The Amish are great people to learn from. You can turn to the Amish if you wish to learn how to live off the land.
The Amish are not survivalists or off-grid enthusiasts. Their survival know-how results from living the way their ancestors did. They avoid technology and as such have perfected living without electricity or refrigerators.
One thing that you also need to know about the Amish, is that the elderly Amish are known for having all their teeth pulled and replaced with false teeth.
Plus, keep in mind that dentistry is a recent phenomenon. Anyone living two hundred years ago in relative isolation would rarely have seen a dentist, if ever.
Why do I mention this? It’s really hard to eat jerky or any other kind of dried beef without a full mouth of teeth, or like the elderly Amish, with false teeth.
So how do you get dried meat into a state that people who have difficulty chewing, can eat? The Amish solved this problem by making a gravy with it. Other solutions include pulverizing it with a wooden mallet or grating it into powder. The gravy option is interesting and very tasty.
This article will look at two aspects of dried beef gravy. How to dry beef, and how to make a gravy from it. This will ensure that no matter the state of your teeth, you will still be able to preserve protein by drying it, and then have a way of consuming it.
Dried Beef Principles
Drying beef, sometimes also called curing, is easy. Removing moisture is the key to preserving meat because bacteria and fungus need a moisture-rich environment to propagate.
You also want to ensure bacteria and fungus don’t spoil your food while it’s drying. You can just hang meat to dry, and it could work, but it’s risky, as the meat could spoil.
To prevent spoilage while drying, it’s essential to treat your cuts beforehand with salt and vinegar. Most people will say you only need salt. I am not most people. Salt works well for bacteria, and vinegar for mold and fungal growths.
The technique I am about to describe works well for drying tit-bits, and long cuts of meat up to an inch or two thick. You will need meat, a cutting board, a knife, salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, and a container.
1. Cut the meat into thin strips.
2. Spice the meat and gently work all the spices through.
You will need around 20 grams of salt per pound of meat. The thicker the cut, the more salt you can add. I also add black pepper for taste.
You are welcome to add some chili, some Cajun pepper or even coriander to enhance the taste once it’s dried. I also added a small amount of brown sugar, it’s the way my grandparents did it, and it adds some taste.
3. Place the spiced meat into the vinegar.
I prefer brown vinegar, but you can use other types of vinegar depending on your taste preference. What I do is mix the dry spice into the meat cuts, and then add it to a container with vinegar.
You want the vinegar to slightly cover the top of the meat. The way I do this is to add some vinegar to a bowl, and then lay my strips into the vinegar. I then add a small amount of vinegar every time the meat strips rise above the vinegar.
4. Turn the container from time to time to assure all surfaces are marinated.
Using a tight-fitting container or bowl for this will be your best option for not wasting too much vinegar. Once in the vinegar, I will move the pieces around every hour or so, using my hands or a large mixing spoon.
Depending on the thickness of the cuts, you want to leave them in there for around 4 to 24 hours. 4 hours for titbits, 24 hours for two-inch cuts.
Drying the Meat
You can then hang the meat up or lay them on a grid to dry. Depending on the temperature, humidity and thickness of the cuts, this could take anything from 2 days to three weeks.
Do not attempt this if the humidity is too high, as the moisture content of the meat equalizes to the moisture content of the surrounding air.
If the humidity is too high your meat won’t dry. Unless you expose it to dry air flow using commercial dryers or the dryer that you made with a server fan and a lightbulb.
1. Place the meat on a grid or hang it out to dry.
I use a screen grid made from pine wood and 20% shade net.
2. Lay the meat on the grid and cover.
This is what the dried beef will look like over time.
Once the meat strips are fully dried, you can store them however you want. I pack them into pillowcases and hang them in my pantry. The pillowcases protect from bugs and rodents while allowing airflow.
They will eventually dry completely. If you want to retain a bit of moisture, you can store them in airtight containers or vacuum pack them. The Amish are known for also canning dried meat.
Related: What Is the Best Canned Meat?
If you see mold growing on the meat, you can brush it with vinegar and hang it out to dry again. This rarely happens, but now you know how to deal with that.
The dried beef has a long shelf life. Here it really depends on how well it is stored. If you keep it away from moisture and protected from light, it should last months if not years.
The fat on the meat will eventually dehydrate completely, and become almost like a powdery substance. The meat itself will turn brown, then yellowish, and eventually pale. By this time, thicker pieces will be as hard as wood.
You can continue eating, as the meat and fat don’t spoil or become dangerous to consume. The issue is that the lipids in the fat degrade, and the amino acids in the meat also decay.
The problem with eating it after a few years is that it will have much less nutrition, so protein and energy are compromised. But it will not do your health in or cause food poisoning or other digestive issues.
The salt and minerals should stay more or less the same as with the fresh product.
Amish / Mennonite Dried Beef Gravy
Dried beef can be eaten on its own. You can also grate it finely, and serve it on a slice of bread with some butter.
The Amish dried beef gravy is the “uber” way of consuming dried beef and making it soft for eating. You can serve the gravy on rice or over potatoes. Grate some cheese over it to add something special.
- ¼ lb. dried beef
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups milk
- Black pepper, to taste
- Melt butter in a skillet
- Tear the dried beef into small pieces and stir into the melted butter
- Cook meat until slightly browned
- Stir in the flour
- When the flour is dissolved, add milk, stirring constantly
- Cook over low heat until the mixture thickens
- The longer it cooks, the softer the beef will become.
There you have it, folks. Dried beef – done. Different ways of eating dried beef – done!
Though some Amish have adopted recent technologies, most still retain knowledge long forgotten by most modern folk. The Amish are food preservation experts.