how to dehydrate meat

How to Dehydrate Meat

You need answers to several questions about how to dehydrate meat before you can begin with successful dehydration.

Dehydration of meat is simply removing water from the meat. Some moisture always stays there, but dried meat is dry enough to slow down deterioration considerably.

Table of Contents

Dried Meat Benefits

  • Dried meat makes a perfect snack during those critical hours between meals, when snack is needed.
  • You can make any taste you want!
  • Proteins and other nutrients source before workout session.
  • Way more cheaper than buying in supermarket.

How Does a Dehydrator Work?

read more here…

Any of the intentions mentioned above are perfect stimulus for you to begin with meat dehydration. Dried meat can even be a perfect snack for your dog.

Dehydration is one of the oldest food preservation methods. Long time ago hunting prey that could not be consumed immediately was preserved and made durable by removing water.

Usually the meat was first stripped of fat and cut into thin slices, then marinated and then hung up to dry for a few days or several weeks.

Luckily now we have more efficient ways how to dehydrate meat.

Dried Meat Snacks

There is no need to say, that dried meet is just a perfect snack and that’s it! I have proven this fact many times, when some random sweets or potatoes chips stay on the shelf just because I have solid stack of beef jerky.

By the way, dried meat is not necessarily beef jerky only. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find out what other meats can be dehydrated.

Tastes Like Dried Meat?

Here you can free your imagination. Whatever spices you can think of and like, goes well with dehydrated meat. You have endless possibilities to finally come up with your favorite beef jerky recipe.

Finally, it makes a big difference whether it is a purchased beef jerky product or a self-made product.

The well-known products from the supermarket all contain a fairly high amount of added sugar and other undesirable ingredients, such as flavors or flavor enhancers.

Proteins and Nutrients

Dried meat is particularly suitable as a small protein meal before or after a workout for athletes. It is also a beloved food of hiking enthusiasts and backpackers.

Not only does it keep you full for a long time, it also contains many nutrients but only a few calories due to the gentle drying process.

What makes dried meat such a good snack is its extremely high protein content, which can sometimes be over 50%.

Another advantage of dried meat is that the meat is usually not cooked or fried before drying. This means that most of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals are retained.

So instead of grabbing a bag of potato chips or some random sweets, you can enjoy your own beef jerky as a healthy alternative!

Cost Effective

Sure, you can buy beef jerky in almost every supermarket, but the price will usually make you raise your eyebrows. We can’t say it’s not worth it. The thing is, you can build your own stack of dried meat in much more cost efficient way.

Learn how to dry meat and enjoy all the benefits we discussed here.

How To Dehydrate Meat? Steps.

Q: How to prepare meat for dehydration?

Rinse the meat you want to dry under the running water and tap it with paper towel first. Second step is to cut slices of meat suitable for dehydration. For this purpose it is advisable to put the meat chunk into freezer for about half an hour. It will be much easier to slice such meat after you take it out.

Fat is not suitable for dehydration. So, you should take a knife and remove as much fat as possible.

Prepare marinade. Marinade is better than seasoning because it will spread evenly in all pieces. Of course, you can add some pepper, salt or other seasoning on top just before dehydration. This is your product and you decide the taste!

Q: How should I cut meat for dehydration?

The most important thing is to slice meat evenly. You can make slices 0.2 inch (about 0.5 cm) thick, or you can make them a bit thicker. What is important is that all slices would be the same. Width of slices shouldn’t be more than 1.2 inch (about 3 cm). You want to dehydrate that meat well.

What can go wrong by dehydrating non-evenly cut slices? Some slices will be already done, while others not. You might not notice that, especially if you dehydrate larger quantity of meat.

The last thing you can do with your knife is to cut meat by the grain. It is not super important step though. However, it will be much easier to bite and chew if you do so.

Q: How long can you marinate jerky meat?

We recommend 24 hours. This way the taste and aroma of marinade will evenly spread through all the meat, making it more delicious. If you are in a hurry and can’t wait for 24 hours, 12 hours should be the least amount of time.

12 hours time frame is convenient in a way that you can put meat into marinade in the evening and leave it in refrigerator all night. Just don’t leave it on the kitchen counter top! It must stay cool.

Q: How long does it take to dehydrate meat?

We always say there is no exact answer to how long should one or other product stay in a dehydrator. The same goes with meat. The only thing that matters is to dehydrate meat really well.

Raw numbers for your convenience would be something between 5 and 8 hours, depending on thickness of slices, load of dehydrator and even surrounding room temperature.

Q: How do you know when jerky is done?

You know that jerky is done by checking several things:

First, how it looks. No moisture should be visible on the surface. Next, take several slices randomly and bend them in half. Do you see any moisture squeezing out? If you do, put that meat back into dehydrator. Come back and check again later.

Second, how it smells. When it comes to kitchen, smell is perhaps the most important sense we can use. Does it smell tasty, or does it remind you more of a raw meat? Surely, there are lots of recipes with raw meat, but this time you want to prepare dehydrated jerky meat.

Also, don’t dehydrate your jerky too long. It will become hard and cracky and this is not the way you want it.

Q: How do you rehydrate dried meat?

You can think of several ways how to re-hydrate dried meat. Water, probably, shouldn’t be your first choice. You can get better taste if you soak it in vegetable soup or broth.

