Dehydrator.

My fantastic brother sent me yet another brilliant birthday present, a food dehydrator. I’ve used dehydrated food on recent trips, most recently in my trip to Trolltunga. If water is readily available (it literally falls out of the sky in Scandinavia), then dehydrated food is a nice way to cut weight.

 

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.

7 thoughts on “Dehydrator.

  • September 11, 2010 at 3:19 pm
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    Changed some wording:
    Obviously someone had a sense of humour, or was completely naive when they wrote a heading called How to jerk meat. I have a dehydrator and have just started playing with foods to use for forthcoming trips. Dried bananas are great. Getting the perfect timing is the challenge, but certainly worth the effort.

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  • September 13, 2010 at 8:53 am
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    Drying your own hiking food is great but a bit time consuming. I have ended up using commercial products (those chepa ones for households) when they are cheap adn good enough and then add some slef dried stuff to give the final touches.

    But for example commercial banana chips are far from self dried banana!

    Give a try for tortilla breads with dried bananas and Nutella (or similar chokolad spread) or maybe peanut butter. Makes a great and high calory lunch that is easily eaten on the go. The spread/butter can be packed as single servings in small plastic bags and when you want to use them just cut the corner open and spread.

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  • September 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm
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    Tomas – great post, humorously written. The pictures made me hungry! I must get myself a dehydrator one day.

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  • September 18, 2010 at 6:38 pm
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    Nielsen Brown> Yeah, getting the perfect timing is the biggest challenge, I just threw a batch of jerky in the bin because it was in too long and came out with the consistency of Swedish hardbread. I guess I could have used it for sharpening my knife on but as food it was unattractive.

    Lightening up> Tortillas are great for hiking food, nutella I have not tried yet, but I can definitely see the advantages!

    Joe> I can only recommend it, they're not so expensive and it's a lot of fun to work out the perfect recipes. The only problem so far is trying to pry it out of my girlfriend's hands, she's become addicted to dried mango pieces.

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  • September 28, 2010 at 9:05 am
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    Have a great time with that! I did all of my own food for the Arizona Trail and after a bit of experimentation you can eat like a king! Advice: Avoid dehydrating eggs. ewwwwwww…..

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  • October 20, 2010 at 11:24 pm
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    Wow, great article! Thanks for sharing. Jerky is not a huge favourite in Australia but dehydrating your own meals is popular.

    We have also dehydrated eggs, they work pretty well (the trick is to separate the yolk and white, beat them and then dehydrate them separately. Works well for scrambled eggs…

    We recently released an eBook on how we do all this stuff (sorry about the plug, came here via Mungo- http://www.mungosaysbah.com/2010/10/recently-found-bushcraft-camping.html )

    There is a bit of a video we made on the book over here: http://ourhikingblog.com.au/food-to-go if anyone is interested in checking it out.

    Frank
    p.s. Your site looks very interesting, have you thought about adding a "subscribe by Email" option?

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  • October 26, 2010 at 11:42 pm
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    Buy the book the Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer Mackenzie, Joy Nutt and Don Mercer, best money spent. I have dried grapes for years, but now have gone on to dry carrots (out of this world) another flea market investment was a small meat slicer, makes slicing veggies easy and uniform. I have also dried hot peppers (serano) terrific. This book not only gives the technique but also over 400 receipes. I loved pineapples. My dehydrator has run constant for a couple of weeks now.

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