Hunters who process their own game meat have no shortage of equipment options to choose from. Any number of grinders, stuffers, vacuum sealers and dehydrators, of varying degrees of quality, have been on the market for decades.
Recently, yet another brand entered the fray—the aggressively named MEAT!—and it intends to rise above the crowd as the first to offer commercial-grade products directly to the consumer. As with any DTC brand, MEAT! cuts the retailer out of the purchasing process, thereby avoiding middle-man markups on the prices of its products. I recently took the company’s 6-Tray Dehydrator (nicely priced at $119.99) for a test drive, and the results couldn’t have been more delicious.
SPECS AND FEATURES
The MEAT! 6-Tray Dehydrator is a robust piece of machinery that features excellent construction and high-quality components throughout. At approximately 18x13.5x12 inches, it takes up a fair amount of space, so it probably won't be a permanent fixture on many countertops, but integrated handles on the sides of the unit allow for it to be easily picked up and moved (it weighs 17 pounds).
The housing is made of stainless steel, and the six dishwasher-safe mesh racks are chrome-plated. A seventh rack, made of hard plastic, can be used for drying smaller items (berries and such) that might otherwise slip through the mesh of the metal racks. The plastic tray doubles as a drip pan that slides neatly into the bottom of the unit. The dehydrator's glass door offers a look at the contents as they dry and is securely held closed by powerful magnets. Solid plastic feet with rubber grip pads provide a stable, slip-free foundation.
The fan and motor of the 6-Tray Dehydrator are located at the rear of the unit and circulate air from back to front. That, combined with the ample half-inch-square mesh of the 13x12-inch racks, allows for 360-degree air circulation and eliminates the need to rotate the trays at any point during the dehydration process.
As far as the controls go, the 6-Tray Dehydrator is basically idiot-proof, which is something I can appreciate. A digital LED display shows the temperature setting and a countdown clock. Drying times can be set from 30 minutes to 24 hours, and the temperature range is 90 to 167 degrees Fahrenheit. For my maiden voyage with the 6-Tray Dehydrator, I sliced a 24-ounce venison roast into quarter-inch-thick strips and cured them for 24 hours in a Hi-Mountain Seasonings hickory blend. I then spaced the pieces out on two racks, slid them into the dehydrator, set the timer for 2 hours at 158 degrees and hit go. When the beep told me the time was up, I reset the timer for 4 hours at 149 to finish them off. The jerky turned out fantastic. Tender without being moist, chewy without being tough.
My complaints with the 6-Tray Dehydrator are few and small. First, an interior LED light to assist with monitoring the proceedings would be handy; it can be difficult to see inside the dark interior when kitchen lights reflect off the glass door. Second, the temperature adjustments are made in 9-degree intervals (again, from 90 to 167 F). I'm told that the reason for the seemingly arbitrary interval amount is that the pre-set temp options convert to 5-degree intervals in Celsius (167 F = 75 C, 158 F = 70 C, 149 F = 65 C and so on).
That's cool, but there is no Celsius setting on the dehydrator and, well, we use Fahrenheit in the U.S., which is the only country where MEAT! products are currently available, so I fail to see why they chose to cater to the more metrically inclined. But, like I said, it's a minor quibble.
Finally, a full page and a half in the instruction manual is devoted to recommended preparations and drying times for more than three dozen different types of food that a user might dehydrate…and every one of them is either a fruit or a vegetable—sort of odd given the brand's name. I realize there are a number of variables that impact drying times of different meats (the volume of meat being dried, the thickness of the cuts, environmental humidity, etc.), but I imagine that at least rough guidelines would be welcome by most consumers, especially those who've never used a dehydrator before.
THE STARTING LINEUP
MEAT! has entered the market with a full complement of game-processing products. In addition to the 6-Tray Dehydrator, there's a larger 10-tray version for those wanting additional capacity. The lineup also includes two meat mixers (20- and 50-pound capacities); two slicers (7.5- and 10-inch models); three grinders (500-watt, .5-HP and 1.5-HP models); two vertical sausage stuffers (5- and 15-pound); three different vacuum sealers; and a slew of accessories, including a jerky gun, a meat saw, several scales, poly bags and even poly bag tape.
Clearly, MEAT! is going all-in and feels that its DTC model and the commercial-grade quality of its products will resonate with the DIY processor. If the excellent 6-Tray Dehydrator is any indication of what people can expect from other MEAT! products, I can safely say it will.