How to Make Hardtack: Survival Bread Recipe That Lasts A Lifetime

Trying something a little different today. I will not be reviewing a piece of gear or presenting my thoughts on the philosophy of survival tactics. Instead, this article will be about food. Specifically, how to make hardtack. That’s right, a whole new twist to writing for me and possibly the beginning for a cookbook. Yeah, right.

make hardtack

There are many different “survival food” recipes floating around out there meant to provide sustenance during hard times. Due to its utterly simple list of ingredients and process to make, there is one food that has always been of interest to me, and that is hardtack. 

As a kid, I had never tasted hardtack, let alone even heard of the stuff. But as I became older I started running into the topic of hardtack through my reading. If after this article you are still interested in hardtack, I suggest conducting a little historical research on this simple food item. It is quite interesting. 

I won’t bore you with the details as this is not what this article is about. However, if you are unfamiliar with hardtack, it is essentially a simple bread. And as the name suggests it is very hard, more on that later. 

What is Hardtack?

As I hinted at above, it is basically bread. Unlike, store-bought bread that begins to turn moldy in a week or two, hardtack has a long shelf life, a really long shelf life.

How Long Does Hardtack Last?

When it is prepared and stored properly hardtack can last indefinitely, at least for our purposes. What survival minded person would not want a food item with such a ridiculously long shelf life?

How Does it Last So Long? 

Luckily the science behind this is easy enough for even me to understand. The reason most foods go “bad” is due to bacteria growth. Like humans, bacteria need water to live so they favor environments that have this. 

Traditional hardtack is composed of three simple ingredients: water, salt, and flour. This gets mixed up and baked until most of the water is cooked off. Think of it as dehydrated bread. Minimal water and the salt do not make for favorable growing conditions. Pretty simple, huh?

Two Hardtack Recipes: Traditional vs Modern

Now, if you do an internet search for hardtack you will likely find many different recipes. But I break those down into two different groups. Traditional recipes and modern recipes

The traditional recipe calls for the simple three ingredients that I listed above, water, salt, and flour.

Modern recipes are ones that people have tweaked by adding in other ingredients such as sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cacao, yeast, etc.

Because the traditional recipe is simple and has been proven to have an exceptional shelf life, that is the one I prefer to use.

But if you have dietary restrictions in terms of the kind of flour you can have or you just want to throw caution to the wind, by all means, experiment with other recipes to find what you like. However, if you are like me and have bland simple tastes, please read on. 

Kitchen Time

It is now time to head off to the kitchen and gather up some supplies. Here is what you will need. 

  1. Cooking sheet, pan, or a mesh rack. I used an 11” x 16” pan.
  2. Large mixing bowl or a mixer if you have it
  3. Rolling pin. I do not have a rolling pin, so I just used a round drinking glass, but you need to be careful when using this method. 
  4. Something to poke holes in the dough. There is a professional tool that does this. I am not sure what it called but it looks like a rolling pin with spikes. I have used a toothpick in the past but that is a slow and annoying process. My favorite tool is a fork. 

Now for the ingredients. This is what you will need.

  • 4.5 cups of flour. I used all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp of salt 
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

How To Make Hardtack

I am not a baker by any means so I am sure that there is someone out there somewhere who will be cringing at my process. Enjoy!

Step One. Combine the flour, salt, and water into the large mixing bowl. 

Step Two. Mix everything until the dough has an even consistency and is not sticky. This may require a little more water or flour. If it is sticky, I generally add a pinch of flour at a time and mix it in until the dough can be rolled around without it sticking to surfaces.

Step Three. Dump the dough out of the bowl and onto the counter, or if you are fancy place it on a large cutting board. Using a rolling pin, spread the dough out until it is roughly ½” thick. Actually, the hardtack can be however thick or thin that you want but the baking times will vary greatly. 

Step Four. Using the professional spiked rolling pin, or a fork, make a bunch of holes in the dough. There should be exactly 96 holes each spaced…just kidding. Without counting, I use my fork to create a series of holes that go across the dough. To my understanding, the holes help in getting rid of as much water as possible 

Step Five. Cut the dough into whatever shapes you desire. They can be squares, circles, or happy little gingerbread men. I cut the dough into squares that are usually misshapen and not uniform in size. I might have to try the gingerbread cutout someday. 

Step Six. Use a spatula to transfer the squares to a cooking sheet and place them into the oven. They will need to bake for 30-40 minutes depending on your oven, or until the squares are golden brown. 

Step Seven. Once they are golden brown, pull the hardtack from the oven and allow them to cool. Once cooled down place them in an airtight container. 

Eating Hardtack…

It seems weird writing a section on how to eat a piece of food but trust me, in this instance, there is a good reason for it.

Do not, I repeat DO NOT try eating hardtack as it is. You may have noticed when handling the finished product that this stuff deserves the name that it has. If you attempt biting into one of these tasty little squares there is a good chance you will break a tooth. 

To avoid causing bodily harm, here are two methods I have used to consume hardtack, with the latter being my choice. 

  1. If I can break a small enough piece off, I place that piece in my mouth and tuck it off to the side. Kind of like a chipmunk with acorns stuffed in its cheek. I then suck on the hardtack until it is soft enough to chew. 
  2. Soak a piece of hardtack in a cup of coffee, tea, or in the broth of whatever meal is available. Soak for at least 5-10 minutes before attempting to bite into it. Soak longer if needed. 

Wrapping It Up 

Remember for the best shelf life results, store hardtack in an airtight container then place it in a dry, cool area.

Do you have any thoughts on hardtack? Have you tried eating it and do you like it? Have you tried any other hardtack recipes that have worked well? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know. Thanks for reading.

Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.