Making Dehydrated Bacon For The Trail:
In my ongoing quest to continue to find methods of having low-weight/high-calorie food for the trail I recently decided to try dehydrating bacon – which is really not as easy as it sounds and really is as tedious as others have written about it being. I thought I would share my own little adventure giving this a try.
My local store had a buy-one-get-one-free special so I bought two packets of bacon, each one pound. I got home and started cooking them up. Temptation got the best of me and I ate one piece. The rest spend about 20 minutes drying out on paper towels to help rid them of as much grease as possible, and to give my dehydrator time to build up some heat.
After cooking them all and trying to get as much grease off of them as possible I put the two pounds of bacon into the dehydrator, which took up three trays.
I set the timer on my Excalibur dehydrator at 16 hours. Every two or three hours I would pull out a tray and grab some paper towels and try to dry them off as much as possible. This is the “tedious” part of dehydrating bacon. I went to bed after about 12 hours into the cycle and when I woke up the next morning, I took out a tray and they were coated with yet another layer of grease, so I dried them all off again and threw them back into the dehydrator for another 12 hours, again drying them off every few hours.
When the timer finally went off and the dehydrator shut off I let them sit for another hour or two. I just got a chance to pull them out and a few of the pieces had another coating of grease, but for the most part the bacon had finally dried out. Twenty eight (28) hours is the longest I have ever had anything in my dehydrator. I suspect the pieces with a bit of grease on them would probably need another 6-8 hours, and at this point I just decided to call it good and see what happens.
Once fully cooked and dehydrated I placed each tray of bacon into a separate bag.
The individual bags hit the scale at:
This gives me a total of 195.32 grams from two pounds of bacon – minus the one piece that tempted me.
This works out to 6.88 ounce / 0.43 pounds of bacon, including the bags.
Factor out the weight of the three bags (each 1.81 grams / 0.063 oz) and I end up with 189.89 grams (6.698 oz) of pure bacon.
Each pound of bacon is 660 calories and 48 grams of protein. I have no idea how many of those calories/protein have been lost during the process of cooking and dehydration.
The two pounds combined together results in somewhere around 1320 calories, and 96 grams of protein, for a total weight of 195.32 grams / 6.88 ounce / 0.43 pounds.
I suspect that each of the three packets would last me at least a section of a long distance trail, so per section I am looking at ~440 calories and 32 grams of protein, for ~65.12 grams (2.29 oz) of weight.
I would say the biggest challenge to dehydrating bacon is the process of having to continue to remove the grease every few hours.
Ok, really the biggest challenge is of course not eating all the bacon along the way ;)
My plan at this point is to leave these three initial batches in their bags and just see how long they last. I will keep one in a dark drawer that rarely gets opened. The other I will place in a window of my house that gets the most amount of sun. The third I am going to put into a second bag and then into a 5 gallon bucket, to simulate it being stored in a typical hikers box that would be shipped out to a trail town or that I would cache in the backwoods while I am developing a trail.
10 month follow-up: I kept two bags set aside to keep an eye on. Each bag was a normal ziplock sandwich bag, they were both full and were left unopened. As of this time, none of the bacon has gone rancid.
The next time that bacon goes on sale I will buy a couple more packs and cook them extra long so they are nice and crunchy. I will then put them into a food processor and grind them up into a consistency similar to masa cornbread. I am thinking that this will allow the bacon to be able to dehydrate much better, and give me a broader applicational use for them out on the trail.
So what are my plans to use the bacon for?
Oh come on… its bacon!!
It appears that this article has become rather popular and not just for those who are hikers. Folks at Pinterest have helped make this article I wrote rather popular – thanks!
Here are a few follow-up thoughts:
I should not have used “thick” bacon. This would have resolved a LOT of the issues I had.
I have had some of the bacon in ziplock bags for over 8 months and it is still looking the same as it was when it went into the bag – no mold.
I have had a lot of people suggest cooking the bacon in an oven and it resolves some of the issues I had – agreed. Just pull the bacon out of the package and slap it onto a cookie sheet and put it into your oven to cook, it will come out much better and while it will take longer, it is less work and you can do a lot more bacon at once than you can in a pan. You can easily cook up 10 pounds of bacon inside of an oven, vs maybe two or three pounds at a time in a huge pan like what I use to use.
I have gotten folks asking about bacon powder. My advice is to use a very good burr grinder and not some cheapo blade grinder. If you have an espresso burr grinder and are willing to have coffee that tastes likes bacon for a few cups (and how could that be bad??) after using it, you can make some very fine bacon powder that you can use in trail smoothies, throw into Idahoan Mashed Potatoes, or even turn an awesome vegetarian meal into a bacon-flavored non-vegetarian meal.
The dehydrator that I used/own is the Excalibur 3926TB.