Dehydrated vs. Freeze-dried Chicken: How to Make the Best Chicken and Not Jerky
For years, when I set out to make dehydrated meat, I ended up with jerky. It was far removed from its fresh cooked taste, so I settled for making jerky out of my meats whenever I pulled out the dehydrator. I was thrilled when I started freeze-drying it because the texture was perfect; the rehydrated chicken was indistinguishable from its freshly cooked counterpart when rehydrated. Plus, I was able to get a 10-15 year shelf life from freeze-dried chicken versus just a couple of weeks for dehydrated chicken that hasn’t also been jerked. Shelf-life aside, the biggest problem for me was getting that fresh, non-jerky taste from my dehydrated chicken. After years of trial and error and several pounds of jerky and dog and cat treats, I finally developed a recipe for chicken in the dehydrator that was as good as the freeze-dried chicken.
Here we will compare both freeze-dried chicken that has been stored for over 6-months and the best non-jerky dehydrated chicken. If you are a backpacker, overnight camper, off-roader, or outdoorsman of any kind, you will want this dehydrated chicken recipe. Of course, it won’t have the shelf-life of its freeze-dried counterpart, but it will rehydrate easily and retains its fresh chicken taste.
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DEHYDRATING PERFECT CHICKEN
To get the best results when rehydrating, I use pressure canned chicken. The pressure canning process has a looser protein structure and will rehydrate better. I also find it more flavorful and less apt to become jerky. If you insist on cooking the chicken yourself, look to steam cook it or pressure cook it to remove much of the fat and retain flavors. When it is falling off the bone, it’s ready to be chunked out, further separated from the fats, and can immediately be dehydrated.
The canned chicken process is simple. First, drain as much of the liquid from the can as possible. I then give the chicken a quick hot rinse to wash away any fats which may have congealed on the surface. Getting the fat off prevents it from going rancid, allows you to get the meat drier, and will increase your shelf life. I then put the chicken on the dehydrator tray. You will want to break apart any larger chunks, so all pieces are no bigger than a 1/2 inch. This will ensure even and faster dehydration.
If you have a dehydrator that allows you to dial in the temperature, you will want it set between 145 and 150 degrees. At this temperature, it will take about 8-hours to dehydrate completely. If you are going for a longer shelf-life, turn the temperature down by ten or so degrees after the initial 8-hours and give it a little longer.
If you can’t set your electric dehydrator temperature, it’s likely going to be above this temperature, so you will want to open the air valves and test the temperature to try and get it in this range. Higher temperatures will cook the meat further and give you a jerky-like flavor. Lower temperatures will take too long to dry and may result in drying the outer layer, which prevents the moisture inside from escaping.
To take a look at the freeze-dryer I use visit:
To see dehydrators like the ones I used in this video visit:
I rinse but then freeze the chicken for the freeze-drier and then place it in the sub-zero freeze dryer. Because freeze-driers are so much more efficient, removing up to 99% of the moisture versus around 70% for a dehydrator, they are much more efficient. You end up with a better product with better nutrition and better rehydration. Freeze-dryers are expensive, though, so if you go the dehydrator route and want to use rotisserie chicken, don’t skip rinsing the fat off and cube the chicken into smaller pieces or shred it. You will get better results. For my freeze-dryer run, I also freeze-dried rotisserie chicken and some seasoned and cooked taco meat.
Freeze-drying is a set it and forget it process, though you can, with experience, tamper with the settings to maximize your results. The sensors in the Harvest Right freeze-dryer will tell you when the process is done. Essentially, freeze-drying takes frozen food and gently warms it in a vacuum environment. This causes the moisture not to seep out but to gas off. Ice forms on the walls of the freeze-dryer drum, away from your food. The rapid freezing process and the warming in a vacuum result in 99% of the water being removed, and the chicken retains almost all the food’s nutrients. Dehydration renders food to about 60% of its original nutrient levels. It also is gentler on the proteins and cell walls of the food, which allows it to take up water in the rehydration process better and doesn’t result in the cooked food like what sometimes comes out of a dehydrator. It takes about 30-hours for the meat to completely freeze dry.
STORING & USING IT
If you are looking for storage for over a year, freeze-drying is your safest bet. If you plan to use it within 6-months or so, dehydration is fine. Whichever method you choose, vacuum sealing it with oxygen absorbers in a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber or with a jar vacuum sealer will maximize your shelf life. In this form, you can pack it with cooked then dehydrated rice and freeze-dried or dehydrated vegetables. This can then be parsed out into individual meal packets for a quick meal on the go. You only need to add some boiling water and seal to allow the rehydration process for this quick meal. If your water temperature brings the food to above 165 degrees, you will also be killing foodborne pathogens that may have found a home in your stored food, despite your best efforts to stop them. You can also dump the dried chicken or meal into a boiling pot of water and rehydrate it that way.
