4

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Should pemmican not be prepared at (relatively) high temperatures?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 11, 2011 at 3:08 AM

Most pemmican recipes I've seen suggest fairly low temperatures for desiccating the lean meat, some at barely 100 F (usually in some sort of drier), some up to 150 F (usually in an oven at the lowest setting). My concern, however, is parasites, which can survive 170+ F. I did find one recipe for drying the meat in an oven at 185 F, and the author seems to have chosen that temperature for the purpose of killing microorganisms.

What is lost by preparing with a higher temperature? Does it affect taste, texture, how long the food will keep? What about the nutrient profile? (Googling that last one brought me to a thread on the bizarre Raw Paleo Forum -- they maintain cooking foods produces toxins and destroys nutrients. Some of them are grumpy about pemmican being brought up on a raw food message board. Any thoughts on that?)

Lastly, is it OK to use heart, kidney, or liver? All the recipes I've seen just mention "lean meats" or whatever particular cut they're using.

EDIT: To clarify, my concern is parasites, not bacteria. My mention of "microorganisms" was merely to explain why the recipe I linked went to a higher temperature than others I read. From the website: "On the other hand, it has been repeatedly documented that heat will destroy almost every harmful microorganism that could normally be present in meat."

Sorry for the confusion! Please don't back away from discussing parasites on account of my borrowed (if misleading) word choice.

5c695836c9b8aba078531335f9a9d6ff

on August 01, 2012
at 11:46 AM

Surely the hot tallow kills bacteria, though not spores. This should assist a lot with eliminating any problem from ground beef. However spore forming organisms would not be eliminated so you would want to be careful, perhaps keep it refrigerated.

Acfd35c9e350bb4c0c17810af4decd95

(483)

on February 17, 2011
at 02:38 PM

@Rob Sacks: That's why I qualified my statement with "the ground beef notwithstanding." The pathogenic bacteria do indeed live in a dormant state when dessicated but if the freshly cut meat is put in a drier soon enough, the surface of the cut meat dries too quickly for the bacteria to get started much less grow into a large enough colony.

5de2fffda92c0bf2be7ede10cad55546

(1781)

on February 15, 2011
at 10:28 AM

I have experimented with using liquid smoke I get from my butcher to marinate my jerky meat in. I don't imagine it's as good as your natural wood smoke tho.

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 12, 2011
at 03:48 PM

I think this shows how small the risk really is, because you are drying your meat in the most dangerous possible way (using ground meat and a temperature that's too low to kill pathogens). Yet you don't get sick. I'd like to correct one point. Bacteria do not need water to survive. Salmonella and other bacteria can live years without water. They can't multiply, but they can survive. The risk is actually that they got mixed into the meat at the processor. You dry them and they become not dead but dormant. You swallow them. The inside of your body is wet, so they wake up. They infect you.

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 12, 2011
at 12:18 AM

My reply won't fit here because of the length limit so I'll put it in a new answer.

C0887358ae041723ba426a6ad4732cfc

on February 11, 2011
at 09:07 PM

Thank you, excellent information all around. I've flipped through Wrangham's book before but I'd definitely give it a read now. Lex Rooker's instructions look excellent but carry that same peripheral concern about lost nutrients -- I suppose Stefansson talked about scurvy afflicting those that cooked their lean meat before drying it, but some searching suggests he didn't think nutrients degraded even up to medium cooking (160 F?). If there is damage, however, I don't want to make the modern mistake of simply trying to add back in nutrients that I think have been lost.

C0887358ae041723ba426a6ad4732cfc

on February 11, 2011
at 08:56 PM

As for freezing as a method, however, I'm somewhat dubious. While it may be the standard (and required) practice for serving raw fish, it seems like it might not be rigorous enough for certain land parasites -- I've come across ones in my reading that can survive -80 C for almost a year! It's elementary, however, since I wouldn't trust my current freezer with keeping coconut oil firm. Once I get dedicated meat freezer I'll be open to experimenting with freezing.

C0887358ae041723ba426a6ad4732cfc

on February 11, 2011
at 08:50 PM

Indeed I did mean parasites -- I've edited my question to explain why I mentioned microorganisms. If it's not too much of a hassle, I wouldn't mind seeing what information you had deleted.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on February 11, 2011
at 07:15 PM

Yeah, I wondered about that, too. In any case, I thought I'd mention it.

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 11, 2011
at 03:08 PM

At first I told him the same thing about freezing to kill parasites. Then I reread his question and realized he probably meant bacteria (he uses "microorganisms" as a synonym), so I erased that part of my advice.

