Beef Jerky and Hardtack The Nearly Perfect Survival Meal

Hardtack and Beef Jerky

Foods that do not require any preparation, are lightweight, and are shelf stable make ideal foods for a survival pack, or to have on hand for emergencies at home, at the office, or even when stranded in your vehicle. The best part is that you can make beef jerky and hardtack at home, and by no means do you need extensive cooking or food preparation skills.

You have enough to worry about when you find yourself in a survival situation, so make sure you have the bases covered when it comes to survival foods.

We will describe how to make beef jerky and hardtack even though previous articles have described the methods in detail. This article however, is more about the concept of having foods in your packs that are shelf stable, lightweight, can be made at home and are not expensive in comparison to foods you would buy at your local retailer. Foods that can be made and packaged by you at home that can be eaten essentially on the run without any preparations.

Beef Jerky

Beef brisket is ideal for jerky, but essentially any meat other than pork can be used, but why use the more expensive cuts. Brisket of course, has plenty of fat but that can be trimmed off and saved for rendering for soaps or to make tallow candles.

Prepping on a budget means nothing goes to waste, and you do need some skills to prep with limited financial resources. Save the trimmed fat by freezing for later use.

Trim the fat first, and some recommended you cut against the grain so the jerky is easier to chew, but this also means that when dried the jerky can break apart more easily if handled roughly in a pack, for example, so it is up to you.

Cut the meat strips 4 or 5 inches long by 1/4 inch wide, and the thinner the better. Thicker cuts will take longer to dry of course. Trim any additional fat from the strips. Fat will not dry out or reduce under low heat, and fat will turn rancid quickly. Drying will not prevent this from happening.

Use your oven or a dehydrator. If you do not have a dehydrator, then there is no need to run out and buy one, just use your oven. Line the very bottom with foil or at least the bottom rack to make clean up easier. Do not however, place the strips on foil. The strips must have air flow around the entire strip, so place directly on the oven rack. The lowest setting on most electric ovens is 170° F, which is fine, but if yours goes lower, then set at between 140 and 150° F.

Pull the rack out and lay over your sink to make it easier to place the strips on the rack without overlaying any pieces.

Yes You Can Season the Meat First

Vinegar based marinades are ideal and vinegar along with salt will help in the curing/drying process. Vinegar, salt, water, brown sugar, and peppercorns can be a marinade or you can use a dry rub, or use your favorite BBQ sauce by diluting somewhat with water or vinegar. Marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Once in the oven prop the door open to let the moisture escape. Use something that is impervious to heat in which to prop the door open.

Cooking times can vary depending on how thick the meat is and how much is in the oven. Test by bending slightly. If there is too much give, then continue to dehydrate. If the strips feel like they may tear or break when bent, then the meat is probably ready. In most cases, the strips will need to dehydrate between four and six hours at 140-150° F.

Once done let cool on the rack and then place the pieces separated somewhere where they can continue to dehydrate for 24 hours or more in open air. If dried properly the meat will be shelf stable for months.


Hardtack is a true survival food that is shelf stable for years if not decades. It is simply flour and water mixed into slightly elastic dough. Salt can be added, as well as, honey or sugar, but keep in mind the reason it is shelf stable for years is because it is only flour and water with some salt tossed in if available. Anything you add along with the flour and water may very well reduce its shelf life.

Roll out roughly 1/2 inch thick and then cut into 3×3 inch squares. You want each biscuit or cracker if you will the same size for even baking. Once in squares use a nail or any pointed object to poke holes in the dough. This helps to ensure even backing and prevents the dough from “puffing” up and cracking or crumbling. Place the squares on an ungreased cooking sheet. Oils or sprays will cause burning and can prevent even baking.

Preheat the oven to 350° F and bake on one side for 30- 45 minutes, then turn over the squares and bake another 30-45 minutes. You can repeat the baking times to ensure the moisture is completely gone. In the past, bakers would repeat the baking sequence up to four times to ensure the cracker would last for years on the shelf. It will be extremely hard to chew once completely dried.

Now you have shelf stable survival foods that can be carried or stored virtually anywhere as long as it is a dry area.

You can place a few strips of jerky in hot water and let steep to make a protein broth. Dip the hardtack in the broth to soften for eating or soak the cracker in the broth to make it thicker.

Water is obviously important, and when consuming high protein foods like jerky you need more water for proper digestion. You can carry small packets of powdered milk to mix with water and then crumble hardtack in the beverage to soften and eat to break up the monotony of just flour and water crackers. Powdered whole milk will also add needed vitamins and minerals to your survival diet.