Red wine could also be an interesting option. Just not for family meal, of course.

Q: Can you dehydrate jerky twice?

Answer to this one depends on how long was this meat dehydrated before. If it was 100% done and after several days of non-proper storage (read about that next) it feels like it should get rid of excessive moisture, put it back into dehydrator.

However, if your case is something more like after couple of hours of dehydration you experienced power outage and it last several hours, you probably should not continue with dehydration.

Or maybe it is winter and you can take the whole batch outside just to keep it cool until you can continue with dehydration? It depends of many factors.

Storing Beef Jerky

There are plenty of ways how you can store jerky after dehydration, however, only a couple of them will help you to preserve dried products for a longer time.

We have a quite long article here dedicated specifically on the question how to store dehydrated food. Be sure to check it as well!

The best way to store dehydrated meat is to seal it in airtight mason jars and keep them in a dark and dry place. Moisture and excessive amount of light can result in faster deterioration of dehydrated products. Check your storage from time to time. If you see moisture, like tiny water droplets or fog inside the jar, inspect the quality of dehydrated food and dry it again if still possible.

Q: Should you refrigerate or freeze homemade jerky?

It is possible, yet not necessary. If you dehydrate meat well, it won’t be spoiled quite a long time if you store it properly. What refrigeration gives you is even longer storage time. 

However, if you choose to freeze dehydrated meat, some taste and overall quality might be lost. 

Q: Do I need to cure meat before dehydrating?

No, you don’t. Dehydration as a food preservation method is sufficient to store dehydrated meat long enough without using any additional means. 

However, we can only repeat one more time – proper storage is the key aspect to keep your reserves in good shape.

Q: Why is my beef jerky greasy?

Well, dehydrated meat becomes greasy because of the fat. Please learn more about what foods should not be dehydrated, however, fat meat is in that list. Be very careful and picky when preparing meat for dehydration. 

Choose lean meat, remove any visible fat if possible. Otherwise, the result won’t be as good as possible or any good at all.

Q: How long will dehydrated ground beef last?

Few months at least under good storage conditions. What are good storage conditions? Put dried meat into mason jars or use vacuum packaging. Store it in a dry, dark place at room temperature.

This way you will be able to save refrigerator or freezer space for other products, because dehydration is a sufficient food preservation method for long time shelf storage.

Does Dehydrating Meat Kill Bacteria?

No, it doesn’t. If it would, we could keep our dehydrated products forever. Unfortunately this is not the case. The positive thing, however, is that if you know how to dehydrate meat, you can significantly reduce the amount of bacteria and suppress growth even of those which remain. 

Q: How do you kill bacteria in beef jerky?

There are several very important, yet very basic, steps to take and rules to follow while preparing for meat dehydration. 

Keep it clean. Although this is a common sense principle in any food preparation, this can’t be more important while preparing meat for dehydration. Make your working space, your tools and hands clean before working with meat.

Wash meat thoroughly before slicing it. 

Make it quick. Don’t leave meat laying on the table before you do all the preparation work. Take it from the refrigerator and begin processing immediately. The longer you keep meat at the room temperature, the bigger chances bacteria will get, to begin it’s dirty work.

Q: What drying temperature should you use?

Look for a food dehydrator capable of maintaining up to 160 – 165°F (71 – 74°C). 

If you do not make beef jerky, but simply dry the meat for later consumption, you can immerse it in hot brine long enough to heat the meat to required temperature before drying.

In the case of beef jerky, such an option would not be appropriate as the product would lose the taste of the marinade.

When the temperature in the food dryer reaches required heat, most (but not all) of the dangerous bacteria are killed. Of course, you need to dry meat long enough, that the temperature not only outside but also inside the product would reach the aforementioned 160 – 165°F (71 – 74°C) degrees.

For extra safety, you can preheat already dried meat, poultry or fish product in the oven heated to about 260°F (125°C) degrees for 10 minutes before consumption.

What Meats Can Be Dehydrated?

Next, let’s discuss other types of meat that can be easily dried at home in a food dehydrator.

Poultry drying

As with drying beef or pork, the temperature during drying should reach 165°F (74°C) for at least 10 minutes. This condition must be met because many bacteria, including salmonella, are successfully killed at this temperature.

Dried poultry meat must have as little fat as possible, otherwise it cannot be dried well, and such a product can quickly lose its taste or even spoil when stored.

As a result, the most suitable part of poultry for drying is the breast. Not only is it low in fat, but it is also the largest or longest piece of meat that can be cut without bones and muscle into the long stripes typical for jerky.

Like other meat, poultry should be dried for 6 – 8 hours, depending on the thickness of the pieces. Dried poultry meat must be firm but flexible, and no traces of moisture must be visible on the surface or inside.

Drying of pork

Pork is a fatty meat, so only pork neck or loin is advisable for drying. Here fat makes up only 2 to 4 percent of the weight, so these parts of pork are suitable for drying.

An interesting idea is to dry a variety of pork snacks, such as sausages or low-fat cooked ham.

Pork, like other types of meat, is cut into pieces of about 0.2 inches thick, but due to the higher fat content, it should be dried in a dryer for between 7 and 10 hours. Dried pork must be firm but flexible, with no signs of moisture.