Pemmican – The Ultimate Survival Food

Pemmican. The ultimate survival food. I’ve been researching ways of food preservation and the topic of pemmican would come up every time.

Pemmican is a meat product that has a heavy concentration of protein and fat. A staple in Native American cuisine, pemmican was generally made with Bison. This preserved meat came in especially useful during the winter months with North American colonist and Canadian hunters as food was scarce.

This way of meat preservation is slowly fading since the advent of refrigeration and I think it’s very important to keep this tradition alive. We are living in crazy times and sometimes going back and learning from our past will help us moving forward.

Pemmican is known for providing energy and protein in a very small serving. This calorie dense super survival food is light weight, has a long shelf life, and is very easy to make. Today we are going to be making pemmican a couple different ways and what I can tell you is that there isn’t one definitive recipe. We can all agree that lean mean and melted fat are 2 quintessential ingredients but the additives are left up to the creativity of the pemmican maker. With that being said the more ingredients you add to pemmican the lower the shelf life becomes. If you just stick to meat and fat you will have a survival food that could last for 25+ years.

Our first way of making pemmican is very low tech. This involves slicing our lean beef, pounding it till its paper thin, then drying the meat in the sun on a very hot day with low humidity. I placed my meat on drying racks stacked on top of each other. You can also dry your meat by a camp fire. Which ever way you choose to dry your meat you will want to make sure your meat is cracker dry once finished. It should easily break apart if you try to bend it.

Once our meat is dry we will use a mortar & pestle to turn it into a course meat powder. As soon as out meat has been turned into a powder we will be adding rendered beef suet to the meat. Suet is the fat around the kidneys of the cow and works best for pemmican because it stays hard at room temperature and will help to preserve your meat. Stay away from lard or any nut oils as they will tend to go rancid faster.

The second way we will be making pemmican is with the addition of fruit and salt using the modern appliances in our kitchen. This way produced a better texture and a better flavor in our pemmican but reduced the shelf life.

We will be slicing our lean beef 1/4 inch thin and 3/4 inch wide. Just like you would for beef jerky. Unlike beef jerky Pemmican is not seasoned prior to drying. We will be using our Smokin It smoker along with Bella’s Cold Smoke Generator to dry the meat and achieve a nice smoky flavor. Our cold smoker does a great job at smoking gently for long periods and this is exactly what I’m looking for. A little Pecan and Apple wood over a 10 hour period should resemble the flavor of Pemmican being dried over a gentle camp fire.

My starting temp will be around 200F for about an hour. I’ll then reduce the heat to 165F for about 12 hours or until the meat is cracker dry. I don’t want any moisture at all in this beef.

Once my meat has completely dried out I’ll be using my blender (Vitamix 750) to completely pulverize the meat and turn it into a powder. The traditional method of doing this was to use a mortar & pestle. After I have my meat powder I can set that to the side to prepare my fruit powder.

Using fruit in Pemmican is completely optional. It does give it a nice flavor but it also shortens the shelf life (by how much I don’t know). Today I’ll be dehydrating blueberries, apricots, bananas, and cranberries to add to my pemmican. You can add any fruit you want as long as it’s completely dried. The same principal that we used to make the beef powder is applied to the fruit as we do not want any moisture left in the fruit. Water is the enemy of food preservation. I am using an Excalibur Dehydrator to dry my fruit and once it’s finished I’ll finish the process by placing them in my blender for a few seconds till I have a lovely fruit powder.

The last and arguably the most important element to this recipe is the fat. Don’t use lard. It’s too soft and gives the pemmican an unsatisfying texture. You need a hard fat that has a high melting point and solidifies quickly at room temperature. Bison fat works great but isn’t readily available. Beef tallow is a great option as we can generally get it from our local butcher, the supermarket, or Amazon!!

If you can get already rendered tallow that is great. I couldn’t, so I had to render my own. No big deal as I ran the suet through my meat grinder, placed it in my crock pot, then strained it through some cheese cloth. VOILA!!

The last step is assembly. I took equal weight meat powder to fruit powder and added 1.5% kosher salt to it. Mixed well. Then I added the same weight in liquid tallow. I mixed it well, placed it in a mold, and refrigerated for a few hours. Once finished I took it out and cut it into squares. Pemmican complete!! Store in a vac bag in a cool dark place.

Enjoy the video where I take you through the entire process. If you have any questions let me know..

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4.72 from 7 votes

Traditional Pemmican

A Native American Survival food
Prep Time2 d
Servings: 8 bars

Ingredients

  • 454 g dried beef ground into a powder
  • 454 g Rendered suet (fat from around the kidneys)

Instructions

For Beef Powder

  • Generally you will lose 80% of your beef’s weight in water during the dehydration process. So if you want to end up with 1 pound (454g) of dried beef you’ll need to start off with 5 pounds (2270) of trimmed meat.
  • Use lean beef, venison, bison, moose, or elk for the beef powder. Be sure to remove any visible fat and silver skin. Slice against the grain and pound the meat till its paper thin
  • Place the meat on your drying rack and dry in the hot sun for 1 – 2 days. Be sure to bring your meat in at night to avoid any wild animals getting to it or having it get rehydrated due to the humid night.
  • Once dried completely and it easily crumbles in your hand pound the meat in a mortar & pestle till you make a course powder.

