Your Favorite Vegetables, Fruits, Meats, and Herbs, Teresa Marrone dishes out everything readers will need to know to get started dehydrating foods. The book is chock-full of down-to-earth and insight. Whether you’re planning on camping or just want to stock up your pantry, this book lays the foundation to get started on dehydrating everything from apricots to zucchini. The following excerpt is from Chapter 6, “Meat and Poultry.”
Excerpted fromThe Beginner’s Guide to Dehydrating Food, by Teresa Marrone © 2018. Photography by Adam DeTour. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.