Dehydrating Basics

by Shelley

Today we’re going to talk dehydrating food.

Before we had kids we didn’t really feel the need to dehydrate food for our trips, but as our family grew, the weight and volume of food we had to carry quickly skyrocketed.  Since we aren’t independently wealthy, expensive freeze-dried meals weren’t really an option.  So when our good friend Mike Monaghan offered to let us try out his Excalibur dehydrator, we jumped at the chance.  I used it for about a week and then promptly purchased my own.

BackpackingChef.com is my go-to source for dehydrating information.  It has all the information you need to learn how to dehydrate food, estimated drying times, and lots of recipes.  I highly recommend it.  You could also check out this article and this one. 

I also like A Fork in The Trail by Laurie Ann March.

 

Dehydrating food can be as difficult or as easy as you make it.  I prefer to make it easy.   So if you’re hesitant to give it a start, here’s my foolproof method for foods like pasta sauce, salsa, apple sauce, yogurt, etc.

Foolproof Dehydrating

  1. Open the jar or can.
  2. Pour 1-2 cups of sauce on a dehydrator sheet lined with a tray insert.  Write the contents and volume on a sticky note.
  3. Place trays in the dehydrator and put sticky note on top of dehydrator.
  4. Turn on the dehydrator.  Most have a little knob with temperature/food settings.
  5. Turn knob to the appropriate setting.
  6. Several hours later check sauce to see if it is dry and of fruit roll-up consistency, if it’s not done yet, check back later.
  7. Forget food in dehydrator and go to bed.
  8. Wake up next morning to find food nice and dry.
  9. Turn off dehydrator.
  10. Remove food from trays (one tray at a time).  Tear up into little pieces, put in a Ziploc bag.
  11. Put sticky note with contents and volume in Ziploc bag.
  12. Seal Ziploc bag and label it.

Different food have different rehydrating times (see linked articles above), but in general for pasta sauce, pizza sauce and salsa I add hot water, stir, and then put them in a pot cozy or one of these bowls for about 15 minutes.  Applesauce will rehydrate in a matter of minutes if you add boiling water and stir.  Hummus will rehydrate quickly just by adding cold water and stirring it. 

The important thing when rehydrating is to know what your original volume was (hence the sticky note).  Only add enough water to bring things back to the original volume.  For example, if you dehydrated 2 cups of pasta sauce, put your dehydrated sauce in a bowl and then add enough water to bring the entire contents to 2 cups.  Don’t add 2 cups of water by mistake or you will have very runny sauce.

Ground Beef

Ground beef is another food that is really easy to dry.  All you have to do is cook up your meat (go with the leanest kind you can get), breaking it into really little pieces as you go.  Once it’s done, drain off all the grease, put it in a strainer, and then rinse it by pouring boiling water over it.  This will wash away any leftover fat.  You want to remove the fat so that it doesn't go rancid.  Give it a good shake to get all the water off and then measure it (remember the sticky note) and spread it out on trays.  Set your dehydrator to the proper heat setting and let it run until the beef is completely dried out and looks like little bits of gravel.  I find it usually takes about 5-8 hours depending on how much I’ve broken up the meat.  Again, I often put it on in the evening, go to bed, and it’s done when I wake up in the morning.  Once it’s done, put it in a Ziploc bag with the sticky note and seal it up.  To rehydrate add boiling water and let it sit for about 20-30 minutes.  If you want to speed the process up you can boil it on your stove. 

Our Dehydrator

We have had the Excalibur 3900

 

This model is a little bit pricier than some others, but after reading reviews and knowing that it was going to get some pretty heavy use, we decided it was probably worth the money.  We have had it for 7 or 8 years now and it is still going strong.  One of the reasons I really like it is because it has 9 trays (they also make smaller models).  I also prefer the square trays to other models that are round.  I find the square trays make it really easy to distribute the food and the food dries quite evenly.  Based on Mike’s recommendation, I sprung for the Paraflexx tray inserts and haven’t regretted it.  They make it so much easier to dehydrate sauces.

If you're not sure if dehydrating food is for you, or if you are a smaller family or a couple, then don't  feel like you have to spring for the more expensive model.  You can get one like this on sale for under $40.  It won't have all the bells and whistles and you'll have to use parchment paper for tray liners, but it will get the job done.

If you like hummus, you can head on over to our recipe page where I have added our favourite recipe.