This post is going to be a bit different than most of the others I’ve done, but no less informative! Part of the main premise of this blog is to help the everyday person to travel cheaper and this is going to be invaluable information for someone interested in getting out and experiencing nature or even someone who travels for work often.
I’ve found since starting my backpacking hobby that a dehydrator is one of the best investments a traveler could make. It provides a really easy method for preparing healthy snacks that will keep at room temperature for an extended period of time. Otherwise, you’ll simply be eating Twinkies and bags of unhealthy processed potato chips or other things that are quick at a convenience store or easily accessible.
The thing with dehydrator recipes is that they’re not only healthier but cheaper too. You may be investing $100 or so on the machine initially but after that, you’ll save hundreds of dollars on food—especially if you backpack somewhat often. Walk into any REI or Dunham’s and look at the prices for those ready-to-eat Mountain House meals—they’re upwards of $9 each!
There are countless ideas on Pinterest that feature recipes for meals that you can simply add boiling water to and have a home cooked meal in minutes. Backpacking, when you first start, is expensive enough to begin with—buying all the gear and such—who needs those sort of prices just to eat a crappy meal out of a plastic bag?
With a dehydrator, you can dehydrate vegetables, meats, herbs, and even flowers if you want! Drop into any grocery store and get a few ingredients, and the preparation for most of the meals is extremely minimal. At that point, you just set it and forget it. To dehydrate most fruits, vegetables, and meats, the dehydrating process takes between 6 and 20 hours during which you can feel free to go about your workday, checking on it every few hours for progress—then you’re done!
The dehydrator I bought is called the Nesco Snackmaster Pro and it has worked famously so far. There are a bunch of trays, so you can dehydrate a lot of food at once, and it comes with a lot of useful items such as fruit roll sheets, mesh trays, jerky cure and seasoning, and a recipe book that got me through my first three ventures with the dehydrator. You won’t even need to go searching online for instructions for anything because they’re all included with the initial purchase and the jerky seasoning that it comes with is actually GREAT!
So below are six dehydrator snacks I’ve tried so far and a few tips and tricks for making sure they come out great the first time.
SO unbelievably easy. You’ll need one of the rubber-like fruit roll sheets that come with many dehydrators for this (my oh so sweet bloodhound “puppy” has since chewed mine up, but you get the picture). You simply put the fruit you’d like to use in a food processor, throw in some sugar if it’s a sour or bitter fruit, and pour it on the tray.
I used strawberries, but can’t wait to try some rolls with raspberries or apples, which I’ve heard are great for fruit rolls. Citrus fruits are difficult to make fruit rolls from because of how much liquid/juice is in them, so be sure to make a combination roll if you’re using pineapple or orange or something similar—mix it with apple or pear, which is thicker and makes for a more substantial roll.
For fruit rolls, you’ll want to set the dehydrator to 130-140 degrees. I’ve found that many online articles or recipes will give you a suggested length of time to leave the fruit but the best thing to do is to simply check it every so often and finish dehydrating when it’s to your desired solidity—you’re not married to the amount of hours in the recipe.
Also, be aware that it takes quite a bit of fruit to make a substantial amount of fruit leather. My two containers of strawberries didn’t go very far—they only made one fruit roll.
After much research, I decided to use ground beef for my first beef jerky trial. I know, right? Who would have thought? You can use almost any kind of meat for jerky (even fish!), but ground beef is very malleable and also less expensive than buying steaks and tastes just as good if you cure it and prepare it correctly.
You just want to be sure to buy meat that is at least 90% lean. You definitely don’t want meat that has a lot of fat in it, as fat is what gets rancid if you leave it at room temperature.
Another really useful tip is that once you get the beef, freeze it for a few days and then partially thaw it before preparing it for the dehydrator. Three pounds of fresh meat makes approximately one pound of jerky perfect for getting quick and easy protein on an overnight hike.
Once the meat is partially thawed, get a sharp knife and cut it into strips about a quarter of an inch thick and all close to the same length. You want to try to get all of the pieces as close to the same size as possible so that it takes them all the same amount of time to dehydrate fully.
After I had all of my strips, I mixed up the pre-made cure, seasoning, and water (or you can make your own with fresh ingredients) and put the mixture as well as the strips in a large Ziploc bag to marinate for about 6 hours in the refrigerator. Making homemade seasoning seems easy enough. You can find recipes online or in the recipe book that comes with dehydrator and I actually already had most of the ingredients that it entails, so if you’d rather go that route, it’s probably only take a few more minutes than using the pre-made stuff.
After the meat had been marinating, I took it very carefully out of the bag, trying to keep it somewhat in the original form, and put it on a cutting board to press it into strips firmly (as at this point it will be fully thawed), then into the dehydrator. You’ll want to dehydrate the meat at about 160 degrees, patting the fat that rises to the top periodically, for 4 to 15 hours, depending on the thickness of your strips. You’ll be able to tell when it’s done.
Jerky is safe to store in a sealed container or baggy for 3-4 weeks at room temperature and possibly longer in the refrigerator.
Of these three snacks, banana chips took the longest to prepare. That is possibly because of my inability to stop being a perfectionist and simply strew them across the dehydrator trays rather than meticulously placing them perfectly side-by-side.
Because bananas, once peeled, have a tendency to turn brown, you’ll want to first dip the slices in something acidic such as lemon juice or pineapple juice. Some people even put a dab of honey in the lemon or pineapple mixture for sweetness, but don’t put much at all, as you’ll want to avoid chips that stick to the trays or to your teeth.
And like the jerky, make sure they’re all about the same thickness so the drying time is similar for all of them. When you buy banana chips in the stores, be aware that those ones are normally fried in coconut oil, which gives them much of the crispiness. It’s a bit more difficult to achieve this crispiness in a dehydrator and the pristine look those store-bought ones have, but not impossible!
Dry at about 135 degrees (same temperature for most fruits) for 6-12 hours—possibly longer if you’re dipping them in liquid before drying them.
Like I said, a dehydrator is great for backpacking, traveling, and even just for snacks or foods to keep around the house. It’s cheap, healthy, and generally easy. My next project will be trying some of the instant Ziploc baggy recipes I found on Pinterest for my next hiking trip such as Thai peanut noodles or curried chicken rice! I’ll keep you posted on those…
I hope this helps to give you the push you needed to get a dehydrator and get “cooking”! Avid backpackers can save TONS of money just by making this one-time investment. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or great dehydrator recipes of your own you think I should try, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments!
Your Constant Travel Companion,
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS