How To Make Beef Jerky
Choose Your Jerky Meat
Modern day jerky is made from nearly every kind of meat imaginable, from beef to alligator. It’s available in whole-muscle strips or as jerky shapes formulated from chopped and formed (ground) meat. Beef is the most popular of the meats used to make jerky, mainly because it’s readily available. Regardless of which critter you decide upon, choose quality lean meat. Top and bottom round, eye of round, sirloin tip, flank, and rump roast are good choices. Well-marbled, fatty cuts such as beef chuck and beef brisket are arguably the least desirable. I have tried beef brisket more than once and it was too fatty my jerky palate. It’s a known fact that fat turns rancid quickly, so why go to the trouble of making jerky if it’s at risk of spoiling?
When you begin a batch of whole-muscle jerky, figure enough time for an overnight marinade and six to twelve hours of drying time. Start by placing the well-trimmed meat on a clean cutting board. Slice it with the grain into long thin 3/16” (0.48 cm) to 1/4” (0.64 cm) thick strips. Of course, the thicker slices will take longer to dry so you need to take that into consideration when you decide upon the thickness. The width can vary from 1” (2.5 cm) to 4” (10.2 cm).
How To Slice Jerky Meat
For a tender bite, cut the meat strips across the grain. If you’re uncertain about the lay of the grain cut a 3/16” (0.48 cm) thick strip across one end of the meat. Secure opposite ends of the strip and tug in opposite directions. If it pulls apart easily it’s cut across-the-grain. Although many people find that jerky is easier to chew when it’s cut this way, it’s more apt to turn brittle and fall apart after it dries. On the other hand, if the meat strip stretches, instead of pulling apart, it’s cut with the grain as it should be. With practice, you’ll learn the difference between the two grain patterns simply by looking at the texture of the meat.
The electric food slicers, built specifically with the home processor in mind, probably tops the list as an alternative method for slicing jerky. The variable cutting thickness is adjustable, ranging from 1/8” (0.32 cm) to 1” (2.5 cm) thick. An electric slicer will produce jerky strips with a uniform thickness that’s ideal for drying in a dehydrator, oven or smoker.
There are also various other hand-operated slicing trays and manual meat slicers that produce a uniform product. Keep in mind that these tools must be thoroughly sanitized before and after they are used.Once you’ve established the lay of the grain, continue cutting the meat muscle into 3/16” (0.48 cm) or 1/4” (0.64 cm) thick strips. Cutting the meat thicker than 1/4” (0.64 cm) will increase the amount of drying time. Many people prefer to partially freeze the meat before slicing it into jerky strips. This simple step firms up the muscle fibers making it easier to cut the meat into more uniform slices. This procedure is helpful when you’re dealing with a large amount of meat.
Cut across the grain for a tender bite.
Cut with the grain for a traditional bite.
Beef Jerky Marinade
Wet Cure Method
The marinating process is the same, whether you use your favorite jerky recipe, or a commercial seasoning. Choose the freshest, leanest cut of meat you can afford. Trim away all visible fat and slip it into a food-grade plastic bag; freeze briefly until it’s stiff enough to slice easily. Place the partially frozen meat on a clean cutting board and slice it into 1/4” (0.64 cm) thick x 1 1/2” (3.8 cm) wide strips long enough to fit your drying screens. Slice the meat with the grain if you prefer a tougher, chewy jerky or across the grain if you want a product that’s easier to chew.
Add curing salt and water to the marinade mixture as directed in the recipe you are using; stir well until all of the ingredients are dissolved. Submerge the meat strips in the marinade and soak at 36-40°F (2-4°C) for 8 hours, stirring the meat occasionally to ensure an even absorption of the cure and flavorings. Cover marinade/meat.
Start the dry-rub process by mixing together the dry-rub ingredients according to your jerky recipe instructions or follow the directions as put forth by a trusted commercial dry cure. Either way, pour the rub mixture into a large Ziploc bag, add the meat strips, seal the bag and shake well to coat the strips with the mixture, or sprinkle the dry rub on both sides of the jerky meat strips; refrigerate overnight to cure.
Next day, place the cured meat strips in a non-reactive colander so the excess liquid can drain from the meat Afterward, apply a light coat of vegetable oil spray to your mesh drying screens. Arrange the meat strips on the screens in a single layer, leaving enough space between the pieces of meat to allow sufficient air flow. Process jerky meat strips in your usual manner or follow one of the drying methods explained below.
Dry Rub Method
Leaving ample space will shorten the drying time.
Buffalo beef jerky is high in protein and low in cholesterol and fat.
Venison jerky is high in protein and low in cholesterol and fat.
The kitchen range is the drying machine of choice for the novice jerky maker, mostly because every household has one and drying jerky in this mega dryer is significantly faster than either a smoker or a food dehydrator. All that’s needed in the way of extra equipment is one of the newfangled oven thermometers and two or three mesh drying screens, both of which are readily available at a number of online supply stores. A standard kitchen oven holds roughly 4 lbs (1.8 kg) to 6 lbs. (2.7 kg) of whole-muscle jerky strips at one time when mesh screens are used.
Start by laying heavy-duty foil on the bottom of the oven to catch the meat drippings or any dropped pieces. Spray the surface of each oven rack with a light coat of non-stick vegetable-oil spray. Remove the meat strips from the marinade or rub; drain briefly, then arrange the meat strips on the rack in a single layer, leaving enough space between the pieces to allow sufficient air flow; see adjacent photo.
Before you shut the door, position a wooden spoon in such a way the door will remain slightly ajar. This will allow the moist air to escape and decrease the overall drying time.Biltong is a form of dried, cured meat that originated in Southern African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia).
