Introduction: Make Your Own Dehydrated Meals, Bonus Chili Recipe!

If you've ever been backcountry camping or hiking, you'l know that you are limited on what foods you can enjoy. If you want a decent meal, you have to pack in coolers of food, cooking equipment, utensils, etc. If you want to pack light, you're limited to basically MREs (military rations), or Mountain House style dehydrated food. Both options are lacking in taste and end up wreaking havoc on your insides if you eat them for too long, plus they're expensive. There is also trail mix or dried fruit and beef jerky; but those flavors can get really old really fast. I love camping and getting deep into nature, but I also love to eat a good meal once I'm out there and enjoying the experience as much as I can.

In this Instructable, I'll show you how to dehydrate your favorite meals from your own kitchen. You can then keep them preserved until you go camping and rehydrate them to their former glory, with no sacrifice on taste. No more choking down nasty processed beef stroganoff or scrambled eggs from a store-bought pouch while you watch a beautiful mountain sunset or sunrise. Make your favorite breakfasts, dinners, and desserts (or use my favorite buffalo chili recipe in this Instructable), and enjoy them anywhere in the world. Dehydrate your own food for healthy, cheap, convenient, and delicious adventures!

Watch the video here:

Step 1: What Is Dehydrating?

Dehydrating basically means allowing all of the water in a substance to evaporate. You accomplish this by putting the food in a warm (130-150F) environment with good airflow for about 6-12 hours, depending on how heavy and watery your food is. You won't be cooking the food in the dehydrator, but rather removing all water from the food.

Prior to dehydrating, you want to make sure you kill any bacteria in the food so that it doesn't spoil while you are preserving it. You'll want a food that has a fine texture with no "chunks" of food, like chili or mashed potatoes, as opposed to beef stew or meatballs. This allows for thorough dehydration through every part of the food. A chunk of beef in a stew wouldn't dehydrate in the middle, and thus wouldn't keep very long. You also want to remove as much fat as possible, or use meat that is as lean as possible prior to preserving. This is why I like to use buffalo. If you can find it, it's one of the leanest meats available and dehydrates perfectly. Once you're done removing water from your food, you want to preserve it in an environment with as little air as possible. Vacuum sealing comes in handy here. But if you can't do that, a freezer bag with all the air squeezed out works fine.

Properly cooked, dehydrated, and preserved meals can last up to 6 months in the refrigerator and even longer in a freezer.

Step 2: Let's Make Some Chili

For this Instructable, I will be showing you how to dehydrate chili. Chili works great for dehydrating because it is made up of small bits of food that dehydrate quickly. It also contains a lot of water, so it will shrink drastically in size and weight. I'll be using my own Buffalo Chili recipe that is absolutely delicious and packed with protein and carbs and has very minimal fat. It's perfect for taking on a hunting or camping trip.

I'll start with the chili recipe and move on to the dehydrating and rehydrating instructions. Feel free to skip ahead to the next step if you want to use your own recipe.

For this recipe you will need the following:

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white onion (chopped)
2-3 garlic cloves (chopped)
1/4 cup jalapeño pepper (chopped)
1/4 cup sweet pepper (copped)
1/4 cup green bell pepper (chopped)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 pound minced buffalo
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp dried basil
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes and chilies
1 can black beans (rinsed)
1 Tbsp Sriracha

Chefs knife
Cutting board
Mixing spoon
Measuring cups/spoons
Large skillet/pan
Can opener


  1. Start with olive oil in your pan and heat it up on medium heat so that it flows freely. Then, add your onions and garlic and stir them in and let them sweat until soft.
  2. Add your chopped peppers and let them get slightly soft. Then, add the chili powder and cumin and stir until the seasoning is spread evenly.
  3. Turn heat up to high. Break up the buffalo mince into the pan so that it browns evenly. Add salt, pepper, and basil to the mix and stir. Break apart any chunks and stir until the meat is fine and browned and the seasonings are evenly spread.
  4. Taste at this point. Depending on how spicy things are, add brown sugar to desired sweet/spicy flavor. I add about a tablespoon.
  5. Turn the heat back down to medium. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Then stir in the can of diced tomatoes and chilies (water included) and rinsed black beans. Taste again. If you want more chili flavor and heat, add some Sriracha sauce. I usually add about a tablespoon
  6. Turn the heat down to low and let the chili simmer for about 20 minutes to combine flavors. Stir every few minutes and leave the pan uncovered to evaporate and thicken up a little. Give it a final taste and add anything you feel is missing (salt, chili powder, brown sugar, etc.)
  7. Turn your heat off and let it rest about 5 minutes. This will let the chili get thicker and develop the flavors further.

