A great comfort meal
Whether dehydrating meals for backpacking, camping, or prepping, spaghetti with meat sauce is a great light-weight, quick, and easy meal to have available. It is a great comfort meal. It takes quite a bit of prep time, but it will be well worth it when you're sitting around the campfire out on the trail, camping, or in an emergency situation. Dehydrated spaghetti with meat sauce can also be stored in your long term food storage pantry/area to have on hand in any emergency situation. If prepared and stored properly it will have a shelf life of 10 plus years.
Preparing the spaghetti with meat sauce meal only takes three main ingredients. The meat, the sauce, and the pasta. However, all three main ingredients will need to be dehydrated separately. I have seen some videos where they cook all three ingredients as you normally would for spaghetti and then dehydrate the cooked spaghetti and meat sauce. Those meals were going to be used in a rather short term and would have a shelf life of approximately 1-2 months. The reason you should't cook them all together for long term storage is because if the meat is not prepared properly it can become rancid after a couple of months, thereby causing food poisoning if eaten. When all the ingredients are cooked together the meat does not dehydrate properly, as it needs to be dehydrated at a higher temperature than the other ingredients. Since I plan on storing mine for long term, I dehydrated the ingredients separately to ensure that the meat was prepared properly.
I want to apologize right off the bat for the lack of pictures. I'm still getting used to the idea of taking pictures as I learn to dehydrate food. I was just so excited to be dehydrating that I simply didn't think of taking pictures. I'll try and do better in the future, and I will take pictures of putting the meals together and share them with you.
The first thing I did was make "hamburger rocks" or "gravel" as it's called (either name) in the backpacking world. When dehydrating hamburger meat you will need to use extra lean ground beef with the lowest fat content you can find. Why? Because fat does not dehydrate well, and will become rancid rather quickly. If hamburger rocks are made with meat containing a higher fat content, it will only have a shelf life of one or two months.
You can dehydrate as much as you want. Well, as much as you can fit in your pan that is. Going by my normal recipe for spaghetti, I would use one pound of ground beef. However, I went ahead and cooked two pounds because I can use the other pound for something else; or put together more spaghetti and meat sauce meals another day. I figured why not do as much as I can at one time? After all, making more doesn't take any longer to dehydrate, but could save me some time from having to dehydrate more in the future.
How to dehydrate ground beef:
Make sure you're using extra-lean ground beef.
Cook plain ground beef (with no added fat or seasonings) until completely cooked, but not over cooked and crunchy. You can always add seasonings later.
Place the cooked beef in a colander and rinse all fat off with very hot or boiling water. Use your hands to move the cooked beef around to help get all the grease that you can out of the meat.
Place the rinsed meat back into the pan (which you will need to clean first so as not to have any grease added back into the meat) and cook until dry, stirring frequently to remove any remaining moisture.
Place the cooked, rinsed, and re-cooked ground beef on dehydrator trays. It is easiest to use the fruit leather sheets or parchment paper to avoid the small particles falling through the dehydrator screens. You will need to break it up into small pieces as you place it on the trays so that it will dry easier and quicker. Note: I used one fruit leather sheet (because that's all I have for mine at present) and parchment paper for the other trays. The trays with the parchment paper dried faster than the one with the fruit leather sheet.
Set the dehydrator temperature to 160 degrees and dry until completely dried, inside and out. They will resemble small pebbles and you should be able to crush them using your fingers. This may take 8-12 hours, depending on your dehydrator and the humidity in your home. Mine took about 10 hours.
Let the hamburger rocks cool.
After cooling, place the hamburger rocks in a zip lock bag, close it up and let set out for several hours. Check often to make sure there is no moisture in the bag. If there is moisture, you will need to put back in dehydrator for an hour or two to make sure all of the moisture is out of the food.
How to store the hamburger rocks:
Place hamburger rocks into sterilized and dried canning jars to 2 inches below the rim.
Place oxygen absorbers into the filled jars and place sterilized and dried canning jar lids and tighten, or vacuum seal the jars with jar lid attachment. Write the date on the jar or lid.
Store jars in a dark, cool, dry place, away from heat, extreme cold, moisture or light.
