Jerked meat was a pioneer staple in the days before refrigeration. This was, and still is, an excellent way to preserve meat. It's easy to do, it doesn't require any special equipment, and the meat will keep for months. In this post I'm going to tell you how to make jerky in your kitchen.
Jerking meat is a process for reducing the moisture content of the meat to the point where bacteria can no longer grow in the meat. Meat does not have to be cooked before it is jerked, although some authorities recommend blanching wild meat in boiling water before it is jerked. Many different meats can be jerked. Venison, beef, and buffalo are probably the most common. You want to avoid fatty meats as they will not jerk well and can become rancid or spoiled. If you buy beef to jerk I would suggest that you buy a very lean roast In this instance I am jerking a round roast that weighs 44 ounces. Pictured below: round roast ready to jerk.
The first step is to slice up the meat. You want to cut the meat in nice thin strips about a quarter inch thick. The old timers always sliced their jerky so that the grain of the meat ran up and down the strip. I have no idea why, but this is the way that I do it because they might have known something that I don’t.
Pictured below: meat cut into strips.
After you have sliced the meat you need to decide if you want to add spices to the jerky or if you just want it plain. If you are making jerky to snack on you'll probably want to spice it up. If you are making jerky to store and use in cooking you will probably want to leave it plain. When I make snack jerky I marinate it is soy sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Sometimes I add a little red pepper or jalapeno juice to make it hotter.
In this instance I am using about 2 cups of soy sauce, a teaspoon each of salt, black pepper, and garlic, and a half teaspoon or red pepper. Let the meat soak in the marinade for at least 3 hours; over-night is better. Pictured below: top, spices I use when making snack jerky: bottom, meat marinating in spices.
To dry the meat out you can use the oven of your cook stove. I put a pan in the bottom of the oven to catch any drippings off of the meat then drape the strips of meat over the wire cooking racks in the oven. Turn the oven to its lowest setting (below 200 degrees for sure) and leave the oven door propped open about six inches. Pictured below: meat on racks ready to jerk
Check the jerky periodically. It will probably take about six to eight hours to dehydrate. The trick to good jerky is to get it dry but not too dry. You can test the jerky by bending it. When it is about right it will break when you bent it, but it won't snap. If it snaps it’s too dry. Pictured below: finished jerky ready to bag.
When your jerky is done take it out of the oven and let it cool. You can store it in zip-lock bags or sealed jars and it will keep for a long time. Put the bags/jars in the refrigerator and it will keep even longer. Pictured below: bag of jerky.
This finished batch of jerky weighs in at about twelve ounces, or about one-forth of the weight of the original meat. This represents a lot of concentrated nutrition, so don’t over-eat on this stuff. One piece is enough for a meal.