I know...freeze-dried liver sounds kind of gross and freeze-dried liver meatballs even grosser. But after discovering it on the pet store shelves a decade ago, I've rarely been without a big container of 100% beef liver cubes in my kitchen. The out-of-the-tub cubes are somewhat large, so I cut them into smaller pieces to be used as training treats. But the little crumbs that inevitably end up at the bottom of any container used to store the treats have always bugged me - it seems such a waste to just throw them away! So, I started experimenting a little and have landed on a 2-ingredient meatball recipe using these little crumbs that has been a huge hit.
So...what's so great about freeze-dried liver? First of all, dogs LOVE it. Never make the mistake of carrying a few cubes into a dog park or you will quickly become the "pied piper of the park"...dogs come running! But despite its draw for the dogs, it's not very messy, requires no refrigeration, really doesn't go stale and has a relatively mild, musty smell. It's the perfect treat to have available for "drive-by" training opportunities around the house, in the car or on a walk. It's also a healthy treat - no preservatives, low fat and relatively low calorie. (approx. 1.5 - 2 calories per training-sized piece)
So what's the downside? At first glance, it seems kind of expensive - you'll spend $30+ for a 17-24 oz. tub, depending on where you buy. Cutting the cubes into those smaller training-treat-sized pieces takes some time. Those crumbs are kind of annoying and are tough to get out of pockets. And, there's the chance that the protein-rich liver will cause tummy upset in some dogs.
But despite the disadvantages, I still love using the stuff. Cutting up the cubes yields HUNDREDS of training-treat-size pieces and a tub will last several months for an average dog household. Doing it all in one sitting will take you about two hours and I store the finished product in four quart-sized metal tins. Out of the dozens of dogs that I've fed these treats, only two have developed a tummy reaction. And the crumbs....well, if wasting good "liver crumbs" bothers you too, then the recipe below will turn that "mini-meat" to meatballs! (doesn't have quite the same ring as lemons to lemonade, does it!)
A few other logistics for the meatballs. I collect the crumbs in a separate container until I get enough for a batch. I grind them up in a mini food processor until at least 3/4 of the mixture becomes a relatively fine "flour". It's OK to leave a few chunks, but you need enough of the finer material to hold the meatballs together. A full 24 oz tub like the one pictured typically yields about a cup of this "chunky flour". The two pictures below show the before-grinding collection of crumbs that were the left-overs from a full 24 oz. tub and the after-grinding batch of "liver flour". And then the easy-peazy recipe follows!
Freeze-dried Liver Meatballs
1 cup of liver flour
Water as needed
Whip eggs together and combine with liver flour to form a sticky dough. Add a splash of water, if needed, to get the right consistency.
Spoon dough onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until firm.
Cool and store in a closed container in the refrigerator. (clearly marked - you don't want to mistakenly use these in your own spaghetti and meat sauce!)
Yield: 24-30 meatballs
Calories / meatball: Approx. 35
A few final comments.
It may seem like all of this chopping and grinding and mixing and cooking is a lot of hoopla to go through for just 2 dozen meatballs. But really, considering that the chopping gets you 2-3 months worth of perfect sized training treats as well...it's not that bad. Figure 3 1/2 hours of your time tops; 2-2 1/2 cutting up the cubes into training treats (which can easily be done in front of the TV!) and 45 min + to do a quick grind of the flour, mix 'em up and cook them. That's all it takes for several months worth of very convenient treats that your dog loves...and the meatballs are basically a free bonus!
In order to make sure liver doesn't upset your dog's tummy, I suggest buying a small container first as a test. (Or sign them up for a few school days at Savvy Dog and we'll test it out for you!) And if you know your dog is allergic to beef, there is also freeze-dried chicken liver available at most stores.