Sterling Foods Southwest Style Beef and Black Beans MRE Review

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 Sterling Foods Southwest Style Beef and Black Beans MRE Review

By Jason Wagner

 

The amounts of food provided would seem to make it a rather good deal, and an even better survival food. This MRE is literally a wonderful thing.

The amounts of food provided would seem to make it a rather good deal, and an even better survival food. This MRE is literally a wonderful thing.

 

Southwest style beef…hmm, if it’s of good quality ingredients, why wouldn’t I enjoy? I bet the ingredients will be good, too – I’ve got a good feeling about this one. Those were some of the thoughts coursing through my mind as I set up the tablecloth in preparation for the photography. There was once a time when I may not of been so open minded on the matter, but as with all things – humans evolve to accept the tides of change, and if that change means eating a variety of MRE’s to determine what will work for your survival needs, then so be it. Through experience you gain instincts, and through continual experiences your instincts improve and refine, as I discovered with this MRE, my instincts didn’t deceive me.

Taste – 10/10:

Admittedly, my taste preferences for emergency food are, while not quite select…I don’t like grizzly food, alright? When you average out my favorites, it usually goes something like the freeze dried ones tend to taste the best, while the MRE’s tend to be the most convenient, while the emergency foods that have to be simmered for a while taste reasonably good, almost as good as the freeze dried and they’re quite cheap; unfortunately they’re very inconvenient. When you take it down to a basic and cold system of metrics, it’s much akin to a game of rock, paper scissors.

The usual crucible isn’t foolproof, and often times I find a noted exception – this being a rather significant exception in that it may be the single best tasting emergency food item that I’ve ever consumed…I don’t speak in absolute’s, so it isn’t without a doubt that this is the absolute best tasting apocalyptic entrée I’ve ever eaten, but it very well could be – and I can speak in no uncertain terms on the following; this is positively the best MRE I’ve ever had the pleasure of lapping up.

The main entrée – the southwest beef and black beans: Well, there are so many delicious aspects to cover, so why not start with the one that makes the most sense – the MEAT. Okay, so the meat…the meat was beautiful in both form and taste, er, I mean it was very lean, flavorful and it didn’t taste artificial, artificial – you know, like when you eat certain canned meats, or when you cook up frozen chicken nuggets – it wasn’t like that at all, this meat is very much legitimate. Indeed, the meat was the best part of this whole meal, but props must be given to the nice little southwestern vegetable medley, and the broth. The corn and the spicy little slices of peppers tasted much the same as if they were freshly cut and simmered over a big old pot on an even older burner for several hours, which is to say I was supremely pleased with them, and speaking of slowly simmering – the broth could be summed up the same way. The broth…ah, so rich and flavor, and salty, too! Salty in the good kind of way, and you can trust me when I speak about ratios of salt – I hate overly salty food with a grand passion.

The Multi-Grain Dinner Bread: At first, I was quite excited, then when I took it out of the package I became even more overjoyed by its delightful appearance and feel, but that was tempered a bit when it seemed to have a, hmm…not a bad odor, not even an un-fresh odor – just the odor of MRE bread I suppose, so I was a little skeptical…All of that changed once I was finished heating up the beef and beans. I had just gotten done sampling the beef and beans, and went to help myself to some of the multi-grain dinner bread and let’s just say it lives up to both of its names: Multi-grain & dinner bread. The bread is, as expected a very hearty bread with an almost unleavened taste and texture, but I actually loved that about it, and while I know tons of people who aren’t too big on the whole multi-grain/whole grain thing, I found the multi-grain nature of the bread to be a really charming and homey thing. Speaking of charming characteristics, the bread seemed to be loaded with poppy seeds, and well I’ve got to admit that I can appreciate some of that crunchy bite in my dinner bread…just another nice touch; something that this MRE seems to have a lot of. A quick summary of the bread for those who didn’t both reading the whole thing: That’s okay, basically I thought that the bread was totally delicious, and that it had some serious charm.

The Grape Jam: When you think of the jarring process, putting something into a jar, and with the right method of preservation and sealing, it’ll last a ridiculous amount of time…incredible; and you know what else is incredible? Jam that comes from a little self-contained pouch that’s part of a greater self-contained MRE! The jam tasted exactly like whatever you’ve probably eaten in your lifetime, so no worries here. Basically, the thing I liked most about the jam wasn’t so much the jam itself, but how it helps to bind the meal together – especially when combined with the hearty dinner bread – or just sucked right out of the pack!

