Ham is a tasty meat that is often served on holidays such as Easter and Christmas. Most often it is fully cooked, and often even spiral sliced. The biggest problem is what to do with all the leftovers. While I’m a big fan of leftovers, since hams are typically huge, you may end up with more leftovers than you know what to do with. That recently happened to me. I initially stored the leftover ham in the freezer, but to free up room in my freezer, I decided to dehydrate it. In this article I’ll show the process of dehydrating ham and making ham jerky.
Dehydrating Ham and Making Ham Jerky
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Now let’s get into the step-by-step process of dehydrating ham and making ham jerky.
Thankfully, since ham is already cooked, and to a large extent flavored due to the smoking process, there isn’t a whole lot you need to do to prepare ham for dehydrating.
Below I’ll provide instructions for preparing ham for dehydrating. I’ll also include instructions for dehydrating ham and making ham jerky, plus tips for storing and rehydrating dehydrated ham.
Step 1: Remove Excess Fat from the Ham
Assuming that you are starting with ham that is already sliced, the first thing you need to do when preparing ham for dehydrating is to cut off any excess fat. This is typically around the edges of the slices of ham and in the middle.
There may also be small bits of fat in the ham itself, but I personally don’t worry about removing that.
Step 2: Cut the Ham into Smaller Pieces
Next, cut the ham into smaller pieces. My goal is to make both ham jerky, and also to dehydrate diced ham that can go into beans, soups, casseroles, etc.
Because of that, I’m going to take half of the ham and cut it into slices that I’ll make into jerky, and the other half into cubes.
Step 3: Marinade the Ham (Optional)
Most jerky is marinated before dehydrating. When it comes to most jerky recipes, the marinade itself is an important part of the preservation process. Almost all jerky marinade recipes call for soy sauce. Soy sauce contains a lot of salt, which helps preserve the meat.
The problem with using such a marinade is that ham already has a lot of salt, and so ham marinaded in soy sauce will be extra salty.
Since this is my first time making ham jerky, I’ve decided to take half of the ham that I’m making into jerky and marinate it. I won’t marinate the other half so that I can compare the two.
Ham Jerky Marinade Recipe
Here’s the marinade recipe I’m using for up to one pound of ham:
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Mix all of the ingredients together and submerge the ham slices in the marinade. This doesn’t make a huge amount of marinade, so don’t worry about completely covering the ham with marinade. The main thing is to evenly distribute the marinade on all of the slices of ham.
Allow the ham to marinade for 1 hour in the fridge.
Put the ham in the marinade in the fridge for an hour. Since there wasn’t a ton of marinade on the ham, every 15 minutes I moved the ham around in the marinade to evenly coat the ham with marinade.
After an hour, remove the ham from the marinade. You don’t need to worry about getting all of the marinade off the ham. I just picked up each slice of ham and let the excess marinade drip off.
Step 4: Evenly Distribute the Ham on the Dehydrator Trays
Place the ham on dehydrator trays, with a bit of space in between each piece of ham. With the diced ham, don’t worry about separating every piece of ham, unless you have a lot of time on your hands. 🙂 But do your best to spread it out so that there aren’t any big piles of ham.
Place a Fruit Leather Tray Below Marinaded Ham
If you marinated any of your ham, put the marinated slices of ham on the bottom dehydrator racks. This way, any dripped marinade will just go on the bottom of the dehydrator, and not impact the flavor of ham you didn’t marinade.
Another option is to put a fruit leather tray on the dehydrator tray below the tray with the marinaded ham. That’s what I ended up doing. From the photo above, you can see that when I removed the ham from the dehydrator, the fruit leather tray had blotches of marinade, so I’m glad I used it!
Step 5: Dehydrate the Ham at 135 – 160 Degrees Fahrenheit
Now it’s time to dehydrate the ham! Generally speaking, it’s good to dehydrate meat at a temperature between 145 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
While 160 degrees would probably work fine, I decided to dehydrate my ham at a lower temperature to make sure that it dries all the way through. I did this to avoid ending up with ham that was only partly dehydrated, which may occur when using too high of a temperature.
