If you’ve ever hunted or hiked in the backcountry with no camp cook, you understand the struggle of enjoying a good meal - WITHOUT breaking the bank (or your stomach) on the pre-packaged freeze-dried versions. My friends Pat and Amber Casey spend two weeks every year in the Montana backcountry chasing elk. They're also religious about growing, harvesting and preparing their own food. I reached out to Amber for some healthy ideas for middle-of-nowhere meal prep. Here is what she shared.
First let me say I have a sensitive stomach and the freeze-dried meals I’ve tried DO NOT agree with me. We’ll leave it at that. Not to mention they’re packed with ingredients I can’t even pronounce, VERY high in sodium and far from a bargain. At around $10/dinner that costs us (two people) around $280 for a 14-day hunt. I had to find a way to cut costs somewhere.
After my first elk hunt in 2016, I decided to explore other options on cheap, healthy and packable meals for the backcountry. If you google it, you’ll find a ton - and I mean a ton - of recipes for dehydrated meals and directions for dehydrating meat, veggies and other various foods (you can even do tomatoes for a tomato sauce...who knew??). I figured out as long as you have a few different ingredients dehydrated, you can mix and match a lot of them and add some spices to suit your wants and needs. I recommend testing them out first; I’ve had a few trial and error dishes…
Below I’ll share the recipe for my favorite meal I’ve prepared so far - venison stroganoff. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of recipes I found online, but I like it. The only way I “cheat” with this recipe is using the McCormick Stroganoff mix. I did find recipes for the stroganoff mix from scratch, but I plain didn’t have the patience or ambition after already spending hours dehydrating the burger and mushrooms.
I could go down a rabbit hole explaining what kind of dehydrator you should use, how to dehydrate each and every ingredient, the nutrition facts, etc, but that’s all on the internet. I’m here to give you an intro to DIY dehydrated meals with ingredients you can pronounce and to emphasize how much money you save. This meal costs around $1.00 to make - if that. It is time consuming, but totally worth it.
In addition to the recipe, I’ve included directions on dehydrating the burger. That seems to be our go-to protein for meals and it can be used in a lot of dishes (we also have a taco recipe that’s really simple - burger, minute rice, dehydrated black beans and taco seasonings. That’s literally all it is. And it’s delicious).
Dehydrated Venison Burger
Venison burger should be used over beef burger due to the lower fat content. Beef burger could probably be used, but make sure it’s lean. The less grease, the better. We tried jerky in the dehydrator with beef burger instead of venison burger...it worked. Kind of. It took a LONG time and was still pretty greasy, so it didn’t keep as long.
For every 1 lb. of burger, add ½ cup of breadcrumbs (this will help with the rehydrating so it doesn’t feel like you’re chewing on gravel). Mix together well.
Cook burger thoroughly.
After it’s cooked, spread out on a plate/cookie sheet/paper towel. Blot/squeeze burger pieces with paper towel until you get as much grease out as you can (this will make the dehydrating process quicker)
Break up into VERY small pieces (this will also help with the dehydrating and rehydrating).
Place parchment paper on dehydrator trays and evenly spread out the burger.
Dehydrate at 145 degrees for 6 hours. Check periodically and rotate trays, if need be, and break up the larger chunks.
Store in a sealed bag until ready to use.
I can fit 3-4 lbs. of burger on a 10-tray dehydrator. If I’m doing that much burger at once, I’ll still mix/cook it in 1 lb. batches to make sure it’s mixed and cooked evenly. Also, I make this about 1 month out from our trip, so if you want to keep it for a longer period of time, I suggest vacuum sealing and freezing. I did do that in the past with the extra burger and used it the following year with no issues.
➢ ½ cup dehydrated burger
➢ ⅓ cup Couscous (or any other pasta that rehydrates/cooks easy)
➢ ¼ cup dehydrated mushrooms
➢ ⅓ packet (approximately) McCormick Beef Stroganoff mix
➢ ½ - 1 Tbs. dried minced onion (found in the spice aisle)
➢ 1-2 Tbs. dry milk
➢ Dash of pepper
Combine all ingredients, vacuum seal and leave enough room to add water. When ready to eat, add 1 ½ cups of boiling water to the bag and let sit for approximately 10 minutes (eating it right out of the bag makes for easy clean up). I’ve also frozen any extra meals and used them the following year.
The dehydrating process is time consuming but completely worth it - providing healthier meals to enjoy in the backcountry, a few extra dollars in your pocket and a happy stomach.