The Zapplesauce Apple Sauce: I’ve given a description of the Zapplesauce several times by now, on account of it seemingly being in every single MRE, but you know what? I’m fine with that, it’s good stuff. The Zapplesauce is for all intents and purposes, applesauce that’s been specially packed and labeled with a funny name to get people interested. It tastes virtually identical, if not a little bit better than most every non-gourmet applesauce known to man, and of course – it’s packed with some vitamins that you’re unlikely to find in other applesauce’s.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie: If I had to sum up my thoughts on the chocolate chip cookie in an excessively short phrase? Cute and sweet to the senses…Yeah, well, that’s basically what the chocolate chip cookie is all about. Surely you’ve had those gourmet bagged chocolate chip cookies, ah, the one’s that you buy from the big city supermarkets, the ones that come from the foil lined paper bags? This cookie taste exactly how those ones do – very good, very hearty, heavyweight, sweet, plenty of chocolate chips but not too many; those are just some of the words I’d use to describe that thoughtful little addition that was the chocolate chip cookie…I just wish that the MRE came with a cold glass of milk.

Texture – 10/10: When everything has the texture that it should – no funny business, than how could I award an MRE, a survival MRE anything less than a 10/10? The bread was correct, the cookie was absurdly pleasing in how it was formed, how it felt when bit into, the jam wasn’t offensive in the very least and the broth & vegetables were all right in the world; the zapplesauce was good and well, too! Hehe, you thought I forgot about the beef, didn’t you? Well, maybe not, or maybe so, but…So the beef, ah, it wasn’t grizzly so that immediately bumps it up to a B+ for me, and it, well – let me see, how can I put this in an accurate and delicious way? The beef’s was, texturely speaking akin to say, I was roasting a brisket all day and, it was like fall off the bone tender and to serve it I just shredded it…with my bare hands, well bare hands that had gloves on them. That’s an accurate description of how the beefs texture was – it was a plentiful bounty of beautiful little chunks of beef that had lines in them and everything – absolutely no pressed meat here.

Convenience – 10/10: MRE’s, when has there ever been an MRE that wasn’t convenient? With that being said, there are uber (super, for those of you who don’t know German…) MRE’s and then there are MRE’s like this. So, what exactly makes this MRE more convenient? Well, the heater for one – the heater is of a better design than other chemical heaters I’ve ran into in the past. The heater of this one seems to have significantly more of the heating chemical, the bag for it is nicer, and less likely to leak than other one’s and in following the instructions, I stuffed the heater in the cardboard carton, and in doing so it contained the hot water and steam, and of course that effectively means that it heated the MRE ridiculously fast, in fact the MRE was heated to an almost ridiculously hot level in about a minute. As is the case with any other MRE, you can eat the food without heating it if you’re in a rush, but the heater is so efficient that with a tiny bit of water and some quick movement, you can be eating a hot meal in under 90 seconds, so you’d have to be in quite the rush to be eating this stuff cold.

 

I've never met a chemical heater that doesn't work like a chemical heater, but there was something especially efficient about this one. It heated the MRE enough to enjoyably eat it within 60 seconds, and by the 120 second mark it was scolding-hot.

I’ve never met a chemical heater that doesn’t work like a chemical heater, but there was something especially efficient about this one. It heated the MRE enough to enjoyably eat it in about 60 seconds, and by the 120 second mark it was scolding-hot.

 

Shelf Life – 9.5/10: The shelf lives of MRE’s, except in some unique case’s wherein some of the ingredients are freeze dried, but I’m not sure those MRE’s really exist anymore – anyway, modern day MRE’s don’t have the absolute best shelf lives when stored in meh (70-90+ degree Fahrenheit) conditions, but when kept in a sub-70 degree location, preferably a low-light environment that’s got an ambient temperature of  roughly 60 degrees, such as some basements, in those near ideal conditions, the MRE’s can last several years without any decline in taste, or nutritional quality. Even when stored in conditions that are well below ideal, you should be able to count on your MRE’s for at least one year. The bottom line is – the thing that I’m getting at is that this MRE is about as shelf stable as any other MRE. Ultimately, I do think that the 9.5/10 is fair when one considers that I’m ranking it amongst other MRE’s, and even if I were ranking it against the most shelf-stable of all survival foods, it rate’s pretty well.

Weight/Bulk – 10/10: While you don’t get the drink mixes, this would seem to be the most space, and weight efficient MRE I’ve ever really tested, which of course makes it an equally excellent MRE for carrying around, or boxing up in your little emergency supply cache – whatever suits you.

Filling Factor – 9.7/10: If this doesn’t rank as a complete meal amongst some of you hungrier survivalist/preppers, this should come pretty close with them. As you saw in the picture, you get a lot of food, and nearly as importantly as the sheer volume of food is the quantity of the calories, and as you’ll soon discover – there’s a pretty good amount of them. One of the things that made this one particularly filling was the heavyweight multi-grain dinner bread; you could say that the bread was a real gut buster, and so was the cookie.