Step 3: Chili Complete! Let's Dehydrate It!

Your chili (or whatever recipe you made if you skipped ahead to this point) is done!

Prepare your dehydrator. If you own a food dehydrator, great. But you can also use your oven, or even make your own dehydrator (there's an Instructable for that!). Set up your dehydration racks with a surface for your food to sit on, like parchment paper or fruit rolls that may have come with your dehydrator. DO NOT use aluminum foil, it will hold the heat and char the food.

Next, you'll want to weigh your food to get a "wet" weight. Place a container on a scale and zero out the scale. Then put your food in the container and read the weight. This will give you the weight of just the chili, not the container. Write this weight down for later. It helps to keep the weight in one unit, such as ounces or grams. When you use pounds AND ounces, you get into some confusion when you subtract the dry weight.

Step 4: Place Food on Lined Dehydrator Racks and Turn on the Heat

Spread your food into thin clumps on the racks. Leave some open spaces to let air convect through. Turn the heat up to 130-150F. Now walk away and go plan your camping trip.

Halfway through, about 6 hours in, check on your food and turn everything over, just to expose the underside to air flow and help everything dehydrate evenly. Wait another 6 hours....
After about 12 hours, your food should be completely devoid of water. Turn the dehydrator off and let your food cool completely.

Now, weigh the food again. Zero out the scale with the container on it to get the "dry" weight of the food. Write down this weight too.

Now do a little math. Wet Weight - Dry Weight = Total Water Lost. The total water lost will be the weight of water that you add back to the food for rehydration.

Step 5: Package and Store (And Math!)

Put all of your dehydrated food into a sealable container, preferably a vacuum sealed package. The less air in the container, the longer and better your food will keep. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, do your best to remove all the air from a Ziploc style freezer bag. Write the Total Water Lost weight on the package so you know how much water to use for rehydration.

You can split the food up into portions and separate packages if you'd like, just be sure to weigh each portion of food and be prepared to do a little math to get the rehydration done right. Here's an equation you can use to figure out the right amount of water to add back to your portion:

Water Lost (portion) = Portion Weight (wet) X Water Lost (total) / Total Weight (wet).

Example: I have 2 pounds (32 Oz) of "wet" chili, and after dehydrating it to a weight of 10 Oz, I wanted to split it up into portions so that 4 people can each have half a pound (8 Oz) of chili.

  1. Total Water Lost will be 22 Oz. (32-10=22)
  2. Your "Wet" Weight is 32 Oz
  3. The "Wet" weight of your portion is 8 Oz
  4. You would have to add 5.5 Oz of water to each portion (8*22/32=5.5)

Store your sealed and labeled dehydrated food in the freezer for 6 months to a year, depending on how well the package is sealed.

Step 6: Rehydrate and Enjoy!

When you're on your trip and ready to eat, or just want to eat like an astronaut for a change, take your food out of the freezer and take note of the Total Water Lost weight you wrote on the package.

Next, measure out this weight in water to use for rehydration.

You'll be happy to know that water weighs one ounce per fluid ounce, and one gram per milliliter. And that most graduated water bottles have both fluid ounce and milliliter volume measurements. That means that you can simply measure out the weight of water in a water bottle. You can also use a scale if you're at home.

Put this water into a small pot and heat it up on your camp stove or regular stove if you're home. You want the water to be almost boiling. If it boils, you'll start to lose water to evaporation and your food wont rehydrate fully. Once you're almost boiling, take the water off the heat and pour it onto your food. Mix in the hot water and let the food reach its original consistency, which will take about 5-10 minutes depending on how much food there is. Now it's ready to eat! Enjoy eating your own home-cooked food out in the wilderness or places you never thought you could enjoy a meal.

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