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How to Make Hardtack: A Cracker That Lasts for Years

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A while back I mentioned hardtack in the article Foods That Last Forever and several people have asked what it is and how to make it. Basically, hardtack is a hard cracker made from flour, salt, and water. The great thing about hardtack is that as long as you keep it dry, it will last for years.

Because it’s inexpensive to make and lasts so long, it was once taken on long sea voyages and was called things like pilot bread, ship biscuit, sea biscuit, or sea bread. It was also carried by soldiers on long military campaigns and was referred to as tooth dullers, molar breakers, or sheet iron. I know that sounds bad, but it’s easier to eat when soaked in coffee, crumbled into soup, or fried with other foods.

Some hardtack recipes include sugar, milk or butter, but that will significantly shorten the shelf life, so I recommend making it the traditional way. Here’s what you need:

  • 3 cups of white flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 cup of water
  • A cookie sheet
  • A mixing bowl
  • A knife
  • A common nail

How to make hardtack 1

Here’s how to make hardtack:

1. Preheat your oven to 375°.
2. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.

How to Make Hardtack 2

The Lost Ways

3. Gradually mix in the water until you form a dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.

How to Make Hardtack 3

4. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a square. Make sure it’s no more than half an inch thick.

How to Make Hardtack 5

5. Cut the dough into 9 squares.
6. Using the nail, make a 4×4 grid of holes in each piece.

How to Make Hardtack 5

7. Put the pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
8. Turn the squares over and bake for another 30 minutes.
9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. They should look something like this.

How to Make Hardtack 6

Ideally, the hardtack should be just a little brown on each side. Adjust the baking time if necessary. Once it’s cool, it should almost be hard as rock. Each piece is about 150 calories.

Like I said, the great thing about hardtack is it lasts for years without any special storage techniques. I would put it in Ziploc bags and add it to your food cache, bug out bags, and vehicle survival kits. It makes a great source of energy in emergency situations. And if you don’t like how hard it is, smash it up and mix with with other foods such as soup.

Like this post?

Then check out these other articles about cooking:

3 Ways To Make Bread When the Power is Out
How to Make Pemmican: The Original Survival Food
15 Kitchen Gadgets That Work Without Power

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  • mae243

    I know it defeats the purpose a little bit but I made some and added onion powder to half and garlic powder to the other half and they came out delicious. No need to stay alive by eating bland food when you can have something with a little flavor!

  • Anonymous

    Oils in Whole Wheat flour will cause hardtack to go rancid in time! For longer storage, use refined white flour only!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the tip!

  • guest

    can you make gluten free hardtack?

  • alanz11

    good question. I’ve never done it, but you can buy gluten-free flour online and try it out.

  • treva

    Would adding a bit of baking soda shorten the shelf life?
    What about a drop of flavoring like vanilla extract or almond extract which are mostly alcohol – would that affect shelf life?
    I am definitely making this for my emergency bag. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Trixxxster

    K, so these things are made to keep forever, but have no/very little flavor. What if you were to add honey, which itself keeps indefinitely, would that impact the shelf life any?

  • alanz11

    I can’t imagine why it would affect the shelf life unless there’s some reaction between the honey and flour but I really doubt it. 

  • Deb

    I tried to make this and followed instructions and the dough is way too sticky.

  • Karla Webb

    Does powdered garlic or onion reduce the shelf life

  • Guest

    The idea is to add flavoring to it when you eat it, not when you make it. Traditionally, they were soaked in coffee, milk or gravy before eating. Or, you can soak them overnight in some milk or water and then fry them in some sort of oil in the morning.

  • oddball

    HONEY keeps indefinitely. Mix it with a little water, it ferments and turns to alcoholic mead. So yes, I would say adding honey to hard tack will dramatically shorten the shelf life.

  • Gargoyle

    Ah. Good thing I go through hardtack relatively quickly.

    I need to get around to making pemmican. Pemmican and hardtack sandwiches… yum!

  • Gargoyle

    Meadtack. I can see possibilities.
    Not very good ones, or useful, but possibilities.

  • Kathy Ruth

    Historically, only the very wealthy used refined flour. Did the hardtack made years ago–from whole grain flour–go bad, then? I’ve not heard of it ever going rancid.

  • Johnchi1

    Made a batch and it was fine tasting…it also cracked a porcelain crown (no joke)…I would recommend for survival food only and then add it to soup or coffee to soften it before eating.

  • Grace

    it tastes like almost burnt pizza crust. I think it’s delicous.I remember in 5th grade I teacher made it for us because we were learning about european explorers. Everyone hated it and so they gave it all to me. Then I went home and had my mom make it. It’s my favorite food after stuffed crust pizza. Also I put nothing on it it was just plain and SO delicous

  • MI Patriot

    My husband and I are Civil War reenactors and we know all about hardtack. I made some once just to see if I could. It came out hard, really hard, like cement hard. If you needed to replace the plates in your flak jacket, hard tack would do the trick. Seriously though, I put a couple pinches of garlic salt in it to make it taste better. It tasted ok, but you really need to crumble it or soak it in milk or dunk in your coffee. It didn’t stay hard for as long as I thought it would, but I only had it in a ziplock bag. The next batch I made I sealed it in my food saver and that was 3 years ago. Still hard as a rock.

  • gary m

    The only thing I ever heard of causing a detriment to hard tack were weevils, but that adds protein.

  • K9Z

    Just make sure you only chews the lesser of two weevils.