I have stated previously that having trendy, name brand equipment in your kitchen does not make you a great cook. Home kitchens usually end up with a lot of useless equipment that you rarely put to task, let alone need. One piece of equipment that I’ve seen getting some attention lately are dehydrators. I have been hoping to get my hands on one of these modern models. They are more of a convenience piece of equipment as they provide consistency in temperature and air flow. One day I will build my dream solar dehydrator. It is possible, however to achieve similar results in any oven.
During the summer months I like to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. This time of year I like to preserve meat by dehydrating, preferably wild hunted game, making tasty treats such as deer jerky. Drying your meat is also beneficial if you are tight for freezer space, giving you another option to extend the usable shelf life of your meat.
When you fully dehydrate meat it maintains most of its nutrients, in particular the protein content. While the texture and visual appeal may not be the same, the dehydrated meat can be easily used in a soup, stew or any dish cooked with moist heat.
Here is how I like to use my oven as a dehydrator; I have two techniques.
The first one is to set the oven to one of the lowest temperature like 150F or 160F. The other is to put the oven on to high heat, like 400 or 450F. Once it gets there, turn it off or down to the lowest temperature and put whatever you’re drying in the oven.
In both cases I let it dry for 6-8 hours. I then re-evaluate the moisture content and extend the drying time and temperature as I deem necessary. I take notes to make future adjustments to be more consistent. In both cases I also have whatever I’m drying on metal racks with a drip tray underneath to catch anything that may spill off.
I have met people that know how to smoke their meat over an open fire pit to completely dry it. Smoking this way truly is a skillful procedure in that the cook must make sure there is consistent heat, air flow, etc. This really is a skill I hope to one day learn as it yields a very tasty end product.
The form of dried meat commonly consumed is in the semi-dried form of jerky. As it is only partially dry, there a chance for harmful bacteria can grow. To inhibit the growth of bacteria, a preserving method like salt curing is used.
Lean meat like that from hunted game make for an ideal choice in drying. The leaner the better. The higher the fat content of the meat, the more likely it will go rancid via oxidation; thus spoiling the meat. Rancidity cannot be stopped, only slowed down.
To make my homemade jerky I don’t use a recipe. To standardize your own recipe, use ratios based on the amount of meat to the seasonings you like. Slice the meat in thin, even strips – preferably as close to the same size as possible. This ensures the meat dries evenly.
I usually mix together salt and whatever seasoning I’m in the mood for, like course ground pepper and garlic powder. I then rub my spice-salt mixture into the meat and let it marinate for several hours. The salt is the preserving agent as it helps draw out moisture, making the meat an inhospitable place for harmful bacteria.
I then space it evenly – not touching – on a wire rack and place it in the oven and proceed with one of the aforementioned methods. I typically want a bit of bite and chew, but not rock hard. The worst thing that can happen is you let it dry out too much. If this occurs, the dried meat can still be used in a soup or stew.
Typically, I store dehydrated meats in a plastic bag that seals or, better yet, a mason jar with a lid. I like to heat up my mason jar and put the jerky in while the jar is warm, put the lid on and let it seal. If you’re worried about any moisture being in the jar, throw some uncooked rice in with the meat.
– Select a lean piece of meat like any piece of deer or flank steak for beef
– Trim as much fat off as you can
– Slice it thinly and uniformly
– Make your rub. Make sure you salt in a ratio of 1 pound to 1 tablespoon non-iodized salt.
Some recommended flavour combinations include: honey, garlic powder and course ground black pepper; soy sauce, honey, worcestershire sauce, chili flakes and garlic powder; or try your own.
– Let marinate for 8-12 hours
– Evenly space out on wire baking rack with a tray underneath to catch drippings
– Place in oven at 150F for 4 – 6 hours
– Store in a sealable plastic bag or mason jar