Buying it is one option, and there you have two choices. Buy cheap dehydrated food made for households, like dried potato powder, powdered milk, breakfast cereals and so on. Or buy pricey bags of dehydrated hiking food, which cost like they’re made from little slivers of Picasso paintings. The cheaper brands on the other hand tend to taste like little slivers of Picasso paintings.
Making your own is cheaper, more fun, and results in way higher quality food than buying it. For Trolltunga I tried a little DIY and dried some carrots in the oven overnight, mixed them in with dried potato. It worked fairly well, but the oven is a wasteful way to dry food, and it gives uneven results. With a real dehydrator at hand I decided to try making beef jerky, and so turned to my stalwart 1970’s backpacking bible, “Wilderness Canoeing”.
Actually I only saw that there was a section on jerky after I made the first batch, I just wanted to show it had a section called “How to jerk meat”.
The dehydrator has a small heater in the base with a fan that blows heated air over the food, with an instruction book that was way too long for something with one single button. Five separate trays sit on top of the base and then a flat lid on top of that.
If I’d read the meat jerking chapter of “Wilderness Canoeing” before I started I wouldn’t have made the stupid mistake of buying the pricey beef with nice lines of fat running through the cut. The fat doesn’t dry well, is nasty to chew and can get rancid and ruin the jerky, plus after drying the meat the quality you started with doesn’t matter much. Batch two was done with a cheaper cut with no fat and turned out great.
I rolled the beef in some chilli powder and salt, second batch I soaked it for 3 days in soy sauce, tabasco and chilli powder. I don’t think it’s possible to overdo the infusion of flavour. Can it be too hot and spicy? No.
Beating the meat is what the meat jerkers in “Wilderness Canoeing” recommend, but I was starting to think all their advice was just picked out to allow innuendo, so I rolled it instead. Meat laid out on the chopping block, can I find a use for my Sigg in a platypus world?!
Nicely flattened meat, nicely gored Sigg.
A before pic.
An after pic, think this one was too long (dried out overnight), it was red hot and salty as hell, but too crispy and brittle. The second batch was dried for six hours and had that perfect chewy jerky consistency.
My girlfriend has also managed to dry things other than meat. Cored apples (with and without skin), pineapple rings (crazy powerful taste) and mangos. And bananas were good, but I don’t like bananas, so they weren’t that good. Drying fruit out overnight perfumed the apartment with a fantastic smell.
Also I dried grapes, which turned into raisins. Which I guess I should have known would happen, but did it anyway. They were definitely the best raisins I’ve ever had though.
The nice surprise to making the dried food was that it’s way more useful than just having as a light-weight alternative for hiking. It tastes so good there’s no problem remembering to bring some when out for a day of climbing or when going away for a trip, and it’s perfect snack food to give a boost when needed. Versatile, chewy, salty, spicy jerky is the new base of my food pyramid.