Pemmican - How to Make a Fatty Meat Brownie

How would you like to get complete nutrition in one food that doesn’t spoil? Sound too good to be true? It’s not Soylent Green. (Whew.) It’s pemmican.

What Is Pemmican?

Pemmican is, simply, a meat and fat brownie. Dried, uncooked meat is ground into a powder, mixed with melted fat and then is left to harden. (More on this process below.) 

Amazingly, because the meat is technically raw, the nutrients are largely left intact, providing a nutritionally balanced food that can solely sustain you for months. It’s the same principle that allows a lion to survive on nothing but gazelles and pudgy tourists.

Some Background

Pemmican was a staple food of American Indians (the Cree Indians are credited with the term) for centuries as a matter of necessity. Since there were no refrigerators back then, and hardly any Kwik Trips, it was this wonder-food that saw them through lean times. 

Naturally preserved, it was the original trail snack. When Europeans, such as Lewis and Clark, began exploring America, they bought or traded for pemmican by the sack full.

Reports of people living off of just meat and fat from that time period are numerous. Here’s just one example: 

Renowned 19th century frontiersman, mountain man and trapper William Thomas Hamilton wrote in his My Sixty Years on the Plains, “When going on the war-path the Indians would take some dried meat and some depuyer [a strip of dried fat from along the backbone] to live on, and nothing else, not even if they were to be gone for months.”

How to Make Pemmican

Traditionally, game meat (buffalo, deer, elk), was dried on racks in the sun or over a low campfire. This jerky was ground between two rocks and combined with rendered fat and, if available, blueberries or other simple flavors. 

For our purposes, we’ll cover the modern, city-boy method.

Our recipe ultimately used equal parts dried meat and rendered (melted) fat. However, the whole process began with:  

Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs. raw beef bottom round roast
  • 2 lbs. pure beef lard
  • 2 cups whole blueberries
  • 4 tsp. Lawry's Seasoned Salt
pemmican ingredientsMmm. Fatty beefy goodness.

Above is 6 pounds of raw, grass-fed beef bottom round roast and about 2 pounds rendered, filtered pure beef tallow (lard).  Grass-fed meat is slightly more nutritious than grain-fed. It is also generally leaner, which makes dehydrating easier.

raw beef roastRaw beef roast.
trimming fat and silver skinTrimming fat and silver skin.
Trimmed beef roast, ready for slicing.Trimmed beef roast, ready for slicing.
Slicing beef 1/4Slicing beef 1/4" thick.

1. Cut the meat into ¼” slices, across the grain. (Your food processor will thank you.) Remove as much fat, tendons and silver skin as possible. It’s easier to cut if the meat is slightly frozen.

Meat slices ready for dehydrating.Meat slices ready for dehydrating.
Blueberries ready for dehydrating.Blueberries ready for dehydrating.

2. Layer meat strips evenly on dehydrator trays. We placed about 2 cups frozen blueberries on the remaining tray.

Dehydrated beef.Dehydrated beef.
Dehydrated blueberries.Dehydrated blueberries.

3. Dehydrate meat and berries 24 hours at 120 degrees F or lower. You want to dry, not cook, the meat. Meat should be hard and brittle.

Beef tallow: Before.Beef tallow: Before.
Beef tallow: After.Beef tallow: After.

4. You’re now ready to start grinding, but before you do that, begin melting the tallow on the stove. This is, as my father says, productivity. You want to evaporate the water from the fat, but you don’t want the fat to smoke. Cook over medium-high heat and keep an eye on it.

Dehydrated meat before grinding.Dehydrated meat before grinding.
Dehydrated meat after grinding.Dehydrated meat after grinding.

5. Place small amounts of dried meat and blueberries in a food processor or blender and grind into a powder.  Prepare to spend some time doing this. Wearing ear protection isn’t a bad idea either. I had just recently sighted in my .308 and I still thought this process was loud.

Dried ground beef before adding tallow.Dried ground beef before adding tallow.
Dried ground beef after adding tallow.Dried ground beef after adding tallow.

6. Once all the meat is ground, more or less, into a powder, place in a large bowl. Pour small amounts of the hot, melted tallow into the meat, stirring thoroughly between pours.

Our first time doing this, we added the meat to the tallow and ended up with pemmican that was far fattier than we’d have liked.

The finished product should be roughly the consistency of thick oatmeal. We didn’t use all of the tallow.

7. Season. To improve flavor, we added 4 teaspoons of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, though this isn’t technically necessary and a matter of taste. Just about any spices can be added so long as they’re dry.

8. Place a piece of parchment paper on a 13” x 18” cookie sheet. This makes it easier to cut into squares later on.

Ready for the refrigerator.Ready for the refrigerator.

9. Spread the mixture evenly on the parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool in a refrigerator overnight. 

Finished product.Finished product.

10. Once set, lift out of the cookie tray by the parchment paper, place on a cutting board and slice into 1 inch x 2 inch chunks.

This recipe yielded approximately 4 pounds. 

Your pemmican is now ready to eat, but its flavor improves with time. And while it does not require refrigeration, keeping it cool/cold maintains flavor and texture. Enjoy!

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