Since the ham is already cooked, I’m not overly concerned with the ham going bad, so I’m taking the slow and steady approach, and decided to dehydrate at 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Blot Fat Off as You Dehydrate the Ham
Even though you cut off obvious fat before dehydrating, it’s important to blot off any beads of fat that you see throughout the dehydrating process. The reason is that fat can go rancid.
Testing Dehydrated Ham for Dryness
It took about six hours for the ham to fully dehydrate. If anything, I over-dehydrated it, which really isn’t a problem. It broke in half easily, and was nice and crispy.
Step 6: Store the Dehydrated Ham and Ham Jerky in Airtight Containers
Now it’s time to store your dehydrated ham and ham jerky so you can enjoy it for months (and possibly even years) to come.
Depending on who you listen to, you should only store dehydrated meat, including ham, for up to two weeks at room temperature. If you want to store your dehydrated ham longer, store it in the freezer. That’s what this article from the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends.
But there are many people, myself included, who store dehydrated meat on the pantry for months, if not years. (I’ll get into how in a minute.)
I’m personally planning to check the dehydrated ham after three months, and then again after six and 12 months. I’m doing this in part as a test so that I’ll know if it’s worth buying ham on sale and dehydrating it in large quantities. (I’ll post the results of the tests at the bottom of this article.)
Vacuum Seal Dehydrated Ham to Keep it From Going Rancid
The key is to being able to store dehydrated meat at room temperature for long term is to vacuum seal the jars. I like using a Foodsaver with these attachments (all available on Amazon) to seal my jars.
Any time you open a jar of the dehydrated ham, be sure to reseal it right away. If left unsealed, it will go rancid within a couple of weeks. Since it can be kind of a pain to pull out a large vacuum sealer every time you want to reseal a jar, I recommend this handheld vacuum sealer (Amazon). While I still like my large vacuum sealer, I keep this handheld one on my kitchen counter so I can quickly reseal my vacuum sealed jars any time I open them.
Pro tip: If you are dehydrating ham to take camping or backpacking, I recommend vacuum sealing in mylar bags (Amazon).
Small mylar bags are best because you can vacuum seal food in smaller portions that are just the right size for a single meal or snack. You can also store the dehydrated ham with other dehydrated food such as potatoes for a ready-made meal.
Pro tip: To learn more about storing food in mylar bags, check out my article, Long Term Food Storage in Mylar Bags.
Rehydrating Dehydrated Ham
To rehydrate the dehydrated ham, I soaked it in hot water for about 10 minutes. It plumped up nicely! I wouldn’t say that it had the exact same texture as fresh ham, but very close. Also, since it was “almost” the same as fresh, I suspect that simmering the dehydrated ham in with a pot of beans or soup would rehydrate it completely, and make it as good as fresh.
How Dehydrated Ham and Ham Jerky Tastes
I also ate some of the dehydrated ham jerky, without rehydrating it, because, well, it’s jerky! It was delicious! Due to the smoked flavor of ham, the taste reminded me a lot of very crisp bacon. Since bacon is challenging to store long term, dehydrating ham may be a good way to add at least the taste of bacon to your prepper pantry. (I have also heard of people dehydrating bacon, but I haven’t tried that yet myself.)
I personally didn’t see a big difference in taste between the marinaded ham jerky, and the ham jerky that I made without marinade. Therefore, I plan to skip the marinade next time. Remember, marinading jerky is usually important because the salt helps preserve the meat. But since ham is already so salty, marinade isn’t necessary.
Assuming that the dehydrated ham and ham jerky lasts a long time, I definitely plan on making this again. I’ll update this post at three months, six months, and 12 months to let you know if the quality has remained good when kept at room temperature in vacuum-sealed jars.
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