Back in early 2009, when my husband and I decided we needed to create an emergency food pantry, our first goal was stocking up on meat. We knew we could grow produce, and by that time, I knew how to dehydrate food for long-term storage. However, raising enough animals to provide meat for our growing family wasn’t possible in our suburban neighborhood.
So, we ventured out to a ‘prepping expo’ and purchased our very first freeze-dried food. Most of it was freeze-dried ground beef. It was an expensive investment for us, but we both breathed a little easier knowing we had a good three months ‘ worth of shelf-stable meat when/if we needed it.
Table of contents
- Stocking up on meat is a priority
- Why freeze-dried meats make sense
- How do you reconstitute freeze-dried ground beef?
- Expect a bit of sticker shock with freeze-dried ground beef!
- The main principle to remember
- 22 Frugal ways to put freeze-dried ground beef to use
- Make a tasty Picadillo
- Stuffed bell peppers/cabbage rolls
- Chili Rellenos
- Eggroll in a Bowl
- Tacos — of course!
- Fill a quesadilla!
- Chili con carne, beans optional
- Semi-vegetarian burgers
- Meaty marinara sauce
- Cauliflower rice with a booster of ground beef
- Survival Mom’s Macho Mexican Rice
- Beef and vegetable soup
- Breakfast tacos and burritos
- Beef-topped Nachos
- Top a pizza with freeze-dried ground beef
- Chili Mac
- Classic beef and gravy
- Taco/Big Mac salad
- The possibilities are nearly limitless
Stocking up on meat is a priority
There are only a few ways to stock up on meat in bulk. One is to purchase freeze-dried meat and poultry, which I’ve done systematically over the years.
You can buy canned chicken, beef, ham, and other types of meat at grocery stores and home-can meat yourself. This makes a lot of sense if you can also acquire that meat for a low cost.
Buying beef or pork from a farmer is another option, although the upfront cost is significant.
Families who hunt and fish are able to home-can enormous amounts of deer, elk, and fish. This can be a huge savings, but not everyone can do that.
Why freeze-dried meats make sense
So, I return again and again to my monthly purchases of meats from Thrive Life. This makes a lot of sense for my family in several ways:
- There is no waste whatsoever. When I open a can of freeze-dried ground beef, that’s the only thing in the can—no fat, no bones, no excess moisture — just 100% ground beef.
- The meat is shelf-stable. I can store it in a cool location, and it will last for years and years.
- Even an opened can has a shelf life of at least a year.
- It’s already cooked! Rehydrate, add to a recipe, and boom. You’re done.
- It won’t spoil. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of opening your fridge and getting a blast of that spoiled meat scent! Talk about wasting money!
- The meat is very lightweight. A #10 can of ground beef, which holds approximately a gallon of food, weighs just 1 1/2 pounds! It would be incredibly easy to grab entire cases of any freeze-dried meat in a hurried evacuation.
- When rehydrated, the meat is virtually indistinguishable from fresh. I’ve often used freeze-dried chicken in my chicken enchilada recipe, and friends have no idea they’re eating freeze-dried food!
- Thrive Life has a great selection of different freeze-dried meats. Ground beef/hamburger, however, continues to be one of the most popular.
- A little can go a long way — see my tips below!
How do you reconstitute freeze-dried ground beef?
It’s so easy! One cup of Thrive Life’s freeze-dried ground beef rehydrated in 1/2 cup of warm water yields a little over 1 1/2 cups of ground beef to be used in recipes.
You’ll notice that this ground beef doesn’t come seasoned. It’s perfect for every type of recipe imaginable, from Mexican to Asian to Italian and American.
Expect a bit of sticker shock with freeze-dried ground beef!
You’re familiar with the rule of supply and demand, right? Whenever the demand for a product rises, it becomes more valuable, and its’ price will rise accordingly.
Over the past couple of years, as I write this in the spring of 2022, there’s been a huge increase in demand for all freeze-dried foods. However, there are only so many chickens or pigs or cattle that a given farmer can raise in a year! So the supply of meat hasn’t grown nearly as fast as the demand, and yes, the prices are quite high.
The main principle to remember
Another reliable adage, though, is “necessity is the mother of invention”! So, in my own kitchen, I’ve had to come up with some pretty creative ways to use freeze-dried ground beef, in particular, and I wanted to share some of these with you.
The main concept is this: look for recipes and meal ideas in which meat/poultry is just one of many other ingredients. For example, I’ll never use freeze-dried ground beef to make a meatloaf. That would be one expensive meatloaf! However, I can combine that ground beef with grains, veggies, and spices in many recipes, getting the benefits of beef while using the freeze-dried version frugally.
