Updated: Apr 12
Freeze-dried meats are superior to dehydrated meat in every measure.
Ground beef is a staple ingredient for many one pot meals at home. The Great Out There is a strong advocate for eating at least as well – if not BETTER – on your adventures as you do at home.
In The Great Out There, you are working harder, exposed to the elements, and need to consume more calories for energy and to regulate body heat. Still, most adventurers subsist on prepackaged meals with inadequate serving sizes and caloric content. These same meals have added salt and preservatives. The taste and consistency are “adequate” but far from home-cooked standards.
Many adventurers have begun to assemble their own meals at home that are far SUPERIOR. Using simple dehydrators, they can prepackage entire meals or individual ingredients. The result of their advanced preparations is camp food that is better tasting, with ample proportions and the proper mix of calories and protein. Making your own meals allows you to cater to your tastes and any dietary needs.
The BIGGEST bonus: the net cost of your favorite homemade meals is less than HALF of the skimpy commercial meals.
However, it is a fact that some foods simply cannot be dehydrated. Fats, for example, don’t dehydrate. It is impossible to dehydrate oils, cheese, and butter. Likewise, the fat content in meat can’t be dehydrated. The BEST you can do is to try to remove as much of the fat content BEFORE dehydration.
By definition, when you dehydrate meat, you ONLY remove moisture – NOT any of the fat. (Many people bake dehydrated meat in the oven for 10 minutes to kill remaining bacteria.) Dehydrated meat can be stored for up to 30-days in the refrigerator, and for up to 1-year in the freezer. In the freezer, dehydrated meat should be rotated just like any other frozen meat to avoid burn.
Note: do not confuse dehydrating meat with curing jerky. Every jerky recipe relies on salt and marinating for many hours, then drying and/or smoking to “cure” the meat beyond what is possible with low temperature dehydration.
If you chose to dehydrate meat, Backcountry Eats recommends cooking ground beef and sausage in boiling water, then draining and rinsing with more boiling water to remove as much grease as possible BEFORE dehydrating. Other cooks try to use towels to mop up surface grease.
After this process, these “double-cooked” dried meats bear a strong resemblance to gravel, before and after attempts at rehydration. “Gravel” is the perfect description for the result of all your work.
The hard dried bits simply don’t reconstitute into anything resembling tender, juicy meat! Just Google “ground beef gravel” to see some of the lengthy processes cooks go through to produce this sub-standard – and mostly undigestible – filler. Even then, these dried meats are not immune from spoilage on warm weather adventures.
The BEST option: substitute freeze-dried meats. FD meats are shelf-stable without refrigeration for up to 25 years! The meat is precooked before freeze-drying. You can now purchase beef, sausage, pork, and chicken in ground, diced, sliced, and pulled varieties.
Freeze-dried meats rehydrate quickly and have a superior taste and texture over dehydrated meats.
There are two main options for preparing meals from your food storage. For home cooking, most people prefer to have a pantry full of individual ingredients. Then you prepare your meals from your food storage, adding fresh ingredients, as available. Off-the-grid cabin owners and campers in vans and RVs also prefer this method.
Many backcountry campers now dehydrate entire meals – vegetables, pasta, rice, and meat combined. At camp, all that is required is to cover the one-pot meal with boiling water and allow 10 to 15 minutes to rehydrate. However, dehydrating entire meals always results in OVER-cooked vegetables and UNDER-cooked meat. Many adventurers bypass this issue by relying on vegan meals without meat.
The best method for preparing full “carnivore” meals is to prepackage the vegetable and pasta or rice portions first. These foods are dehydrated at lower temperatures and for shorter periods than meats. Then add the freeze-dried meat to the meal packet and you are ready to rehydrate a hearty meal at camp. This is the “hybrid method” that is covered in detail in Backcountry Eats. A typical meal will weigh 125 to 150 grams, including 2/3 vegetables, sauce, pasta or rice combined with 1/3 meat (unless it is a vegetarian recipe).
You can easily substitute freeze-dried meats for home-dehydrated meat in any recipe. Ready-made box meals like Hamburger Helper, instant potatoes, rice, pasta packets, and Ramen noodles can be turned into satisfying, complete meals with the addition of “fresh”, rehydrated FD beef, sausage, pork, or chicken plus your choice of FD vegetables.
After all this time, effort, and expense you will produce barely edible GRAVEL after dehydration. OR – you can substitute precooked, freeze-dried meat, cover with boiling water or simmer for 10 minutes, and enjoy meat with the SAME texture and taste as fresh meat!
Dehydration may be CHEAP. But it is not easy. (Obviously, the whole discussion of dehydrating foods doesn’t apply to van dwellers, fulltime RV travelers, cabin and small apartment residents).
If you have the time and space, you may “enjoy” preparing your meat for storage, but dehydrated meat will never be comparable to freeze-dried meat. The results from a $100.00 counter-top low temperature dehydrator cannot match the freeze-drying process involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology. If you value your time at more than minimum wage, the dehydration process is not cost-effective.
Backcountry Eats agrees: “Freeze-drying goes a step further than simple dehydration. After rapid freezing, to temperatures usually colder than -34-degrees C (or -30-degrees F) a vacuum pump is used to reduce the pressure inside the freeze-drying chamber. The temperature cycles up and down to trigger sublimation over and over again until the food is completely dry. Freeze-drying is superior to regular dehydrating because the structural integrity of the food is better maintained in the process and flavours are preserved better, too.”
Kevin Ride, the author of Backcountry Eats, literally wrote the book on dehydrating hearty and satisfying meals for strenuous wilderness travel. Kevin concludes: “The initial cost of meat is higher and there is also a significant quality advantage because the structural integrity of meat pieces can be maintained. Bite size chunks of meat can be freeze-dried without cutting or grinding into smaller pieces. Because of the quality and texture difference, freeze-dried meats might be a reasonable option to add as a supplement in your homemade dehydrated meals.”
BONUS Tip: Backcountry Eats also writes, “Freeze-drying is a real game changer for eggs. Traditional powdered eggs taste terrible! Freeze-drying has changed all this. Instead of a powder, the eggs are more of a crystal when freeze-dried. When rehydrated they look, smell, and taste just like real fresh scrambled eggs.” And if you are concerned about having TOO LITTLE fat in your menu for strenuous expeditions, winter camping, and more, Backcountry Eats suggests carrying a small bottle of olive oil, then adding about two tablespoons to your meal for about 240 more calories and a touch of flavor!
There is NO DOWNSIDE to substituting freeze-dried meats in your recipes – at home, at the campsite, or back in the wilderness. SAVE time in the kitchen AND enjoy better meals!
Contact Randy at The Great Out There to learn how to obtain samples of freeze-dried ingredients, including:
Also ask about freeze-dried scrambled eggs, whole milk, cheese, butter, and honey crystals!
The Great Out There wants to help you eat HEALTHIER and SAVE MONEY – both at home and on the trail. Contact us with any questions. Follow this link to check out the Thrive Food selections. CLICK HERE.
As a Thrive Foods customer you will be provided with a referral link. Thrive Foods does not waste money on mass advertising but relies on referrals between friends – in person or online. When you share your referral link with friends, THEY can save 15% on their first order - PLUS you will receive a 10% credit that can be applied to your future orders!
Disclosure: Some of the links on this website are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, The Great Out There will earn an affiliate commission if you click on the link and finalize a purchase.