I had written about attending my first trade show as Grocery Gal about two months ago. It was exciting to see new products, drool over stuff I always wanted to have and meet some product vendors. I have a sometimes strong opinion about stores I shop at; why not build off of that to include products I would use to cook with? I enjoy cooking as much as exploring stores or finding the best deal, so I decided to branch out and find out about doing product reviews. One of the vendors I bee-lined over to was Nesco, a Wisconsin-based company who specializes in food dehydrators.
So why this interest in food dehydrators? I heard of coworkers making their own beef jerky with their food dehydrators and was intrigued. Food dehydrators seemed so 1980’s to me; I’d go in the early 80’s with my mom and sister for some dried fruit (and hopefully yogurt raisins, too!) at a bulk health-food store off of Northwest Highway called “The Home Economist.” My younger sister would call The Home Ecco-mom-mo-mist. Seriously, that’s the only way I remember the name of it after 30 years. It seemed like food dehydrators had a bad wrap and I needed to find out more about them; they seemed like an easy way to make some healthy snacks. I found out during the demo that there was a built-in timer to run it while I was asleep or at work… bonus! I loved that I wouldn’t be tied to monitoring the dehydrator while it worked. During the demo, they spent a lot of time suggesting making jerky with ground beef; it seemed like some jerky blasphemy to me. I knew I’d have to put that to the test!
A few weeks after the show, Nesco was kind enough to send me a food dehydrator to test. While they had beautiful images of dried fruits, herbs and veggies in their literature, I was most interested in making jerky. I had 2 lbs of grass fed round steak which I intended to marinate three different ways and do a little jerky dry-off: the “Original” Nesco flavor packet, some Jamaican Jerk paste I had at home, and my own take on a jerky marinade.
Grocery Gal’s Jerky Marinade – adapted from Food Network’s Alton Brown
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon New Mexico red pepper flakes
I loved the traditional jerky experience. The next step was to see what the hell the ground beef version was like. I used Nesco’s Garlic and Cracked Pepper packet instead of my wet marinade, because I thought it was best to keep the meat as dry as possible. I added an extra tablespoons each of fresh cracked black pepper and garlic powder, because you can never have enough of either of those! I loaded my jerky gun – which, yes, looks like a caulk gun, and started squeezing our some jerky strips.
Nesco offers different attachments with the jerky gun, similar to a cookie spritz machine. The entire process is extremely quick, so if you don’t have time or desire to marinate or slice the meat, this might be right up your alley. I made both sizes; in hindsight, I’d only use the thin version in the future.
These took about 3-4 hours to dry. Since there’s more fat in ground beef, it required more blotting along the way. When done, the consistency was kinda like a strip of a Slim Jim. It was definitely better than anticipated, but I prefer jerky from the round steak. When I brought this into work, a coworker asked if it could be done with ground turkey. Why not? I went home that night and did a ground turkey batch which I liked much better; it was soft, very fresh and had almost a smoked sausage consistency. I’d like to try this with ground bison one day, too.
So what about those non-meat eaters out there? A dehydrator is still for you, too! I definitely have Butternut Squash Chips on my to-dehydrate list. I did dehydrate some zucchini, kale, banana and kiwi last night.
While the kale was interesting, my stepson loved the bananas and kiwi. The few times I’ve dehydrated now, it’s more for short-term use and not long term. If I wanted stuff to last more than a day or two, I’d probably dehydrate it longer. I like how the bananas still had a fresh, slightly chewy texture to them instead of a hard crunch like store-bought banana chips.
The Nesco FP-77DT digital top food dehydrator can be bought directly from the manufacturer, or online at various retailers. I really loved making jerky with it. It’s a easy way to make a high protein, low fat snack that isn’t processed like traditional beef jerky is. While the jerky gun wasn’t my favorite, if you want to experiment with ground turkey or bison, it seems like a great, quick option, especially when you’re pressed (get it?) for time.