Without any further ado, here is my list for getting the most out of freeze-dried ground beef!
22 Frugal ways to put freeze-dried ground beef to use
Big Tip #1: Freeze-dried ground beef comes in the form of tiny little nuggets rather than the loose, cooked ground beef you’re used to. I prefer rehydrating the beef and then chopping it up to look more like cooked hamburger. As a bonus, when chopped up, it will go further in your recipes. So in all of the suggested meals below, assume you’ll chop up the ground beef before adding it to your other ingredients.
I use a food chopper like this to make the job quick and easy. I recommend a manual chopper over a food processor to ensure the ground beef isn’t chopped too finely. Also, you’ll only be chopping a cup or two of rehydrated ground beef for almost every recipe, and a manual chopper is much easier to use and clean than a food processor.
Big Tip #2: Look for recipes or create your own that combine 1-2 cups of ground beef with other ingredients. That amount of beef is the sweet spot since a cup of freeze-dried ground beef rehydrates to almost that same measurement. To make up the difference or stretch the meal further, try adding oats, cooked wheat berries or other cooked grains, cooked lentils, rice, or potatoes mixed in with the beef itself or simply stirred into the dish.
Make a tasty Picadillo
Picadillo is a yummy, ground-beef-based dish from Latin America. I’ve made a couple of Spanish versions of this, and my very favorite taco shop sells Picadillo tacos. With the ground beef, you’ll add chopped onion, red bell pepper, plenty of seasonings, and green onions if you like (and I like!). Here’s one recipe I’ve made a few times but added 2 cups of rehydrated freeze-dried potato chunks and 1 cup of freeze-dried ground beef, chopped.
Simple Skillet Picadillo
- 1 Large skillet
- 1 Cutting board
- 1 Chef's knife
- 1 Large spatula
- 1 cup ried diced potatoes, rehydrated
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 T. avocado oil or the oil/fat of your choice
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 cup freeze-dried ground beef, rehydrated and chopped
- 1 t. cumin
- 1 t. salt, or to taste
- ½ t. black pepper
- 4 T. tomato paste
- 6 pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
- 2 T. raisins (optional)
- Heat skillet over medium high heat for one minute.
- Add oil to hot skillet. Heat for 1 minute, and then add the chopped onion and red bell pepper. Turn down heat to medium.
- When onion and pepper are tender, turn down the heat to medium, and add the garlic. Continue to cook for one minute.
- Add the rehydrated potato chunks, ground beef, salt, pepper, and cumin, and mix together by gently turning the vegetables over with a spatula until combined.
- ally, gently mix in the tomato paste, olives, and raisins. Cook for another 5-7 minutes or until picadillo is completely heated.
Stuffed bell peppers/cabbage rolls
My mom made these when I was a kid, and I still love them both! You’ll find plenty of recipes online, but exchange 1 to 1 1/2 cups of freeze-dried ground beef in place of fresh. Also, be sure to add a grain like rice, oats, or even lentils to increase the amount of filling for the bell peppers or cabbage rolls.
Dearly loved by my husband, this is a comfort food no matter which version you make. Again, there are several versions and loads of recipes, but use a cup of rehydrated and chopped freeze-dried ground beef to the filling for a really hearty main dish. For this, you’ll only need about 1/2 cup of rehydrated and chopped freeze-dried ground beef since it plays only a small role in filling the rellenos.
Eggroll in a Bowl
If you haven’t heard of this recipe, well, you’ve been living under a rock, my friend! Loved and cherished by low-carbers and Keto-fiends, this simple recipe dishes out the yummy cabbage-based filling of the eggroll, all in a bowl. Most recipes include a small amount of meat, making this perfect for using freeze-dried ground beef. (You might also try freeze-dried ground turkey.)
Tacos — of course!
Except for this time, after you’ve rehydrated and chopped the freeze-dried ground beef, add a little somethin-somethin to extend the ground beef filling. Cooked Mexican rice (my recipe is the best!), refried beans, corn, chopped green chilies, or some taco-flavored TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) can all be added to the beef. Then, of course, top with shredded lettuce, chopped onion, grated cheese, and salsa!
Fill a quesadilla!
You’d be hard-pressed to find a quicker meal than the much-loved quesadilla. Around here, we use low-carb tortillas, grated Tillamook cheese (honestly, the only brand worth buying), and sometimes caramelized chopped onion and jalapeno.