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 11, 2011
at 02:33 PM

At first I told him the same thing about freezing to kill parasites. Then I reread his question and realized he probably meant bacteria (he uses microorganisms as a synonym), so I erased that part of my advice.

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7 Answers

8
82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 11, 2011
at 04:46 AM

My concern, however, is parasites, which can survive 170+ F

Before I say anything else, there is an incredibly good book about pemmican called Fat of the Land by Vilhjalmur Stefansson (the same guy who participated in the Bellview Experiment). I wholeheartedly recommend this book to you. It's out of print, but you can find it on the web for free. (The first edition of the same book was called "Not By Bread Alone.")

Now, about pathogens. People often cook roast beef to a temperature of only 125 degrees Farenheit. The center is pretty much raw. Yet they don't get sick. Why? Because the interior of beef muscle is sterile even when the carcass gets contaminated during processing.

How do people actually get sick from beef? It almost always happens when they eat ground beef. Why? Because in the grinding process, intestinal bacteria (e.g. salmonella) get mixed into the muscle tissue. This can't happen to the interior of a whole roast. There's no way for intestinal bacteria to get inside.

I think it's safe to eat dried beef that hasn't been heated if you (1) use frozen roasts sent directly by a high-quality producer and (2) slice the meat yourself. That's what I do (I order from US Wellness). If there is any risk at all, it's so small that it's not worth worrying about. It would be like worrying that you will be struck by a meteor tomorrow.

I'll explain in a moment how I dry meat without heating it.

What is lost by preparing with a higher temperature?

I don't think anything that affects your health would be lost, but perhaps the texture or taste or storability of the pemmican would change. You can find out easily enough by making pemmican this way and trying it.

In my opinion, it's unnecessary to heat beef while drying it. The two things that cause meat to dry quickly are (1) moving air and (2) thin slices.

I dry meat by slicing it very thin and hanging it in front of a fan. It dries in an hour. I never use heat. It works fine.

To cut meat very thin, use an extremely sharp knife and cut the meat while it's semi-frozen.

I only do this with meat which I cut myself from grassfed roasts. I would never do it with ground beef because there is a risk that it's contaminated by bacteria. The interior of a roast is normally sterile.

Lastly, is it OK to use heart, kidney, or liver?

I don't know, but Stefansson's book (see above) doesn't mention that anyone ever did this, so I suspect there might be a problem.

Pemmican is normally made from the leanest cuts of muscle meat. Things like beef eye of round and bison tri-tip roast. The less fat, the more thoroughly they dry.

The crucial thing in making pemmican is getting all the water out. (Unless you want to keep the pemmican refrigerated.) The absence of water is what prevents bacteria and fungi from degrading the finished pemmican.

The process for getting water out of muscle is different from the process for getting it out of fat. That's why the two components have to be divided. That's why it helps for the muscle meat to be as lean as possible.

...the bizarre Raw Paleo Forum -- they maintain cooking foods produces toxins and destroys nutrients. Some of them are grumpy about pemmican being brought up on a raw food message board. Any thoughts on that?)

Some of them may be grumpy about pemmican but others are enthusiastic. One of them, Lex Rooker, is the author of an excellent how-to manual called How to Make Pemmican.

I participated on that forum for a while. I even have a journal there. I always loved sashimi (raw fish) and raw beef seemed similar. But eventually I realized that I prefer my beef slightly cooked. This preference is probably a message from my body.

Then I ran across an interview with Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist who has written a book arguing that fire and cooked food played a vital role in human evolution.

When I read Wrangham's ideas, a light bulb went on in my head. Suddenly I understood why our anatomy is so strange. We seem to be primarily carnivorous -- our natural diet is mainly meat -- and yet our teeth aren't good at tearing meat and our stomachs aren't as acidic as the stomachs of obligate carnivores. On the other hand, we don't seem well-adapted to eating plants either. Our teeth are too small to do a good job of crushing fiber, and our large intestine (our plant fermentation tank) isn't very big.

Wrangham's hypothesis explains it. The reason our digestive system is so peculiar is because we are the only animals on earth that evolved to eat cooked food. Our bodies are designed on the premise that we have fire. To put it another way: cooking is part of our digestive system. And indeed, every human culture ever discovered cooks its food.

The second lecture by Wrangham (link below) explains some of the reasons why cooked food is better for us. For example, we absorb much more protein from eggs if they are cooked.

