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How to Make Beef Jerky at Home - Drying, Recipes and Safety Tips

Updated on November 15, 2016
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John applies his scientific & research skills (PhD) to develop recipes, food guides, reviews of healthy whole foods, ingredients & cooking

Jerky is lean meat that is trimmed to remove fat, cut into strips, marinated and salted and then dried to preserve the meat, which makes and excellent snack. It is not cooked but may be smoked.

Many commercial jerky products use finely ground poor quality meat, seasonings, and form the ground beef into flat shapes prior to drying. These products contain inferior ingredients, sugar and processed flour and are not as healthy as homemade jerky where you can be sure of the ingredients.

Many commercial jerky products have high sugar content and can be very sweet, unlike biltong, which rarely contains sugar.

You can easily make your own jerky and you can control the ingredients and flavor you like. This article describes how to make your own jerky safely.

During the drying process the protein to moisture content ratio is reduced to 0.75 to 1.0). This cures the meat and preserves is as the bacteria cannot grow when its dry and growth is also inhibited by salt. There are well defined safety guidelines which are summarized below. Jerky is ready-to-eat and is a great healthy snack, especially for people on diets such as the paleo diet ( Paleo Diet Food List, Menu, Recipes | Caveman, Paleolithic Foods ) and needs no additional preparation. It can generally be stored for up to 12 months refrigeration. A typical 30 gm portion of jerky contains less than 1 gm of fat, 10-15 gm of protein, 0-3 gm of carbohydrates and about 600 mg of sodium.

Choosing the Cut of Beef - Select a lean cut like sirloin, round eye, or top round. Remove all the fat and this may mean you have to chop the slices. You should choose whether you want wide strips requiring the meat sliced about one inch thick (2.5 cm) or thinner for narrow strips. To make the slicing easier, freeze it for about 3-5 hours before slicing. You can make the slices thinner than way and be more consistent.

Slicing the Beef - To slice your beef into thin slices, you need a very sharp thin knife. Slice the meat into very thin strips less than 1/20 inches thick (about 2mm). You can choose to cut against of with the grain . Some people find that cutting against the grain makes the jerky easier to chew. Remove any fat as you go along and try to make the strips a uniform length.

Marinade the Strips - Soak your beef slices in a marinade for half a day or overnight in the fridge. There are several recipes shown below. The meat will absorb the flavor in the marinade which will help cure the meat.

Preparing the beef for drying - you can do this on the grill or in your oven. For safety reasons heat the beef briefly to160 degrees F (70 degrees C). Do not cook the beef - simply heat it to this temperature for a few minutes. You can sprinkle the jerky with salt as this will help the dehydrating process.

Drying the Beef Jerky - There are three options (note: the microwave does not work). Spray the racks with non-stick cooking spray to stop them sticking

  • Oven-dry - Place your prepared meat on a wire rack, or you can use various methods to hang the strips vertically in the oven. Generally, the domestic oven works well for drying most types of jerky. However, it is essential that the heat setting is as low as possible. Don't use the broiling element. Set the oven at its lowest setting (140 to 160 degrees F; 60- 70 degrees C) and dry the jerky for about 4-8 hours. The optimum drying temperature for jerky is 140 degrees F. If your oven is not vented, prop the oven door open a little by inserting a wooden spoon or something else in the opening. You need to encourage air circulation and a fan may be required.
  • Dehydrator - Most of these machines have multiple layers of stacking trays. Meat should be arranged with a single layer per each tray with no edges overlapping. Most of these dryers operate at 140 degrees F, which is ideal but the lower trays may be hotter than the top trays, and you way want to swap the trays during the drying, every hour or so. Later in the drying process the temperature can be reduced by ten degrees to avoid cooking or scorching.
  • Smoker - These can be used but it may be hard and frustrating to keep the smoker at the constant temperature of 140 degrees F.Many love the extra flavor provided by the smoker. Do not use any soft woods such as fir, pine or conifer.

Watching and Waiting - Making jerky is a relatively fast process. The exact time require to dry the meat will vary a lot due to the temperature, humidity levels, circulation, type of meat and slice thickness. Usually it will take between 4 - 8 hours in the oven. Check the consistency of the jerky regularly until it it is dry and you are satisfied with it. Test for doneness by cutting into the jerky to make sure that it is not raw inside. The jerky be a deep brown or burgundy color, lighter inside but not raw or moist.

Storage - Place the fresh jerky in plastic bags or containers and store in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to eat. Homemade jerky should be eaten within 1-2 months, whereas commercial jerky generally lasts about 12 months.

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© 2011 Dr. John Anderson


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  • Magicdust Staff profile image

    Magicdust Staff 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    You have just put me in the mood for some good Jerky!