Dehydrating meat is an excellent way to preserve it for long-term storage while maintaining its flavor and nutrients. By removing moisture from the meat, you inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms, extending its shelf life. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to dehydrate meat and the best way to store it.
- Choose lean, high-quality meat: Select lean cuts of meat, such as beef eye of round, top round, or sirloin, or use poultry like chicken or turkey breasts. Fatty meats are not ideal for dehydration, as the fat can go rancid over time. Trim off any visible fat, gristle, or connective tissue from the meat.
- Slice the meat: Slice the meat into thin, uniform pieces, about 1/4-inch (6mm) thick. For a more tender result, slice against the grain; for a chewier texture, slice with the grain. Consistent thickness ensures even dehydration.
- Marinate (optional): Marinating the meat adds flavor and tenderizes it. Prepare a marinade of your choice (e.g., soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, spices, and herbs) and submerge the meat slices in it. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight for maximum flavor. If you prefer, you can season the meat with dry spices instead.
- Pat dry: Remove the meat from the marinade (if used) and gently pat it dry with clean paper towels to remove excess moisture. This helps speed up the dehydration process.
- Preheat your dehydrator or oven: If using a food dehydrator, preheat it to 145°F (63°C) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using an oven, preheat it to its lowest temperature setting (usually around 170°F/77°C), and prop the door open slightly to allow moisture to escape.
- Arrange the meat on trays: Place the meat slices on dehydrator trays or oven-safe wire racks, ensuring they don’t overlap. This allows for proper air circulation and even drying.
- Dehydrate the meat: In a dehydrator, the drying process usually takes 4-8 hours, depending on the thickness of the meat and the efficiency of your dehydrator. In an oven, it can take 6-10 hours. Check the meat regularly and rotate the trays if needed for even drying. The meat should be flexible but not moist when fully dehydrated.
- Cool and condition: Let the dehydrated meat cool completely at room temperature. To condition the meat, place it in a large airtight container for a week, shaking the container daily to redistribute any residual moisture evenly.
- Store the dehydrated meat: Vacuum-seal the cooled, conditioned meat in food-grade bags or store it in airtight containers. Label the packages with the date and type of meat.
- Keep the meat in a cool, dark, and dry place: For maximum shelf life, store dehydrated meat in a pantry, cupboard, or basement with a consistent temperature between 50°F (10°C) and 70°F (21°C). Properly dehydrated and stored meat can last from six months to two years, depending on the conditions.
Remember to always inspect the dehydrated meat for signs of spoilage, such as off odors, mold, or changes in texture before consuming it.