Close the oven door with the spoon in place. Set the oven control at the lowest possible setting; optimum temperature for drying jerky is 145°F (63°C). After the first hour or two, open the oven door and rotate the oven racks or mesh drying screens, moving the top rack/screen to the bottom and the bottom rack/screen to the top.
It takes roughly 6 to 12 hours to dry jerky in a 145°F (63°C) kitchen oven. The overall thickness of the meat and the relative humidity also come into play. Certainly, no two set of circumstances are the same at the time of processing. Rotate the racks/screens every hour or so. During each rotation remove the pieces that you think are dry to prevent them from becoming brittle.
Check for dryness by removing a piece you think is done and allow it to cool briefly at room temperature. When jerky is properly dried, it will crack or snap when bent. If it bends without cracking, however, it’s not dry enough and should be put back into the oven until it meets your criteria for dryness. Although dryness is, more or less, a personal choice, fully dried jerky lasts longer without refrigeration than its moister counterpart. If it’s too dry it will lose some of its nutritional value.
Trial and error on your part is to be expected until you figure out when jerky is dry enough. Because conditions (equipment, meat thickness, humidity, etc.) vary so much between individual jerky makers, it’s nearly impossible to say exactly how long it takes to dry jerky. I simply dry the jerky until it’s just the way I like it––tough and chewy!
Drying Jerky In A Smoker
Really good jerky is salty and chewy with a light to medium smoke flavor . Achieving this level of perfection does take a fair amount of experimentation, but the rewards are definitely worth the effort.
To start, remove your cured meat strips from the refrigerator and place in a plastic or non-corrosive colander to drain briefly. Afterward, spray the surface of the drying screens with a light coating of non-stick vegetable-oil spray. Spread the raw meat strips evenly on the screens making sure to leave enough space so that air can flow freely around each piece of jerky meat. Do not allow the raw meat strips to overlap one another as the covered portions will not dry or absorb smoke properly.
Start checking your jerky for doneness after 3 to 4 hours.
Load the screens into the smoker, close the door and open the draft (damper), generally located on the top, to wide open. If your model doesn’t have a draft, most do, then open your door just a crack. This will allow the excess moisture from the raw meat to escape more rapidly, which helps to shorten the dehydrating process. Hold product at 130°F (54°C) for one hour or until the jerky is dry to the touch. Add 2 to 3 ounces of damp wood chips; close the damper and the door. It doesn't take long for the chips to begin smoldering around the edges of the pan. At this time you’ll begin to notice a wisp of smoke spiraling around the outside of the smoker, which is exactly what you want to happen. A large, belching, plume of smoke isn’t required to make good jerky, unless you’re one of those people who aren’t satisfied until the meat is black and the smoke residues are thick enough to cut with a fork. Novices take heed! Too much smoke makes jerky bitter––less smoke is the way to go until you have more experience.
Two to three ounces of damp wood chips will last just over an hour. Once the wood chips have burned out it’s okay to open the door and remove the empty pan. The jerky should begin to acquire a slight reddish tinge commonplace with smoke dried jerky at this time. If desired, add an additional pan of chips while the door is open. When you’re done, close the door and raise the smoke chamber temperature to 145°F (63°C). It’s a good idea to monitor the product after 3 or 4 hours to check for doneness. If the meat closest to the heat source is drying faster than the rest of the jerky, rotate the trays accordingly to prevent the product from over drying.
It usually takes 6 to12 hours for 1/4” (0.64 cm) thick strips to dry in an electric smoker. Exact drying times vary greatly depending on the thickness of the meat strips, relative humidity and the ambient temperature, especially if the smoker is setting outside while it’s in use. Properly cured and dried jerky has a deep burgundy color throughout, and it’s flexible enough to bend without breaking. Soy-based jerky recipes, seldom call for curing salt which results in a finished product that is more black than burgundy. It’s a good idea to check the product for doneness after 4 or 5 hours in the smoker. If the meat closest to the heat source is drying faster than the rest of the jerky, rotate the trays accordingly to prevent the product from over drying.
To test for dryness, remove one of the meat strips from the smoker and allow it to cool briefly. Properly dried jerky is chewy and leathery and cracks or snaps when you bend it. If, however, it breaks instead of bending it’s too dry.
Curing salt is the reason this beef jerky has a deep burgundy color.
How To Make Ground Jerky
Begin ground jerky by combining the ground meat and jerky ingredients (or prepackaged seasonings) in mixing bowl or tub and mix thoroughly to form the ground jerky batter. Roll the batter into 6” (15 cm) x 1 1/2” (3.81 cm) diameter logs or large meatballs using up all of the batter mix. Set the shaped pieces aside briefly while you cut two 3” (8 cm) wide pieces of 3/16”-1/4” (0.48-0.64 cm) thick cardboard strips.
You may have to double up the cardboard to achieve the correct thickness. Afterward, position the pieces perpendicular to one another and cover with a sheet of waxed paper. Place one meat shape into the center of the waxed paper. Cover with a second sheet and use a rolling pin to flatten the log to the thickness of the cardboard strips as shown in the adjoining photo. Refrigerate overnight to cure.
Before the jerky gun rolling pins were used to make ground jerky.
Next day, carefully peel away the waxed paper from the rolled jerky shapes. You can dry as is or use a bread knife to cut into strips as shown in the adjoining photo. Arrange the shapes or sticks on oiled mesh drying screens in a single layer, making sure to leave enough space so air can flow freely around the meat. Place the shapes in a drying apparatus (see above drying methods for whole-muscle jerky) and dry at optimal 145°F (63°) for 6 to 12 hours or until it’s properly dried.
To test for dryness, remove one piece of the ground hamburger jerky from the dryer and allow it to cool slightly before bending it into a U-shape. Properly dried ground jerky will crack slightly when bent--but not break.