However, when I need the quesadilla to provide a bigger meal for my husband, I added ground beef between the two tortillas. Just a half-cup of rehydrated and chopped freeze-dried ground beef will do the job.
Chili con carne, beans optional
This is a no-brainer. Mix up your favorite chili recipe and add a cup or so of rehydrated and chopped freeze-dried ground beef to replace the meat in the recipe. Personally, I adore beans in my chili, and now living in Texas, that seems to be quite a contentious issue.
To stretch that chili as far as possible, add a can or two of beans. And if you serve it over cooked white rice, you’ll have an amazing meal on your hands!
Years ago, I lived in Germany with a super-fun roommate who was 100% vegetarian. Not being a huge meat-lover myself, I had no problem adapting to a whole new world of meatless cooking. In particular, I really liked her veggie burgers made from mashed, cooked lentils, a few other veggies, and seasonings. Really tasty.
You can easily make a version of that with freeze-dried, chopped-up ground beef. Use equal parts cooked lentils with the beef, add shredded carrots, finely chopped onion, dried parsley, salt, pepper, and an egg to help hold the mixture together, and then fry the patties in a bit of oil.
Meaty marinara sauce
I loved spaghetti and meatballs as much as anyone, but when the kids were little, I decided to forego the effort of making meatballs in favor of adding cooked ground beef to marinara sauce. So quick and easy.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add a tablespoon or two of oil, and then thinly sliced onion, some chopped red bell pepper, and sliced mushrooms. Cook all those veggies until tender, and then add a jar or two of marinara sauce and freeze-dried ground beef.
You’ll be serving this over pasta or mixing it with rigatoni or something similar, so all you’ll need is a cup or so of the ground beef to make a meal.
Cauliflower rice with a booster of ground beef
Low-carb types will appreciate the use of freeze-dried ground beef mixed in with cooked cauliflower rice. The beauty of this combination is that it can go in several directions. Add chopped green onion, a couple of beaten eggs, some finely sliced cabbage, soy sauce. Before you know it, you’re dining on a hot, Keto-friendly meal of fried “rice.”
Switch out the eggs, cabbage, and soy sauce for chili powder, cumin, a drained can of Ro-tel tomatoes, chopped cilantro, and sliced black olives for a Hispanic version; just as good! Then, start with the cauliflower rice and ground beef, and come up with your own flavor combinations.
Survival Mom’s Macho Mexican Rice
This one is so, so good, and the trick is browning the rice in a bit of hot oil before adding all the other ingredients. On its own, it makes a nice side dish, but go ahead and add a cup of chopped and rehydrated freeze-dried ground beef to make it a more filling main dish. You’ll find the recipe here.
Beef and vegetable soup
There are so many recipes for beef and veggie soup, and you probably already have one that’s your favorite. If not, I adore this one and have made it many times over the years. And take a look at this one that includes barley. Smart!
Since we’re working toward creating delicious and frugal meals, replace whatever meat is called for with, again, a cup or so of rehydrated and chopped beef. If you need this soup to be more filling, then add rice, macaroni, corn, or more vegetables along with a couple of tablespoons of butter, ghee, or the oil of your choice. The addition of oil increases the number of calories and fat, important for a higher level of satiety or feeling full.
Comforting Beef & Vegetable Soup
- 1 4 quart pot with lid
- 1 Cutting board
- 1 Chef's knife
- 1 Vegetable peeler
- 1 cup freeze-dried ground beef Rehydrate in 1/2 cup warm water. Chop to a fine consistency before adding to soup.
- 2 T. avocado oil or the oil/fat of your choice
- 4 cups water or beef stock/broth
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- ½ cup chopped celery
- 4 beef bouillon cubes, if using water instead of beef stock
- 1 ½ t. salt
- ¼ t. black pepper
- ¼ t. dried oregano
- ½ t. dried basil
- 1 cup fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried green beans½
- Place a large pot over medium-high heat, and allow pot to heat for 1 minute.
- Add 2 T. of oil and heat for one minute. Stir in the carrots, potatoes, onions, and celery and continue cooking until vegetables are tender.
- Add all remaining ingredients. Bring soup to a boil.
- Reduce heat and cover pot with lid. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes are tender.
- If desired, adjust the salt and seasonings to taste.
- A drained can of corn
- A drained can of pinto, black, or navy beans
- 1 cup of macaroni — Add an additional cup of water.
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 cup cooked barley or other grain
- 1/2 cup canned or frozen peas
Breakfast tacos and burritos
This breakfast will make just about everybody happy, and you can modify it for more variety. Think: scrambled eggs + ground beef + grilled onions/bell peppers/jalapenos/green chiles + potato chunks + cheese + add your own favorites here.