References:

How to Make Pemmican by Lex Rooker

Lecture by Richard Wrangham

Longer lecture by Richard Wrangham

Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham

C0887358ae041723ba426a6ad4732cfc

on February 11, 2011
at 09:07 PM

Thank you, excellent information all around. I've flipped through Wrangham's book before but I'd definitely give it a read now. Lex Rooker's instructions look excellent but carry that same peripheral concern about lost nutrients -- I suppose Stefansson talked about scurvy afflicting those that cooked their lean meat before drying it, but some searching suggests he didn't think nutrients degraded even up to medium cooking (160 F?). If there is damage, however, I don't want to make the modern mistake of simply trying to add back in nutrients that I think have been lost.

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 12, 2011
at 12:18 AM

My reply won't fit here because of the length limit so I'll put it in a new answer.

1
Acfd35c9e350bb4c0c17810af4decd95

on February 12, 2011
at 03:02 PM

I make jerky and pemmican constantly.

I use a food dehydrator, putting a thermometer in the exhaust port. When starting, I adjust the heat setting so the thermometer reads 110F. As the meat dries out a bit, I adjust the thermostat so the thermometer readings stay between 95F - 100F.

I use what ever lean meat I can find. I have even made pemmican with 96% lean ground beef. The ground beef notwithstanding, remember that bacteria need a minimum amount of water to survive and if the surface of the meat is dried quickly enough, bacteria will not even get started much less grow.

Another good way to do it, if you have the space, is to use a wood fire. Smoke is a natural preservative and I've kept cuts of meat in the refrigerator for up to three weeks without a problem, though it usually gets devoured in less than a week. (Smoking gives jerky and pemmican seriously fantastic flavor.)

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 12, 2011
at 03:48 PM

I think this shows how small the risk really is, because you are drying your meat in the most dangerous possible way (using ground meat and a temperature that's too low to kill pathogens). Yet you don't get sick. I'd like to correct one point. Bacteria do not need water to survive. Salmonella and other bacteria can live years without water. They can't multiply, but they can survive. The risk is actually that they got mixed into the meat at the processor. You dry them and they become not dead but dormant. You swallow them. The inside of your body is wet, so they wake up. They infect you.

5de2fffda92c0bf2be7ede10cad55546

(1781)

on February 15, 2011
at 10:28 AM

I have experimented with using liquid smoke I get from my butcher to marinate my jerky meat in. I don't imagine it's as good as your natural wood smoke tho.

Acfd35c9e350bb4c0c17810af4decd95

(483)

on February 17, 2011
at 02:38 PM

@Rob Sacks: That's why I qualified my statement with "the ground beef notwithstanding." The pathogenic bacteria do indeed live in a dormant state when dessicated but if the freshly cut meat is put in a drier soon enough, the surface of the cut meat dries too quickly for the bacteria to get started much less grow into a large enough colony.

5c695836c9b8aba078531335f9a9d6ff

on August 01, 2012
at 11:46 AM

Surely the hot tallow kills bacteria, though not spores. This should assist a lot with eliminating any problem from ground beef. However spore forming organisms would not be eliminated so you would want to be careful, perhaps keep it refrigerated.

1
100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on February 11, 2011
at 02:26 PM

Parasites can be killed by freezing. So if you freeze the meat for a couple of weeks first. it will solve that problem. As a bonus, the meat is easier to slice when not fully thawed.

I have done both oven drying, and drying in a box as per Lex Rooker's instructions. The box dried jerky is vastly superior in taste and texture, and I would never recommend cooking it after experiencing the difference.

I also do think there is a preservation of some vitamins, like vitamin C, when the meat is kept raw.

I think heart and kidney and liver would work fine, but I haven't tried it myself.

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 11, 2011
at 03:08 PM

At first I told him the same thing about freezing to kill parasites. Then I reread his question and realized he probably meant bacteria (he uses "microorganisms" as a synonym), so I erased that part of my advice.

C0887358ae041723ba426a6ad4732cfc

on February 11, 2011
at 08:56 PM

As for freezing as a method, however, I'm somewhat dubious. While it may be the standard (and required) practice for serving raw fish, it seems like it might not be rigorous enough for certain land parasites -- I've come across ones in my reading that can survive -80 C for almost a year! It's elementary, however, since I wouldn't trust my current freezer with keeping coconut oil firm. Once I get dedicated meat freezer I'll be open to experimenting with freezing.