Operational Security – 10/10: When scouting deep in the enemies territory, I want a big loyal bear (dog) by my side, a zeroed in firearm and then, then I’d like a delicious and stealthy MRE such as the likes of this one. When heating the MRE, everything cooks inside of the sealed environment – the pouch and that mean’s, what else? No cooking aroma. Even once everything has been broken open, the only thing that makes any sort of food aroma would be the entrée, and that one thing is no longer being cooked, so the pleasant smell wouldn’t exactly be travelling too far. As to the noise, you do get an ever so slight boiling noise from the chemical heater, but like I said – an ever so slight noise. A noise that’s so slight that I’m thinking the only way it would give you away is if you were sneaking up on an enemy, with your trusty Ka-Bar in one hand, and the boiling bag in another, and then perhaps it might give them the idea to look behind them, but that’s quite a stretch of the scenarios.

Nutrition – 9.8/10: Well, here, and by here I mean the MRE has got tons of protein, in fact nearly an entire day’s worth of the good stuff that is protein. Of course, protein is helpful, but it’ll only take you so far, so we’ve also got a grand deal of calories per MRE – each complete MRE, and by complete MRE I’m referring to the one in the picture – what I’m reviewing, each complete MRE has well over a thousand calories, so you could ration a single person with one MRE per person if the supplies were tight. Beyond those big numbers, all the other nutritional and mineral basis are covered; this MRE basically makes for a nutritionally optimized meal, and all the while being convenient and nearly perfect as a survival food. Pound for pound, this MRE seems to do a better job handling the nutrition than similar MRE’s, and while the calories are comparable to similar offerings, you’d have an increased caloric payload if you were to pack a few sugary drinks, something that this MRE sorely (but not too sorely) lacks.

Hoofing-It/Man-Portability/Carrying-Proficiency – 10/10: Let’s lay out all of the previously discussed points: The MRE is virtually undetectable when prepared in the field, the MRE is filling and nutritionally rich which is exactly something you want out of something like this when your life could very well depend on those kinds of things, the MRE is both lightweight and unencumbering and, it’s well, a real morale booster in the taste department. Yes, I’d say that this would make a fine companion to your scouting, or urban assault kit.

Resource Efficiency – 10/10: A tiny bit of water and you’re in business, and when I say a tiny bit of water, I’m not speaking in dodgy terms – I literally mean a very small amount of water is all that’s needed to heat up the MRE. It’s amazing, isn’t it? A little bit of regular water and you can have a hot meal? If that isn’t a 10/10 in the field of resource efficiency, well then, I guess I’d be pretty unbelievably picky.

Final Review – 9.9/10: Well, look – I’m usually happy with the MRE’s I try, and I’m usually happy with most other survival orientated food items that I try, but every now and then, there’s something that I run into that’s just so ridiculously delicious (for something that isn’t a ribeye cooked over charcoal) that I feel like, it deserves special recognition. For my own emergency cache of supplies, gear – you name it, I do like to keep a variety of things, but I also like to focus in and centralize on some key items that I hold in particularly high regard, and I do believe that I’ve found a new edition to my ever growing depot of life-sustaining goods.

One of the many nice attribute’s to MRE’s like this one is that you can dole them out as needed, on a case by case basis. For instance, if you were the supply runner in some kind of honest-to-God apocalypse, you may want to eat two of these per day, or even as many as three for maximal energy and overall lethality. While a, ah, radio operator may be given, if the supplies weren’t so great at that moment in time as little as one MRE per day. That’s one of the many, many things that I really like about this, and most other MRE’s.

I was highly tempted to award this outstanding survival product a 10/10, but I like to be as sparing as possible with the 10/10 Final Reviews, so as not to devalue them…still, this one was pretty deserving of that 10/10, so the 9.9 was no easy call, but I am relatively happy with such a score.

 

If it weren't for all of the death, rampant disease and crazy people running around looking for handouts and literal hands for their trophy collection, I think I could cope with the apocalypse if I had this to look forward to day after day.

If it weren’t for all of the death, rampant disease and crazy people running around looking for handouts and literal hands for their trophy collection, I think I could cope with the apocalypse if I had this to look forward to day after day.

 

Tip: Using sealed plastic bags, you can carry your own little drink mixes into the field, but perhaps even more conveniently, and by more convenient I mean you can skip the whole bagging the sugary drink mixes up, you can add the drink mix directly to a bottle of water and drink it when you need it…Doing this is virtually the same as having the little MRE drink mixes that come with the other MRE’s I’ve reviewed.

 

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