Pemmican is the original protein bar. It is full of protein, fat, and calories. This high-calorie, nutrient-dense staple food has its roots in American history long before refrigerators and modern canning methods existed to keep meat and perishables safe. Due to its high nutrition, long shelf life, and ease of making, pemmican is the ultimate survival food and you can make it to include in your preps and meal plans.
To make pemmican, you will need to salt and dry fresh game meat and then pulverize it to a powder. Next, render the fat from your cut of meat and mix that back into the powdered meat. Finally, allow it to harden. Cut and store your pemmican and you have a survival staple that has been around for centuries.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to make the ultimate survival food: pemmican. We’ll go over the supplies you need as well as the process to make it safely. We’ll also talk about some additional things you can add to your pemmican, how to store it, and how long it will last. But first, let’s talk about what pemmican really is. Many other survival foods you can purchase from the grocery store, however Pemmican will not be one of those foods.
What Is Pemmican?
Pemmican is a food that originated from the Indigenous tribes of North America. It is a combination of protein (meat), fat, and sometimes berries. It is typically shaped into squares or small bars and wrapped individually for storage. Pemmican is nutrient-dense and has a long shelf life.
The name, pemmican, comes from the Cree word, Pimikan, meaning fat or grease. Although we don’t know the exact origins of this old-fashioned food, we do know that the indigenous Americans made pemmican long before the colonization of North America. They passed on this survival food to settlers, who began using it for travel.
Pemmican in History
For example, Robert Peary, who explored the North Pole in the late 1800s, used pemmican to feed both his men and his dogs. Later, Pemmican was given to British troops during the Second Boer War along with chocolate and sugar. Finally, in the 1920s, it was used as a ration for the French forces fighting in Morocco.
Pemmican was very useful because of its calorie density and its long shelf life – it could last for months and possibly years. After North America was colonized, it was introduced to fur traders because it was lightweight, easy to carry, and had such a long shelf life. In addition, it was an excellent food for travel.
Modern Uses for Pemmican
Indigenous peoples still make pemmican today for food and for ceremonial purposes. However, survivalists and preppers have discovered its benefits – especially its long shelf life – and have added it to their list of preps. Hunters and hikers also enjoy this food as an easy meal to take on the trail.
If you don’t want to make your own pemmican, you can purchase it already made. For example, Tanka Bar is an indigenous-owned company that manufactures and distributes pemmican commercially.
How Long Does Pemmican Last?
When prepared correctly, pemmican can last up to five years. If you vacuum seal it, it could last even longer. Tallow, the rendered fat used to make pemmican, is shelf stable at room temperature so it won’t go bad. Both the meat and the tallow have had their moisture content removed, which makes pemmican stable at room temperature without the risk of spoiling.
Although pemmican can last for years, you do need to be careful it doesn’t go bad. If you keep it in the refrigerator, the moisture content in the fridge can cause mold to grow, so you’ll need to check it before you eat it. After a few years, pemmican can go rancid. You’ll know if it has gone bad if you spell a rancid or strange odor.
Is Pemmican Nutritious?
Pemmican is nutritionally dense. According to myfitnesspal.com, one ounce of beef pemmican contains 293 calories, 1 g of carbs, 26g of fat, and 15 grams of protein. You can add berries to increase the number of carbs.
What Does Pemmican Taste Like?
The taste of pemmican varies depending on what you put in it. Simple beef pemmican tastes a little bit like greasy beef jerky. Many people don’t particularly enjoy the taste of it, but you can improve the flavor by adding in berries, honey, maple syrup, and even peanut butter. Keep in mind, though, that the ingredients you add to your pemmican could change the shelf life.
The texture of pemmican is chewy but not hard, like beef jerky.
How to Make Pemmican
When Native Americans and fur traders made pemmican, they sundried thin strips of meat and then pounded it into a fine powder. Then they would store it in large sacks.
We can make smaller batches of pemmican, if we choose, and use modern appliances to make the process much more manageable.
- Meat, thinly sliced or ground. Beef is typically used for this purpose, but elk, venison, bison, lamb, and even fish can be used. Lean meat works best.
- Salt (1 tsp per pound of raw meat)
- Optional spices, dried berries, or honey
- Tallow (rendered)
The Process of Making Pemmican
- Cut the fat off of the meat and set it aside. Slice your meat into thin strips about ¼ to 1/3 of an inch thick. It will take about 6 pounds of meat to make 1 pound of dehydrated meat.
- Salt your meat. Adding salt will help inhibit the growth of bacteria and make it taste good.
- Dehydrate your meat. If you use a dehydrator, it will take about 12 hours to fully dry your meat. If you use your oven, it will take about 4 hours. No matter which method you use, flip your meat over halfway through so it dries evenly. You can use ground beef for making pemmican if you purchase tallow to go with it.
- Grind your meat into a powder. You can use a food processor or grinder. You could use a mortar and pestle, or you could put it in a baggie and run your rolling pin over it until it is completely powdered.
- Grind your dried berries into a powder, if applicable.
- Render your tallow. If you use ground beef, you may need to talk to your local butcher about purchasing some tallow separately. However, if you saved the fat from your original cut of meat, you can use that.
- Put the fat into a stock pot. Heat it on low and let it simmer. Once it stops bubbling, it’s ready. After the tallow has rendered, you’ll need to strain it to remove any impurities. If you use tallow from the butcher, you can put it in a heat-safe casserole dish and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes to melt it.
- Put your powdered meat into a mixing bowl and add in any extras, such as salt or berries, and stir it up. Slowly add the fat to the powder. You can pour the mixture into a glass casserole dish to allow it to cool. Be careful the powder doesn’t get too runny. Keep adding the fat slowly until the powder is all absorbed.
- Allow it to cool and harden.
- Cut into shapes for storage or mold into balls like meatballs.
- To store your pemmican, wrap individual pieces in tin foil and then place them into a plastic bag. Store in a cool, dry, dark place until you are ready to use it.
Final Thoughts on Making Pemmican
Making pemmican has been passed down from the indigenous peoples of America to the settlers to modern-day life. Its longevity is a tribute to just good it is!
Pemmican makes a great survival food, but it is also a hearty meal for hikers, travelers, hunters, and anyone else who needs a calorie-dense food that is easy to carry.
If you are looking at ways to store without making Pemmican or using a refrigerator I recommend reading our article 10 Ways to Store Meat Without a Refrigerator.
You can purchase ready-made pemmican at grasslandbeef.com.
What are the benefits of making pemmican?
Pemmican is full of calories and protein, but it also stores well. Expert and beginner preppers can use it because it can keep long-term, or you can take it with you for hiking, camping, or backpacking. It is lightweight, easy to package, and doesn’t make a mess. You can eat it on the go because it doesn’t need to be cooked. It weighs less and is easier to carry than a traditional MRE.
What’s the difference between pemmican and beef jerky?
Pemmican is dried, powdered, and then mixed with rendered fat. Beef jerky, on the other hand, is cured. Biltong, on the other hand, is similar to beef jerky but is dried.
Do you need to cook pemmican before you eat it?
No. Once you have made your pemmican, it is ready to eat! You can eat it as is or mix it into a broth if desired. It isn’t hard like beef jerky and it isn’t really raw, either, since it has been dried.
What cut of meat works best for making pemmican?
You can use any cut of meat for pemmican, although leaner meat is better. It is an excellent way to use up less desirable cuts of meat.