Or you can vacuum seal the hamburger rocks in food grade vacuum sealer bags. You can also store them in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. I put mine in vacuum sealed bags until I was ready to put my meals together. As always, store in a cool, dry place, away from heat, extreme cold, moisture or light.
Spaghetti sauce leather
The next thing I did was make some spaghetti sauce leather. You can make your own spaghetti sauce for the leather, but make sure you don't have meat or fat (such as cheeses) in it, or anything chunky. It needs to be as smooth as possible. If you must have the chunky kind (again, without any cheeses) then you can put the sauce in a blender to make it smooth before adding it to the dehydrator trays. I used a 24 oz. jar of plain old spaghetti sauce because there are some family members that won't eat anything else. I personally prefer mine with some small chunks of veggies and some spices in it.
How to dehydrate spaghetti sauce leather:
You will need to use fruit leather sheets or parchment paper with the spaghetti sauce. I again used one fruit leather sheet and one parchment tray.
Stir the spaghetti sauce and then spread the sauce out thinly on the trays. If you have the sauce too thick it will take much longer to dehydrate. I mean, we could be talking about days here if you get it too thick. But then, you don't want it too thin either. If you can see through the sauce to the sheets below, it is too thin. My 24 oz. jar took up only two trays.
Set the dehydrator temperature to 135 degrees and dry for 6-8 hours. You will want to flip the sauce leather over after about five hours. At that point you should be able to just peel the leather off and flip it over on the trays. If you don't flip it, it should dry just fine, it will just take a little longer to dry. Mine actually took about 9 hours, but I didn't flip it. I somehow missed that step in the video instructions.
The finished product will be leathery and dry to the touch, not sticky, and will look similar to a fruit roll up.
Once it has dried, let it cool. Peel the sauce leather off the trays and tear it into smaller pieces.
After cooling, place the sauce leather pieces into a zip lock bag, close it up and let set out for several hours. Check often to make sure there is no moisture in the bag. If there is moisture, you will need to put the sauce leather in that bag back in dehydrator for an hour or so to make sure all of the moisture is out of the food.
After ensuring there is no moisture in the sauce leather, if you are not going to use it right away, you can put the leather into a glass canning jar and put the lid on tightly to keep it until you are ready to prepare it for your meals. I put mine in the jar but left them in the zip lock bags because they are proportioned out for the individual meals. The sauce leather can be prepared for long term storage in the same manner as the hamburger rocks, or you can put it together into individual meals as I am going to do.
There are two different ways in which you can prepare spaghetti pasta for dehydrated meals. You can cook it and dehydrate it or you can simply put it in the meals uncooked. I chose to cook and dehydrate it because it will take less time to re-hydrate it than it would to cook it. Less time equals fuel saved.
From what I had read, angel hair pasta works better for dehydrating and backpack meals then regular spaghetti, so that's what I used.
How to dehydrate spaghetti pasta:
Cook the pasta according to the package directions until it is al dente. Note: when placing the pasta into the pan, break it up into smaller pieces (it will be easier to eat once it is re-hydrated). I used my Instant Pot to cook the pasta as it is quicker and less messy.
Once it has finished cooking, drain and rinse the pasta with cold water.
Place the pasta on the dehydrator trays and spread it out so that it's not too bulky; spreading it as thin as you can get it. I used the fruit leather sheet and parchment sheets to put the pasta on the trays.
Dehydrate at 135 degrees 6-8 hours. The pasta should be dry and crisp and will break easily. Mine took 7 hours to dehydrate.
After cooling, place the pasta in zip lock bags, close it up and let set out for several hours. Check often to make sure there is no moisture in the bag. If there is moisture, you will need to put back in dehydrator for about an hour to make sure all of the moisture is out of the food.
After ensuring there is no moisture in the pasta, if you are not going to use it right away, you can put the pasta into glass canning jars and put the lid on tightly to keep it until you are ready to prepare it for your meals. It can be prepared for long term storage in the same manner as the Hamburger Rocks, or you can put it together for individual meals as I intend to do.
For right now, I'm really concentrating on learning more about and dehydrating foods for our long term food storage and am sharing my journey and experience with those who are interested. I will also try to keep up on other blog articles written up for those who are not interested in learning about dehydrating, because I know not all of you are.