European explorers learned all kinds of things from Native Americans. Fish as fertilizer, the three sisters gardening method, and the process of making pemmican. The word comes from the Algonquin language known as Cree and the direct translation is rendered fat.
Because of the translation, you should understand that the basic ingredients of any pemmican recipe are meat and fat. Things like honey, fruits, nuts, and seasonings are added as well, for the most part, you are making a dried meatball that is preserved in its own fat. Some people also use bacon drippings for flavor.
In this how-to article, we are going to create our own pemmican and I will walk you through the steps. I will also provide you with some variant recipes that are delicious.
Recipe for Pemmican
- 2 lbs Quality Grass Fed Beef or Game Meat
- ½ Cup Lard
- 2 Tbsp Honey
- ¼ Cup of Walnuts
- About 8 dried apricots
- Deep pan to dry beef
- Smaller pan to dry fruits
- Food processor or Mortar and Pestle
- Large mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
If you are making pemmican with a very sparse kitchen, limited skills, and merely for survival, I would recommend using a nice fatty ground beef. Otherwise, you can use very thin slices of beef and dry them in the same way.
I am using local grass-fed ground beef that is 80/20 fat to meat. Of course, I want to use the rendered fat for our pemmican, but you will need to add lard.
Spread the meat out thinly on a baking sheet or a perforated cooking sheet. I use one with high sides, so I can capture all that great fat coming off the meat. I like to salt the meat when I dry it in the oven as well. Just a light sprinkle across the meat. This also adds the preserving qualities of salt. It’s not necessary, but I do it.
Dry this meat in the oven on the lowest setting for 8 hours or however long it takes. If you are using ground beef, you will have to drain the fat at some point. Don’t throw that fat away. You need to save it for a later part of the process. Most people use thinly sliced meat and that is the classic method, but I find that ground beef gets you to the pulverized state faster.
Grind the meat down as fine as possible. I recommend using a food processor. This is a very important part of the process. By doing this, you will be able to get maximum coating from the rendered fat. You want the rendered fat to cover the meat and the meat to fill out all of the added fat. There should not be a layer of melted fat floating above your meat.
Now pour the rendered fat onto the dried meat and mix it up. The pemmican mix should look like a ragu or a thick sauce. If you add too much fat you are going to have to strain some of it out. This is very important. Too much fat will make your mix inedible.
The fat that you poured off your ground beef can now be mixed back into the dried meat. Add the lard as well and stir everything.
At this point, stir in any dried fruit or nuts. For this recipe, stir in the chopped walnuts and the apricots. Stir everything very thoroughly.
Let the mix cool to room temperature. From here you can store it in many ways. We are going to use an ice cube tray to portion them out and then roll them into balls. You can also create loaves in a pan or small bricks in a ziplock bag.
Variant Recipe Additions
- Add chopped dried apricots and cherries.
- Add lots of black pepper and raisins.
- Add soy sauce to the meat while drying, then crushed peanuts and ginger.
The store shelves are riddled with all types of granola and energy bars that are very popular. These bars often find a place in the backpacks of the modern adventurer. You see, pemmican is old news. While it is making a resurgence in survival circles, this fatty meat mix was probably given up when people started having concerns about things like cholesterol and heart attacks. We ran from fatty red meat for years and it was all due to bad science.
The great news is that fat is back! We know that it’s an essential ingredient in running a healthy human machine. For men, fat is incredibly important in terms of testosterone production. Because of this, we can enjoy those red meats and healthy fats again.
The irony in all of this is that pemmican was abandoned for sugary granola bars on the trail. Now we know that sugar was an under-the-radar killer being sold to the American public as a delicious treat. Turns out we should have been eating more meat and fat the whole time!