Long ago in the dark ages of hiking and backpacking there were few choices for freeze-dried meals – in both brands and what you could even buy meal wise. Much of what was offered was American “classics” that were heavy on carbs, and what Boomers had grown up on. Which would make sense, considering the backpacking boom was led by Boomers in the 1970-80’s. The first meals I bought as a young backpacker were Mountain House and of course…..there was a package of Beef Stroganoff amongst that. It was so long ago the packaging looked like this (it was actually a version before I think, but I couldn’t find a photo…..).
It was so long ago it was an outer mylar bag with a turkey roasting bag inside, with the paper collar to close the bag, while it steeped inside the outer bag. I remember eating it on my first backpacking trip to the Olympic Coast. I had all my meals in shiny packages. And to say the least…I wasn’t impressed even back then. It was odd texture if you will. Soft pasta, and the meat was still a bit crunchy. But I was backpacking! So I figured this was how it was. And later on, over the years, I’d find hacks to ensure that freeze-dried meals actually rehydrated correctly (use a cozy! Stir twice! Give it 15 minutes!).
To say the least I haven’t had freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff in about 19 years. I’ve made my own versions over the years, and my favorite recipe is at the bottom of the post.
The comparison/review covers taste, texture, aroma, serving size, cost and more. And….it is based that the packages serve 1 person, not 2. A grown man is most likely going to eat the whole bag, especially with the calorie counts.
Peak Refuel on the left, Mountain House on the right. The large chunks on the right were partially the sauce in blocks, as the dried beef and mushrooms are tiny bites. Where as in the one on the left, those are steak chunks.
Mountain House. The old-school version.
Mountain House Beef Stroganoff is packed in a 2 serving bag, which weighs in at 5¼ ounces packed. It retails for $9.49 on the Mountain House website but is $8.89 on Amazon. Mountain House has changed back style, and is now a lower/wider style, that doesn’t require a long handled spoon or food covered knuckles to eat.
To cook it requires 13 ounces boiling water and a 10 minute sit time.
Each servings has:
- 560 calories
- 24 grams protein
- 23 grams fat
- 1570 mg sodium
Beef Stroganoff: Beef (beef, rosemary extract, salt), Corn Starch, High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Sour Cream (cultured milk, cream, skim milk, enzymes), Nonfat Dry Milk, Onion, Sea Salt, Beef Flavor (yeast extract, salt), Less than 2% of: Mushroom, Brown Sugar (cane sugar, cane syrup), Yeast Extract, White Pepper, Lemon Juice (lemon juice concentrate, lemon oil, metabisulfite potassium), Garlic Powder.
Precooked Noodles: Durum Semolina, Whole Egg, Salt
What Mountain House has going for it here is the lower cost. It is nearly $3.50 less a package than the Peak Refuel. It also has a larger serving of food – but at a lower calorie and protein count by far. It’s also over a third saltier. The meat is smaller (and is ground beef), and the pasta is where it reminds me of canned spaghetti or canned chicken noodle soup from my childhood. It’s oddly soft and small in size.
But for me, I cannot get past the smell, the aroma. I don’t know what it is, but the meal has an odd odor. And for me, MH has always been this way, and it causes me to not want to eat it. So yes, it is a bias on my end. Your mileage may vary of course.
One tip: Hold the bag while you add the water. It’s low cut leaves it floppy. The zip top is thin, and requires paying attention while you seal the bag.
Peak Refuel, the younger competition.
Peak Refuel Beef Stroganoff is packed in a 2 serving bag, which weighs in at 6 ounces packed. It retails for $12.99 on both Peak Refuel’s website and Amazon. (If you have Prime you will get your items faster most likely, and not pay shipping, so there is that.)
To cook it requires 6 ounces boiling water, and a 10 minute sit time.
Each package has:
- 810 calories
- 41 grams protein
- 46 grams fat
- 950 mg sodium
The ingredient list:
Stroganoff sauce (sour cream [cultured milk and cream, enzymes], heavy cream [cream, carrageenan], mushrooms, flour [enriched wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes], onion, garlic, salt, beef bouillon [salt, maltodextrin, yeast extract, natural flavor, onion and garlic powder, caramel color, dehydrated celery and carrot powder, spice], paprika, black pepper), instant rotini (semolina, niacin, ferrous sulfate [iron], thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), fully cooked seasoned diced beef (beef, salt).
This is full of big chunks of steak. The pasta is what most of us would see as “real” pasta, it’s al dente and not mushy. The dish is smaller in size, but has a far higher calorie and protein count. The sauce is thick and coats the pasta, steak and mushrooms. It’s not gloopy. But most of all? The flavor is good. It has a pleasant aroma, that reminds one of homemade dinners. Personally I would add a tiny bit more water to make it saucier (like an extra Tablespoon or 2 of water). The bag is standard higher cut, so have a long handled spoon to stir/eat with.
The winner is Peak Refuel. Why? For many reasons. Considerably lower sodium, nearly double the calories and protein. It requires less water. But most of all is that it is simply better tasting. The texture is so much better. Yes, you will spend more per meal, but you get a higher end product.
Both meals truly only serve 1 person, even if it is claimed it serves 2.
Or? Make it yourself with one of my favorite recipes…..
In a quart freezer bag:
- 4 ounces pasta, cooked and dehydrated pasta
- 1 Tbsp diced dried onion
- 1 Tbsp dried mushrooms, crumbled
- 1 Tbsp dehydrated ground beef, ‘beef’ TVP or freeze-dried ground beef
In a leak-proof bottle take:
- 2 tsp ketchup
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp low sodium beef bouillon powder
- Couple grinds black pepper
- 1-ounce tub or foil packet cream cheese
Add 1½ cups nearly boiling water to the past bag, seal tightly and put in a cozy for 15 minutes. Drain off most of the remaining water carefully, leaving about a Tablespoon behind (this actually is pretty good tasting broth). Add in the cream cheese and sauce blend. Stir till blended.
One Pot Method:
Bring 1½ cups water to a boil, add in pasta bag contents. Cover tightly, take off stove, and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain and proceed as above.
A 3-ounce package of ramen noodles can be substituted. Discard flavor packet and break up the noodles a bit. Hungry teens may want to use as much as 1/4 cup hamburger. You can take ketchup packets instead, and dry Worcestershire sauce powder can be found online. If you carry regular cream cheese, you can find small tubs or packets by the bagels in grocery store bakeries. It is good for 2 or so days carrying in a pack, unless it is super hot out. Otherwise, you can also use Laughing Cow cheese wedges, which are shelf stable. Sometimes shelf stable cream cheese can be sourced as well. Or see here to make your own DIY.
Recipe is from Freezer Bag Cooking: Adventure Ready Recipes.