You can throw this together in minutes and then fill soft flour tortillas for tacos or wrap the filling in burrito-size tortillas. Finally, add some salsa or hot sauce to make the meal complete.
Hash has become trendy in the last few years, and for good reason. It’s a great way to combine a variety of simple, inexpensive ingredients and leftovers!
I adore Thrive Life’s Potato Chunks for a meal like this. They rehydrate quickly and brown nicely in a skillet with a bit of oil. For hash, heat the fat or oil of your choice in a skillet, add chopped onions/bell pepper (any color)/chopped zucchini/the veggies of your choice, and cook until they’re tender.
At this point, add freeze-dried ground beef, salt, and pepper, and cook for a couple of minutes until the hash is well-heated. The final step is to gently mix in 2 cups of rehydrated and drained Potato Chunks. Allow to continue cooking while the potatoes brown, turning the mixture over every so often so potatoes are evenly browned.
A favorite meal for our family is a large platter of hot nachos dripping in melted cheddar cheese and topped with chopped onions, sliced pickled jalapenos, chopped tomato, some refried beans, sliced black olives, and beef.
Because this meal is filling on its own, a cup of chopped freeze-dried beef will be plenty. Add some guacamole on the side for more calories, fat, and deliciousness.
Top a pizza with freeze-dried ground beef
Whether your pizza is homemade, frozen, or store-bought, you can top it with freeze-dried ground beef to make a heartier meal.
Wondering how you might store cheese for the long term? My friend, you’ve come to the right place! Freeze-dried cheese is a wonder and a perfect companion to freeze-dried ground beef in so many different recipes, including pizza.
My Nana used to make a recipe she called Shlumgum, and it’s basically what I’ve come to know as Chili Mac. It’s super easy, super quick, and super frugal. What’s not to like?
To cooked macaroni, add the usual cup of chopped and rehydrated freeze-dried ground beef, a can of chopped tomatoes, some salsa to taste, taco seasoning to taste, chopped onion, and bell pepper, and a can of tomato sauce.
Heat all this together in a big pot. For a creamy version, mix in 4 ounces of cream cheese and/or enough grated cheddar to make your heart sing.
Mix together refried pinto beans, the usual chopped freeze-dried ground beef, chopped onion, maybe some cooked rice (leftover Macho Mexican Rice, perhaps?), some corn, and potato chunks.
Then, heat the mixture until it’s ready to be loaded up and wrapped in large flour tortillas. Add a sprinkling of cheddar cheese and salsa for more flavor. This is a great way to serve a hearty and very filling meal with plenty of calories and enough beef to make everyone in the family happy.
Also, learn about Instant Refried Beans if it’s a must-have for your emergency food storage!
Classic beef and gravy
Beef and brown gravy are a classic, irresistible combination. With freeze-dried ground beef, this dish comes together quickly using dry gravy mix or homemade gravy. Add sliced mushrooms, maybe some sour cream or sour cream powder, and serve over hot noodles or rice. So good!
Taco/Big Mac salad
Both of these salads are my go-to when I want to keep things cool and simple in the kitchen. Both revolve around chopped iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, ground beef, grated cheddar cheese, chopped onion, and then the appropriate dressing.
For taco salad, I mix equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise with salsa. I add the salsa a bit at a time until I have the flavor and consistency that I want. Next, heat up the chopped and rehydrated freeze-dried ground beef and add either taco seasoning or a combination of cumin/chili powder/garlic powder/onion powder to taste. I also like to add a cup or so of cooked pinto beans and chopped avocado.
For the Big Mac salad, just add sliced pickles and ground beef flavored with salt and pepper. The Big Mac dressing combines mayonnaise, ketchup, a bit of mustard to taste, a dash of garlic powder and onion powder, and finally, a big spoonful of pickle relish, either dill or sweet.
The possibilities are nearly limitless
Once I got over the price shock of freeze-dried meat, I discovered its versatility is as limitless as any other meat. Factor in its ability to remain fresh and ready to eat for ten years or more, then it makes sense to add it to your food storage pantry. One can at a time adds up, and you can begin to assemble simple recipe ideas like the ones in this article and the other ingredients you’ll need.
There are two very satisfying components here — great super-simple and comforting recipes alongside the knowledge of having a supply of healthy foods stored away for your family.
Have other suggestions for using freeze-dried ground beef? Add them in the Comments section below!
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