C0887358ae041723ba426a6ad4732cfc

on February 11, 2011
at 08:50 PM

Indeed I did mean parasites -- I've edited my question to explain why I mentioned microorganisms. If it's not too much of a hassle, I wouldn't mind seeing what information you had deleted.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on February 11, 2011
at 07:15 PM

Yeah, I wondered about that, too. In any case, I thought I'd mention it.

82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 11, 2011
at 02:33 PM

At first I told him the same thing about freezing to kill parasites. Then I reread his question and realized he probably meant bacteria (he uses microorganisms as a synonym), so I erased that part of my advice.

0
Abc0bc75cc91a0e753accc4b21015cf9

(140)

on February 17, 2011
at 12:43 AM

Thanks, some fantastic info here. I'm going to try my first batch shortly and this gave me even more to think about.

0
82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 12, 2011
at 02:41 AM

Indeed I did mean parasites -- I've edited my question to explain why I mentioned microorganisms. If it's not too much of a hassle, I wouldn't mind seeing what information you had deleted.

Sure. To manage risk, I think we have to look at specifics.

What parasites specifically are we talking about?

You may disagree, but as I explained above, I don't think we need to worry about parasites that are transmitted in feces. We only need to worry about parasites that are transmitted in muscle.

I just spent two hours looking for info about parasites that can be transmitted in beef muscle to humans. I can find only one such organism: Taenia saginata, the beef tapeworm.

Maybe you can find some others. If so, I suggest looking them up and seeing specifically what it takes to kill them.

Beef tapeworm is uncommon in developed countries. Fewer than 1,000 people per year are diagnosed with it in the US and most of them caught it in another country.

The Centers for Disease Control says that freezing meat at −5°C (23° F) for four days will kill beef tapeworm cysts.

According to a peer reviewed study, the cysts can be killed by freezing it at:

  • −5°C for 360 hours or
  • −10°C for 216 hours or
  • −15°C for 144 hours.

Reference:

CDC info about taeniasis

Hilwig RW, Cramer JD, Forsyth Kerry. Freezing times and temperatures required to kill cysticerci of Taenia saginata in beef. Veterinary Parasitology 1978 Sept. 4(3):215-219

0
82166cc32b6cf26de33b69f58fb583b1

on February 12, 2011
at 12:17 AM

I suppose Stefansson talked about scurvy afflicting those that cooked their lean meat before drying it, but some searching suggests he didn't think nutrients degraded even up to medium cooking (160 F?).

With regard to vitamin C specifically, according to the USDA database there isn't any in beef muscle, so this is a non-issue unless you try to use organs like you suggested. The database says spleen and pancreas are good sources, but I didn't look up every organ; there may be others that are even better.

With regard to nutrients in general, as Wrangham points out, in many ways we get more nutrients from cooked food, so even if it's true that cooking degrades some nutrients, there may be advantages both ways.

With regard to Stefansson, he says in one of his books that when the Inuit cooked their meat, they did so thoroughly (i.e. to high temperatures):

I have heard of Eskimo merely warming meat to eat it. These always comment unfavorably on a piece that is a trifle rare and I have not seen one eaten that would not be considered "medium" or "well done" if a beefsteak in a grillroom. In fact I have never seen Eskimo eat partly cooked meat, they usually cook well.

On the other hand, they also ate meat raw:

Caribou meat is more often eaten raw than cooked, whether fresh or half-dry, thawed or frozen. Fish are also often eaten raw; whether frozen or not. (P. 60)

As for his own preferences, this is from the scientific paper on the Bellview Experiment in which he was one of the two subjects:

In this experiment, it was found that boiled meat was preferred to fried. Broiled steaks and chops were used, -- V.S. choosing lamb frequently while K.A. ate beef almost exclusively. The meat was usually cooked lightly and the bone marrow eaten raw. Raw frozen meat was requested as a variation but no method of freezing it was available.

References:

Stefansson, Vilhjalmur. The Stefansson-Anderson Arctic Expedition of the American Museum (1919). P. 243.

McClellan WS, DuBois EF. Prolonged meat diets with a study of kidney function and ketosis. Jour Bio Chem 1930. 87:651-668.

0
Ef9f83cb4e1826261a44c173f733789e

on February 11, 2011
at 03:21 PM

According to Alton Brown on the Food Network, if you slice the meat thin enough, and dry it fast enough, you don't have to worry about the nasties. He uses a rig made from a box fan and furnace filters to dry meat for jerky. I've tried this and is work pretty well. Before the weather warms up, I'm going to try it again while the temperature outside is above freezing and below 40. I want to try both pemican and jerky.

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