This is a recipe I’ve tweaked and nearly perfected (always room for improvement) on how to make your own dehydrated chicken breast dog treats. Don’t buy the crap from China, filled with who knows what (China has notoriously low food safety standards) and don’t pay top dollar for the holistic, organic, over-priced-because-it’s-green treats from the store. Buy some good quality, antibiotic free chicken breast from the store and use this recipe with your food dehydrator.
Why don’t you own a dehydrator yet? I know, it may sound like an absurd question. It did to me up until a year ago. I remember seeing the Ron Popeil infomercials on TV for the Ron Co Food Dehydrator. Hell, my parents even bought one. But last year, I realized it was a good way to store up food (I’ll do a later post on food storage). It’s also a great way to make jerky, trail mixes, fruit roll-ups, and for drying up unused herbs. If you have no idea where to start when buying a food dehydrator, I would consider a budget-conscious Nesco or a super-duper Excalibur (if you’ve got the dough – i don’t even own one yet). I personally use a Nesco 700-watt and it hasn’t let me down so far.
Just one thing: Skinless, boneless, antibiotic-free, additive free chicken breasts/chicken breast tenderloins.
Yes, they are little more expensive, but by dehydrating, you’re leaving behind a lot of the phosphates, preservatives, and any other nasty stuff they pump into meat nowadays. The water leaving the meat is not necessarily taking these compounds with it, but more likely concentrating them. I don’t care if YOU eat this crap, but don’t feed it to your dog. At least you’ve got a choice! Springer Mountain Farms is a decent and not too expensive brand that you can find at most grocery stores, it’s got a blue label with mountains on it.
Chicken breasts require a little longer to prep but you can get more strips out of them than you can a chicken tenderloin. However, chicken tenderloins tend to sell cheaper and can be cut to 1/4” thickness by just cutting once down the length of them. Remove any and all fat from the chicken, including the little hangy bits on the edges, and any fascia/silver skin covering on the meat. Fat goes rancid very quick in the dehydrator and can prematurely spoil your treats. Take your time and remove as much as you can. If you have trouble getting the silver skin off, scrape gently with your knife and use a finger to pull it off.
Also, note: Going with the grain creates chewy, fibrous strips. Going against the grain creates more tender, leathery strips. If your dog likes to take it’s time chewing it’s food or on treats, go with the grain. If you’re dog is the type that chews quick or not at all, go against the grain. (If your dog swallows almost anything whole – I would NOT recommend jerky-like treats. Undigested jerky treats can cause choking and stomach upset as they take longer to digest)
Update: I got around to trying boneless chicken thighs for these treats. What a pain in the butt! What tempted me to try them is because they are generally half the price per pound of breasts and tenderloins. However, there is so much fat that needs to be cut away (including hidden pockets inside the meat) that it doubles the processing time for a batch. Also, afterwards, the pieces have these unappealing dark patches in the meat. So, I’d recommend just sticking with the breast and tenderloin meat and keeping an eye out for weekly specials.
Finally, when shopping the rule of thumb is dehydrating cuts weight by half, so 2 lbs of raw meat will yield 1lb jerky meat. Make as much or as little as you want.
Seasoning (Totally Optional)
I recommend you just make these treats without seasoning, but if you would like to season them (most likely due to YOUR preference, not the dog’s) then try this seasoning mix. (I’ve never seen a dog turn down a meaty, unseasoned, dog treat though)
- 1 tsp of water
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp parsley
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp liquid smoke
Prepare this in a mix bowl prior to handling chicken (limits cross contamination in kitchen).
- First, wash hands with antimicrobial soap. (Cuts down contamination of breast caused by stuff on YOUR hands)
- Thoroughly wash chicken breasts/tenderloins under cold water. Pat dry with paper towel.
- Cut chicken breasts/tenderloins into even 1/4” strips, going with or against the grain.
- Lay strips spread out evenly across each rack of dehydrator. Ensure they are not touching and are roughly equidistant from each other. Remove any empty racks (consult owner’s manual that you are at least using the minimum required amount of racks)
- Wash hands after handling chicken and before touching anything else! Again, practice kitchen hygiene and avoid cross contamination of other utensils and surfaces whenever possible. Stack or reassemble your dehydrator only after you’ve washed your hands!
- Set dehydrator to poultry or meat setting (usually 165F). (165F is the minimum recommended cooking temperature for poultry set by the USDA)
- Dehydrate overnight or 8-12 hours, depending on ambient temperature and humidity.. Best to operate dehydrator in a dry area, with good ventilation. (musty, damp basements are out)
- Check at 8 hours for done-ness. Strips should feel leathery, but not brittle and not moist. Any liquid weeping should be blotted and strips allowed to continue cooking. Wash your hands! If you want brittle style “chicken chips” running them from 10-12 hours will achieve this. Some people like these as they can be broken by hand.
- Once complete, allow to cool before placing in a sealing canning/storage jar or zip-lock bag. Not allowing them to cool will create condensation and cool the outside while leaving a warm center, both of which promote bacterial growth. Sanitize the jar between every few batches by boiling in a pot of water, running through your dishwasher’s sanitize run, or with a dilute bleach or vinegar solution (rinse thoroughly!). Sealing jars are the easiest as they allow you to keep the treats on your counter for convenience. Here is what I use: Bormioli Fido Clear Square Canning Jar.
Feed to dog. Prepare for begging.
Hey there! Yeah, you! If you liked these chicken treats, check out this article on making your own dehydrated ground turkey treats!
Read more on the FDA warnings here: FDA Continues to Caution Dog Owners About Chicken Jerky Products
And on Nov 20th, 2011, again, the FDA Issues Warning on Chicken Jerky for Dogs
DISCLAIMER: This article, originally published in June 2011, came well before the FDA issued warnings on chicken treats made in China. If you’re looking for a “safer” alternative to these, one which YOU make and take responsibility for, read on. At the current time, the FDA does not know the cause for dog illness related to these Chinese made dog treats, but assume it is an additive or result in a process/manufacturing chemical used. I don’t guarantee this is a perfectly safe alternative, but I’ve been feeding it to my dog, and as long as it’s good quality chicken, I personally feel better using it. After all, it’s the same chicken I eat myself, I’m just sucking the moisture out of it. As always, if your dog appears to have an adverse reaction, stop feeding and immediately contact your veterinarian.