Feeling chatty today 🙂 been thinking about food storage alot lately, most especially after my latest trip to the grocery store. Found chicken breast on sale for half-price for the holiday weekend earlier this week so I bought every bit I could with the money I could spend. This was a good thing, but I wound up with over 20 pounds of the stuff and with no more room in either freezer but I had a brilliant idea (yeah, you know the kind, the kind that gets you in so deep that you can only go forward). Dehydrate it! Now, mind you, the dehydrator I have isn’t a fancy one (no temperature control or timer) and I haven’t used it in years…let alone ever used it to dehydrate chicken, but what the heck, I have been reading all over the place about dehydrating meat (and doing it myself is surely cheaper than buying it canned or freeze dried!) and thought perhaps I could do it myself..oh boy…dehydrating 20 lbs of chicken turned into a 4 day odessey of cooking, pressing, cooling, chopping and then watching the bits and pieces of chicken shrink up into tiny pieces over the course of a few hours. My family was looking at me like I was growing heads or had spots all over my face asking such questions like: What are you doing with all that chicken? (I could just hear the groans inside their heads as they saw visions of eatting chicken for the rest of their life) What’s in the pot? Um mom, why are you pressing that chicken in between towels? Then the final questions: are you done yet? what are you going to do with THAT? (referring  to the shriveled up, corn kernal looking things that now sit in 3 quart sized mason jars). Anyway, I digress from my purpose of telling you about dehydrating chicken…it actually turned out to be super easy to do (next on my list is eggs, maybe this weekend, after doing strawberries).

I first embolden myself and reaquainted myself with the process of dehydrating by dehydrating quite a bit of zucchini that my next door neighbor gave me and then tried rehydrating a few pieces just see that it would do so (never mind theory okay? I have to sometimes see it to believe it, just me). And first thing is this…I noticed this SMELL coming from the dehydrator…you know, that smell you smell when you turn on the hair dryer or space heater that you haven’t used in a LONG LONG TIME? yeah, that smell…and then I realized that I would have to play switch the trays around to keep it all drying at about the same rate, and then noticed that the food was sticking to the tray, and I forgot to make sure I had clean mason jars before it got done…you get the idea…but it worked out…growing pains I suppose you could say…next, I did some research trying to find WRITTEN instructions on how to dehydrate chicken online to no avail…sigh…YouTube had some videos on it, but they were long and boring…just TELL ME and let me get on with it okay? but I hung in there, thinking that maybe, just maybe there was some sort of ‘secret’ to dehydrating chicken that I just needed to know…nope…just the basics…keep it clean, cook it well, dry it well and then store it well…and try not to eat it at the sametime you are working with it (have to test the product don’t you?).

Below are the written steps to dehydrating chicken breasts that I was searching for (and if my internet search querry is correct…so are a million others)…I use chicken breasts, not bone-in chicken and that is what the directions are for…I suppose you could use bone-in chicken if you feel like taking the meat off the bones after cooking, but I haven’t done it that way myself…adapt if you must.

and one note: if you don’t want to get sick make sure you wash your hands well everytime before and after handling the chicken…don’t handle the chicken and then touch a spoon or pot or jar or anything like that…safe food handling practices are a must!

You will need:

Chicken, pot, water, seasoning, mason jar(s), oxygen absorbers, dehydrator, knife, towels, baggie, refrigerator.

1. Remove all the fat (if there is any) and skin from the chicken. Fats do not dehydrate nor store long-term very well.

2.Cook your chicken and cook it well…your choice on how you do this, but the idea is that you cook it well until its DONE…err on the side of caution and over cook it if you must. Personally I prefer to just boil it, that way I can add seasoning of my choice while its cooking and it gets in there really well…bonus to this way of cooking it is that you get a really nice broth that can be frozen for future use as a soup base or for replacing water in a receipe if you want more flavor.

3. Let the chicken and broth cool off completely.

4. Get towels (I use bath towels that have been re-purposed for kitchen use) and lay them out on the counter or table top double thickness at least.

5. Put the cooked chicken on the towels. Place another towel over the chicken and then press the HECK out of the chicken. Object being when doing this is to get excess juice out. Shorter drying time.

6. Personally I prefer at this point to stick the chicken into a zip lock baggie and refrigerate over night…makes it easier to cut it up into small pieces…warm chicken is hard to cut up easily.

7. The following day get your dehydrator out. Now, first time I dehydrated I didn’t have the mesh screens to go over the tray. Second time around I did. It will work either way, it is just a bit messier if you don’t have the screens for the trays. Make sure the dehydrator is clean and ready to use.

8. Cut the chicken up into small pieces. I tried a bit of experimenting at this point with different trays, big pieces, small pieces, tiny pieces…the tiny pieces got so small they fell through the cracks, small pieces and big pieces did okay, but use your judgement as to how big of pieces you chop it up into. This will depend upon your drier size since the racks (at least on mine) sit one on top of the other I found the best size for me were pieces about 1 inch long or so no thicker than 1/4 inch. Just chop it!

9. Spread the chopped up chicken around the tray evenly in one layer. Do this for each rack. I found I was able to get about 9 pounds or so onto 5 trays (that is my drier, its one of those round ones with plastic trays that stack up). But I had extra chicken that I just put back into the refrigerator to do later on.

10) Stack it up and turn it on! Now, with my dehydrator I have no temperture control so for me its just turning it on and watching it. If you have a dehydrator with temp control, it is my understanding that you want the temp set at at least 120 degrees for meat, but somehow I don’t think mine got that hot.

11) Walk away and let it go. For me, I had to switch trays around (bottom tray going to the top) every couple of hours to keep things dehydrating somewhat evenly. It took about 10 hours to completely dehydrate the chicken. You want it CRUNCHY and ‘brown’ looking with no softness to it whatsoever. That is moisture and that is NOT good when storing long-term.

*At this point, make sure you have your mason jar (or another glass jar) clean and ready. Also, make sure you have one 200-300 cc oxygen absorber ready for when you need it.*

13) When it is ‘done’ turn off the dehydrator and let the chicken cool off again. Heat will cause condensation which you don’t want in the jar.

14) Once completely cool, you can now fill up the mason jar…fill the jar until you have about 1 inch from the top. Now place one 200-300 cc O2 absorber on top and tightly screw the lid/top on.  Set the jar aside and check to make sure that it has made a seal about an hour later…you check this by pushing on the top…as long as it doesn’t move you are good to go, if it does move, your O2 absorber was probably bad and you need a new one. Repeat.

All done! Now you have your dehydrated chicken that will store for several years and can be used in soups, stir frys and such.

Wasn’t that simple?

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