Assembly

  • Melt the rendered suet and add to the beef powder mix. If you want your Pemmican a little dryer start by adding 3/4 of the fat and slowly add more till you are satisfied with the texture.
  • Stir well till all the fat has been absorbed into the powder. Form into a mold and allow it to firm up.
  • Once firm cut into smaller portions and store in a vacuum sealed bag in a dark cool area.

Nutritional Value for 100g

  • 784 kcal, 57g Protein, 60g Fat, 31g saturated fat, 191mg Cholesterol, 145mg Sodium, 868mg Potassium, 49mg Calcium, 5mg Iron
Print Recipe
4.45 from 9 votes

How to Make Pemmican (with fruit)

The Ultimate survival food
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time15 hrs
Total Time16 hrs
Servings: 13 Servings

Ingredients

Instructions

For Beef Powder

  • Generally you will lose 80% of your beef's weight in water during the dehydration process. So if you want to end up with 1 pound (454g) of dried beef you'll need to start off with 5 pounds (2270) of trimmed meat.
  • Use a lean cut of beef for the beef powder. Be sure to remove any visible fat and silver skin. Slice 1/4 inch thick by 3/4 inch wide.
  • Dehydrate for 12-13 hours till the beef is completely dry and brittle. I like to smoke mine during that time for extra flavor.
  • Once dried completely, place the dried beef in your blender till it is completely turned into a powder. You might have to work in batches depending on your blender. Set to the side.

For Fruit Powder

  • Using a dehydrator, dry whatever fruit you plan on using. Blueberries, bananas, cranberries, papaya, mango, all work great. You can use a combination of fruits or just one. It doesn't matter.
  • Once the fruit is completely dried, place in the blender and pulse till it is a powder as well. You might have to work in batches depending on your blender.

Assembly

  • Mix the beef powder and the fruit powder in a bowl. Add the salt. Mix well.
  • Melt the tallow in a double boiler and add to the powder mix. If you want your Pemmican a little dryer start by adding 3/4 of the fat and slowly add more till you are satisfied with the texture.
  • Stir well till all the fat has been absorbed into the powders. Form into a mold and refrigerate for a few hours till it firms up.
  • Store in a vac sealed bag, in a dark cool area.

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16 thoughts on “Pemmican – The Ultimate Survival Food

  1. Avihu Rapuch
    Avihu Rapuch

    Hey, I’ve been wanting to make this for a while, as I work as a medic on trips, and having light food that can be carried anywhere would be great!
    How would I make this if I was using a regular electric oven (in Celsius) to dehydrate the meat and fruits?
    Thanks!
    (I have a meat grinder and blender)

    1. Eric
      Eric

      Basically you would cut your meat very thin and place it in your oven on the absolutely lowest temp till it completely dries out and turns cracker crispy. If you have a dehydrator that would be better but an oven at 80C for several hours will get you going in the right direction

  2. Joe
    Joe

    In your video you say to use tallow from hard fat. In the printable recipe you say to use suet from soft fat. Which is it? Is there a difference in longevity, texture, taste, heat resistance, etc.?

    1. Eric
      Eric

      Either one works but kidney fat (suet) is preferable

  3. Tom
    Tom

    5 stars
    Eric. Can I substitute the fruit for dried vegetables?

    1. Eric
      Eric

      yes, but the shelf life will suffer slightly

  4. Michelle
    Michelle

    Hi, you have said adding dried fruit or vegies shortens the shelf life of the pemmican. Regular pemmican can last up to 25 years so what would be your idea of a shortened life with the additives? Can you tell if it has gone bad?

    Thanks

    1. Eric
      Eric

      I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that question. I personally don’t know but I think that the addition of fruits would bring it down to 8-10 years but once again, it’s just a guess. Mine (the one from this video) has lasted for 3 years and it still tastes great!! I think you would know if it were to go bad if it were to start smelling rancid

  5. J-P
    J-P

    5 stars
    Thanks you so much for this. Been meaning to try making Pemmican for a while so with the help of your recipe I’m going to give it a go.

    There’s one thing I find puzzling. In the 1st recipe, you use 1 part beef powder for 1 part fat. But when you add 1 part fruit, you still add only 1 part of fat so that now the fat is only a third of the total dry ingredients, rather than half. Is this normal? Is this because it’s only really the beef powder that absorbs the fat?

    Thanks

    1. Eric
      Eric

      Pemmican is a funny recipe. I generally ad as much as the meat can absorb. I found that using more fat when making the fruit version just messed with the texture too much for me. At the end of the day though it’s all about personal preference. If you find it too dry you can always add extra fat to help it out.

  6. Whiskers in heaven
    Whiskers in heaven

    5 stars
    Thank you for the info! BlessingsšŸŒ·

  7. Abe
    Abe

    After you liquefy the hard fat. Let the oil cool enough to warm. If you pour it in when it’s hot, you will cook the powder and ruin the meat.

  8. Miguel
    Miguel

    Could you use pork for this recipe someway? Maybe both the fat and the protein or one of them?

    Thanks

    1. Eric
      Eric

      Sure. I don’t see why not

  9. Carol Knox
    Carol Knox

    3 stars
    I tried the recipe with cranberries and blueberries only to find out later that the reason they wouldn’t dry out completely (after a week in the dehydrator) is that they have a natural waxy exterior and must be blanched prior to dehydrating.

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