Recipe: Pemmican The Original MRE

By Jonathan Parker

Pemmican is high-fat, high-protein food first used by North American Indians. It was adopted by European traders, explorers. Its appeal is quick, dense energy without the valley of sugar crashes, and an un-refrigerated shelf life that rivals most modern energy bars.


  • Lean meat (lean beef, bison, venison, etc.) 
  • Raw beef fat (or alternatives) 
  • Organic Berries (traditionally cranberries, but blueberries or cherries will do fine.) ( Start your pemmican experience by choosing the lean meat you will be using. Lean, grass fed beef is the typical base, although for flavor you may prefer “wild” game such as bison or venison. Experiment with different batches to find your favorite mix.
Step 1: Dehydrating

Now, your typical Native Indians didn’t have an excalibur dehydrator to plug in (or outlets) If you have a dehydrator, you can save yourself some time, but you may find sun drying, or fire drying more rewarding. Cut the meat into thin slices and dehydrate over low heat. If the temperature is too high, you will cook the meat and the flavor just isn’t the same.

Optimum drying temperature is around 140 degrees F. You want it dry enough that when you bend a piece, it breaks off crisply. Residual moisture can cause your pemmican to go rancid with short notice.

Dehydrate your berries at the same time. The ratio of berries to meat will vary per recipe, but around 10-20% adds a nice flavor (in my opinion). You want your berries very dry as well, to facilitate mixing.

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Step 2: Grinding

When you have your meat and berries dehydrated and ready, it’s time to break them down. A meat grinder works well and can handle larger pieces of the jerky than your typical blender. Food processors are generally not powerful enough to process the jerky, and even in a blender, the chunks will need to be broken up beforehand. Texture is personal preference. Some people like it powdered, and some prefer the more granular texture. Usually the finer grind makes for firmer bars. 

Step 3: Rendering
Now to render the fat.
Rendered Fat

If you have an objection to using the fat, you can also use natural honey as a binder, or a mixture of both. A little raw honey really adds a nice flavor and will store just as well.

Your local butcher or farmer may be able to provide you with tallow for rendering. Take the slices and cut them into small cubes. The small cubes are then added to a pan over low heat (LOW) and melted down. It’s a good idea to strain the fat after rendering, to remove any lumps or gristle that may have found their way in.

Final Step: Rolling & Storing

When the fat is rendered and strained, wait until it is still liquid, but just cool enough touch. Mix your pulverized jerky and berry powder (with any additional seasonings you may desire) and slowly add rendered suit until the mixture is about the consistency of fudge. You can use muffin tins, form it into bars, or simply roll it into balls. It may be a little greasy, so wrap it in foil, or wax paper and let it cool before storing. If done properly, the shelf-life (at 40-72 degrees) can be several years. I recommend refrigerating and always check for rancidness before consuming anything stored long-term.

Pemmican has a great history and this is one of those things that is fun to try. It can be a great pre-workout food (high in protein) or a trail food for slow-burning energy on the go, as it was intended. Hope you enjoy.

Jonathan Parker is an EMT-Paramedic and Preparedness Instructor with a love for emergency medicine, self-sufficiency and homesteading. His goal is to empower people towards a natural and sustainable lifestyle. 

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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