I often cook my rice in broth to add flavor to my meals. By refrigerating the broth, the fat layer can be removed easily after it has firmed. Fat in your dehydrated chicken will reduce shelf life, so it is best to remove it where you can. Here I use the refrigerated water from the canned chunk chicken. Because it is high in sodium from the preservation process, I dilute it with an equal amount of water when I cook the rice. I cook my rice until it is done and easily is light and fluffy when gently stirred with a fork. Dehydrating or freeze-drying the rice will easily remove moisture, and it will easily retake up moisture in the rehydration process. You could substitute other cooked grains like amaranth or quinoa or just vegetables or lentils. The choice is yours. Once cooked, they will all dehydrate well when spread on parchment paper or a screen. I prefer rice with this, though. The rehydration process will take at least 10-15 minutes and will vary by your water temperature and how sealed your food is. You will know by the tenderness of the food when it is appropriately rehydrated.
You can add dehydrated herbs and dry spices to your food as you pack it away. You should avoid adding too much salt, as the removal of water will intensify the saltiness of the food, and your rehydration won’t efficiently redistribute the salts into the food. This can leave the outside saltier than the inside of the food. If you use the dehydration or freeze-drying method I outline here and couple it with the freeze-dried vegetables and rice, you won’t need added salt. It will be delicious. I will put the recipe I use at cityprepping.com/chicken.
Here I rehydrated some freeze-dried rotisserie chicken and made a quick chicken enchilada. Having freeze-dried or dehydrated meat and vegetables in the kitchen saves you hours of prep time and allows you to throw together meals quickly. Having freeze-dried or dehydrated food on hand is also a considerable saving. I freeze-dried this chicken well before this recent avian flu and the inflation and price increases. I’m saving probably $2 per pound because I freeze-dried it when the prices were significantly lower.
IT TASTES LIKE CHICKEN & WON’T KILL YOU
To be clear, chicken can carry many foodborne pathogens with it. Before modern refrigeration, most of the meat people consumed was either fresh, which wasn’t likely in an urban environment, slightly rancid, so it was cooked for an extended period with lots of spices, or treated in some way to reduce foodborne pathogens. So meat was often packed in salt, smoked, pickled, jerked, preserved in fat, or some combination of those methods.
Bacteria, yeasts, and molds need water to multiply. When the meat is dehydrated or treated in one or more preservation methods, it becomes less susceptible to contamination that can spoil it or make it dangerous to eat. Dehydration alone heats meat only to around 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t thoroughly cook meat or kill bacteria. With beef, that’s less of a problem. When I make jerky, I pre-treat the meat with salts and acids that add a preservation layer, which is then enhanced by dehydration. Still, though I see it done, I wouldn’t do the same with uncooked poultry.
Chicken is more dangerous to eat raw. Compared with other meats, chicken contains more harmful bacteria like Salmonella. It also has a more porous structure, allowing pathogens to penetrate deep into the meat. This porous structure also allows it to rehydrate more easily than other meats. The best way to treat chicken is to cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and hold it at that temperature to kill off harmful bacteria. Two methods do this effectively without drying out the meat. You can sous vide it, which is bagging it and submerging it in water, and raising it to a constant temperature for several hours. This cooking style keeps it from overcooking by not allowing it to surpass the specified temperature and keeps it moist by not allowing the moisture to evaporate in the cooking process.
The second method, and by far the easiest, is to buy it pre-canned. Canned chicken is pressure cooked in its can. It is first vacuum-sealed in its can. Then the can is placed in a steam pressure cooker. The pathogens are cooked out as the meat is cooked in its juices. Factory processed and canned meat has a five-year shelf life depending on the type of meat, the additives, and the canning method. If you have a pressure cooker at home, you can pressure cook your chicken for better results, but you risk contaminating the meat when you transfer it to a cool temperature. Many people pressure can meat at home with a water bath pressure canner, and this is still a common practice in many countries. The vacuum seal in this method is created while the contents of the jar are still very hot. This kills any pathogens and protects the meat from new exposure to the ambient air as it cools.
The pressure-cooked chicken provides maximum flavors and kills almost all of the possible pathogens. That’s why we use it here, and that’s why it is less likely to retain any foodborne pathogens. Cooking under pressure provides the tenderizing effect of a slow cooker in a fraction of the time. The protein fibers on chicken that is cooked in this way remain looser than on chicken that is cooked in an oven. Because of this, they take up moisture in the rehydration process better than their baked or broiled counterparts.
Green Chicken Enchilada Recipe: https://laspalmassauces.com/recipe/green-chicken-enchiladas/ (This is closest to what I do, when I make mine. Honestly, I have been making this for so many years that I never write it down. If you use corn tortillas, cheese, a can of sauce, and chicken, you’re fine. You can add in beans, cilantro, peppers, corn, or just about anything else you can think of and make it your own. Enjoy!)
To take a look at the freeze-dryer I use visit:
To see dehydrators like the ones I used in this video visit: