Making Jerky and Beyond: Drying Meat to “Beef” up Your Emergency Food Storage

Making jerky is great, but have you thought about how you are going to include protein in your emergency food storage? As my husband says, “Beans are good, but …Where’s the meat?”

My great grandmother was Swedish and lived in the back country. She would trade the hunter’s Reindeer meat for her yummy Swedish pastries. I had to laugh when I read one of her jerky recipes.  It started out (loosely translated) “slice up 1 reindeer…” I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually have a whole reindeer hanging around the house waiting to be dried, so let’s start out on a smaller scale… for now anyway.

What type of meat can I dry?

Meat Cure type Cure time Prep Before Drying
Beef, Ground Crumbles none none Cook and Crumble
Beef, Jerky Dry or Brine Atleast 12 Hours None
Beef, Pieces salt none none
Fish Dry Atleast 12 Hours Cook or Smoke
Game Dry or Brine Atleast 12 Hours Freeze 1st
Lamb / Not Recommended None None None
Pork Pieces salt none Cook 1st
Pork Sausage None none Cook into crumbles
Poultry Dry, Brine or None Atleast 12 Hours Cook Before Drying
Shell Fish Boil in salt & Shrimp Boil until Cooked Through Cook

When making jerky, the meat should be very lean. Look for as little fat as possible. Make sure you have trimmed of as much of the fat as you can. Fat does not dry. The more fat in your meat the shorter the shelf life. It is the fat that goes rancid first. This is why Lamb is not really an option for drying.  It is way too fatty. When using ground meat pick meat that is no more than 12% fat.

It is best to purchase your meat fresh and use it as soon as possible. Don’t have any fresh meat on hand? An alternative to fresh meats is using canned meats.  These meats have already been pressure cooked in the can and rehydrate a little easier once they have been dried.

How do I prepare meat for making jerky?

If you are using a solid piece of meat you want to slice it in ¼ “thick slices. I usually ask the butcher to do that for me. OR you can slice it yourself.  If you slice it yourself, partially freeze the meat to make it more firm then slice it with a meat slicer. If you slice it across the grain it will be tenderer yet more brittle.  If you slice the meat with the grain it will be chewier. 

Dehydrated ground beef

Ground meat is also an option when making jerky, but did you know you can dry meat crumbles and save it for years?  I don’t usually season my ground beef when I dry it.  This way I can add it  to many different dishes. Just cook up a batch, break it up into small bits, cool and blot with paper towels to get as much of the fat off it as possible. Some people even risne the cooked meat with hot water then blot/squeeze with a paper towel. Place on drying trays and dry. This is a great replacement when you don’t have fresh ground meat available.

One of my favorite reference books for drying meat is “Recipes for Adventure.”  This book is written by a backpacker (Chef Glen Mcallister) and has tons of great ideas for drying meats and making jerky. One of his suggestions that I use all the time is adding dried bread crumbs to the ground beef before cooking and drying it. This makes the dried meat crumbles less hard and easier to rehydrate.  I snuck this into my husband’s dinner the other night and did not even notice.  He loved the recipe. So these recipes pass my husband’s taste test.  That is tough to do.

How should I cut the meat up to dry it?

  • Making Jerky? Slice the meat about ¼” to 3/8 “thick.  It is best to make the strips about 1”-2” wide. If you are slicing it yourself, partially freeze the meat before slicing for easier cutting or just ask your butcher to do it for you.

  • Drying Meat? When drying bits of meat, cut it into ½ “squares.  This way it does not take forever to dry and it can be easily rehydrated.

  • Drying Ground Meat? Thoroughly cook as you would for regular use, drain and crumble OR if you are making ground beef jerky make sure to use the proper curing method…I recommend LEM seasoning packets.
  • Drying fish? Thoroughly cook or smoke fish before drying. Once cooked you can cut it into ½” chunks or flake it. Most dried fish is used as a protein in a dish not really eaten as a jerky unless it is smoked first.
  • Drying Shell Fish? Thoroughly cook shell fish.  Remove shells and clean shrimp. Cut shellfish into ½” chunks or smaller. Smaller shrimp can be dried whole of you want.

What is a cure and why would I use one?

A cure is a combination of spices and salt to help in the flavor and the preservation of the meat when making jerky.

There are three main reasons for using a cure or marinade.

  • Flavor: The longer you marinade the meat the stronger the flavor is in the dried meats. Did you know you can use milk to help remove strong meat flavors like fish or game? Simply soak the meat in milk before drying.

  • Tenderizing: When you use salt to tenderize, make sure you use canning salt.  It does not clump like other salts.

  • Preserving: ingredients like Sodium Nitrate gives dried meat it nice red color and slows down the spoilage and bacteria growth when making jerky.

What type of cure do I use to dry meat?

There are two kinds of cures used: A dry cure that is a combination of salt and seasonings that are liberally rubbed on the meats surface. Brine cures are marinades that consist of salt, seasonings and water.  

To Dry Cure: spread the meat strips in a single layer on a cutting board or glass pan. Sprinkle dry cure mix evenly one side of the strips then turn over and sprinkle on the other side.  Stack cured strips in a glass or stoneware container and seal the container tightly and store in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.

To Brine Cure: layer the meat and the cure in a glass or stoneware container. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator for 6 -12 hours… or overnight. Turn the meat strips over a few time during marinating.

To Cure Ground Meat for jerky: You can add the same brine or cure ingredients to ground meat as you would use for sliced meats.  Because ground meat will adsorb ALL the brine or cure, only use a maximum 1/2C per 1 lb. lean ground meat.

What ingredients are in a cure?

Salt is used in making jerky as a preservative. Drying the meat and keeps bacteria from growing.

Sugar can be used to cut the bite from all the salt you have to use.

Flavorings and Spices are personal choice. That is the beauty of making jerky.  You can create it to match your personal taste.  Add liquid smoke, hot pepper sauce, teriyaki sauce or soy sauce and a combination of seasonings just for you.

seasoning for making jerky

Sodium Nitrate gives color and flavor as well as slows down the spoilage and bacteria growth. If you want to use sodium nitrate it is easier to use one of the LEM Seasoning Packets.  They have lots of yummy flavors. This is a very important ingredient when you are making ground beef jerky.

What are the safe methods for drying meat?

Electric dehydrator, regular oven, solar oven:


Here is an article that explains each drying method. How to dehydrate food.

Did you know you can make Jerky into fun shapes? 

Shaped Beef Jerky

Just mix up your favorite ground meat jerky recipe. 

Roll the meat mixture out between two sheets of wax paper until the meat mixture measures around ¼” thick.  Peel off the top sheet of wax paper and cut the flattened mixture with cookie cutters. Peel off the other sheet of wax paper and place your shapes on the drying tray.

If you are making ground meat jerky, try using a Jerky Gun.  These are really fun to use. You can make strips and even snack sticks with one of these. Just load it up with your favorite meat mixture and pull the trigger.

Is it done yet?

Jerky should be dried to the point that when you bend a piece it will crack, but not so dry that it crumbles.  the picture shows how it has small cracks, but it is not breaking in half or cracking all the way through.

Ground meat or meat chunks should be dried until it is hard and crispy. Just to let you know how hard... backpackers call it gravel.

Now that I have all this yummy jerky, how do I store it?

Check out this page on Storing Dehydrated Foods. It should answer all your storage questions.

Or ... my can just eat it.

What can I do with dried meat?

Your dried meats can be added to any recipe as fresh once it is rehydrated.  I will even just throw a handful into sauces that I may want to add a little protein to. I package dehydrated meat up with my meals in a jar and I have 1pound equivalents in the freezer for quick batch of tacos or late night sloppy Joes.

What would you do with the convenience of having cooked meats in your cupboard?

Just have fun making jerky and dried meats. Experiment with seasonings, flavors and different meats.  Try new recipes containing your dried meat or make up your own. Dried meat can be substituted for fresh in any recipe, once it has been rehydrated. What a great addition to your emergency food storage.

To help you get started...Check out our pictorial on making ground meat jerky.

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