Pemmican is often called the “ultimate survival food” and rightly deserves its title as a “superfood.”
Pemmican is basically a mixture of dried meat, fat, and sometimes dried berries.
It is very easy to make yourself without any special ingredients or tools necessary, just follow the simple instructions below.
How to Make Pemmican
Making pemmican is very easy, and you can adjust the recipe however you’d like, such as by adding spices, herbs, and honey.
So long as everything you add is DRY, then the pemmican won’t go bad. (More on how to store pemmican and shelf life below).
Here are the basic instructions and pemmican recipes.Print
Pemmican is the ultimate survival food: very easy to make, calorie dense and can last for decades.
- Red meat: Traditionally game meat is used, but now beef is most common. 5lbs of meat will make 1lb of dried meat
- Fat (suet): You will need to render the fat into tallow. Instructions below. Use about a 1:6 ratio of fat and dried meat, but you can experiment. The ratio doesn’t have to be exact!
- Salt: 1tsp salt per pound of meat
- Optional: dried berries, herbs, spices, honey
- Cut fat off of the meat: You should only dry the meat, not any fat on it!
- Salt the meat: This will help inhibit bacteria growth and make the pemmican taste better.
- Dry the meat: Instructions follow.
- Turn the dry meat into a powder: A meat grinder is best, but you can also use a blender or food processor. It needs to be almost a powder with no big chunks in it.
- Turn the berries into a powder: Same as with the meat.
- Mix the powdered meat and powdered berries together.
- Heat the fat so it liquefies.
- Pour the fat over the powdered meat/berry mixture. The ratio of fat to dried mixture is about 1:6, but you can experiment.
- Let cool and form into balls or bars.
- Wrap in wax paper or plastic bags and store!
Follow instructions as above to make these alternative recipes:
2 cups jerky
1 cup dried fruit
1 cup tallow
½ cup almond flour
2 cups chicken jerky
4-5 tbps coconut oil, melted
Herbs or spices like thyme or curry
Peanut Butter Recipe
2 cups jerky
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup sunflower seeds or nuts, crushed
2 tsp honey
¼ cup peanut butter, melted
- Prep Time: 2 Hours
- Cook Time: 15 Hours (including drying meat)
- Category: snack
- Method: baked
- Cuisine: American
- Calories: 2930
How to Dry the Meat
The easiest way to do this is to use a food dehydrator.
You just cut the meat into thin strips and put them on your dehydrator rack. Follow the dehydrator instructions for drying time and temperature.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dry meat for the pemmican in your oven.
- Turn on the oven to 170F.
- Cut the meat into really thin strips and put them on a baking sheet. You can also put the strips directly onto the oven rack, but some drippings might get inside your oven.
The meat will need to dry in the oven for about 15 hours – occasionally open the oven door to release the moisture which builds up.
You can dry berries in the same way as the meat.
How to Render Fat into Tallow
Fat will eventually go rancid. But, if you render it first, then it can last virtually forever.
Rendering fat into tallow sounds complicated, but it is actually really simple and has a lot of health benefits.
It is best to use beef fat for pemmican, but you can also use lamb fat. You can get these at your local butcher, and they might even give it to you for free. The fat is also known as suet.
- Remove any remaining meat which may be on the fat.
- Cut the fat into chunks. You might also want to put it into your food processor to get it even smaller.
- Put the fat into a big pot.
- Cook on the lowest setting. For each pound of fat you render, you will need to cook it for about 1 hour. Yes, this will take a while! You don’t have to monitor the fat the entire time, but do occasionally check in, so it doesn’t burn.
- The fat will melt, but you will see bits floating on the top.
- Once the bits on top are golden brown and the fat stops bubbling, then the rendering is done.
- Strain the fat through a sieve or cheesecloth into a jar. You just want the liquid parts and not those crispy bits. When the fat (now tallow) cools, it will be a pretty golden color.
*You can also use a slow cooker to render fat into tallow. Just put the fat into the slow cooker, put it on the Low temperature setting, and let it render for a few hours. You’ll know it is done when the fat is liquid with crispy chunks floating on top.
**Don’t want to bother making your own tallow? You can buy it on Amazon.
History of Pemmican
Pemmican was likely first invented by the Inuit tribes living in Arctic areas and Alaskan tundras, but it was also eaten by many Native American tribes throughout the continents.
These tribes were nomadic and would often go out on long hunts. They would need a lot of energy to sustain these hunts but wouldn’t be able to carry a lot of food with them nor search for food along the way.
Their solution was to make pemmican to carry with them.
Traditionally, pemmican is made by cutting pieces of game (elk, bison, moose, and deer were common) into thin strips and drying it into a jerky over a fire.
The jerky was pounded with stones until it became a powder. Then liquid fat was added to the powdered jerky in a 1:1 ratio. Sometimes dried berries were also added.
When explorers came to the Americas, they realized the value of pemmican. It was particularly popular with Canadian fur traders.
Many voyagers relied on pemmican during their expeditions. Notably, Robert Peary used pemmican on all of his North Pole expeditions and says that the journey would not have been possible without pemmican.
The Ultimate Survival Food?
Pemmican is made from just 2 ingredients: meat and fat, though berries or other ingredients are often added.
The fat provides the energy needed for a strenuous journey. The meat provides the protein and strength for the journey. When berries are added, they provide additional energy (glucose) and also antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
You can literally survive for weeks or months on nothing but pemmican and water.
Note that pemmican doesn’t taste very good – and this is another reason it is such a good survival food.
Why would you want to pack something which isn’t tasty?
Consider that the Canadian Arctic Rescue team recommends putting a can of dog food in your car as survival food.
The idea is that dog food tastes bad, and you won’t be tempted to eat through it so quickly (as you might with yummy granola bars). The dog food idea is interesting, but I’d rather pack pemmican for my survival food!
If everything is dry and the meat is prepared properly, this stuff can last for decades when stored correctly.
However, because there is a lot of fat in pemmican, the fat can go rancid from oxidation. There is also a lot of moisture in the air, which can re-enter the pemmican. Once moist, the pemmican can start going bad.
The key to maximizing the shelf life of pemmican is to store the pemmican away from oxygen and moisture.
Obviously, I haven’t had pemmican sitting around for a decade on my shelf to tell you whether it will last this long. 🙂 But I have eaten pemmican which is over a year old. To play it safe, I would make sure to cycle/rotate through your pemmican stockpile every year or so.
The key to maximizing the shelf life of pemmican is to keep it in a cool, dark, and dry place. When stored in these conditions (such as in an airtight container in your pantry), the pemmican should last at least 6-12 months.
If your region is particularly humid and hot (think Florida), then you are probably better off storing pemmican in the refrigerator. Better safe than sorry!
If you want to store pemmican for long periods of time (such as for emergency food), then you will need to package it in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers – but it will need to be incredibly dry. You can read how to do this here.
We would caution against using any cut of pork or pork fat in pemmican as it can contain harmful bacteria.
Lard is rendered pig fat; we would advise against using any pork products in pemmican due to the risks of trichinosis.
Ground beef should work well but make sure it doesn’t burn in the preparation phase.
If dried and prepared correctly. Coconut and other oils should work well in place of tallow. However, the shelf life of the pemmican might be shorter than if you don’t use tallow.