Beef jerky has been enjoyed for quite some time, tracing its roots to ancient Egypt. As a dried, lightweight, nutrient-rich meat, it had the advantage of long-term storage many centuries before refrigeration was available. Even now, beef jerky remains a staple snack food on store shelves, and more people are making their own at home. Several guidelines for making this delicious snack will be outlined.
The word “jerky” is derived from the Quechua term “ch’arki”, meaning “dried meat.” There are several methods of drying beef; here, electric food dehydrators will be the focus. It is strongly suggested that before drying, beef sterilization is important. Heating the meat to 160 degrees before the drying process is recommended, as food dehydrators aren’t usually quite that hot (all temperatures are Fahrenheit).
Preparation of beef jerky begins with the meat; the quality and origin of the beef are important factors in this process. High-quality lean beef, especially organic, will likely make better and healthier jerky; this is especially true if using ground beef. The following guidelines will involve 3 pounds of beef, yielding around 16-18 ounces of jerky.
The preparation of the basic marinade is:
2/3 cup soy sauce
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper
Other options include 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke, and 2 to 3 teaspoons each of honey, crushed peppers, sesame seeds, or hot sauce of choice.
Whisk the above ingredients together thoroughly.
Note: If a recipe is encountered calling for salt, iodized salt is not recommended because it may contribute to a metallic taste.
With thoroughly-washed hands, trim the meat of all fat, gristle, and tendons, then cut into strips between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick. Partial freezing of the meat will make slicing easier, and cutting with the grain will help prevent the jerky from falling apart when dried. Beef strips too thin may end up crispy, while thicker slices may take too long to thoroughly dry.
Before marination, the meat should be roasted or steamed to 160 degrees, then allowed to cool. In a one-gallon zip-lock bag, mix the beef strips and the marinade together, then seal and place in the refrigerator. While marinating, the bag should be turned over every hour or so when possible. Depending on their thickness, the strips may marinate a minimum of four hours or be left overnight. Marination is not recommended for ground beef.
Alternatively, the strips may be precooked by boiling in the marinade itself; in either case, the used marinade should be discarded and not reused.
The strips are now placed in a colander to drain, and perhaps blotted with a paper towel. After placing the strips on the dehydrator trays, set the temperature to between 130 and 140 degrees. Some dehydrators have just one preset temperature, preferably in the range mentioned. Proper air circulation is critical when drying beef, so dehydrators without fans should be avoided. It is also suggested that the temperature be double-checked with a calibrated thermometer. At an average temperature of 135 degrees, the minimum drying time will be about 8 hours, depending on meat thickness.
Finished beef jerky should be firm, dry, and not spongy at all; it should crack when bent but not break. Brittle jerky which breaks easily is usually too dry. When drying is finished, allow the jerky to thoroughly cool before storing. Containers must be airtight, as moisture is undesirable. Store the jerky in a cool, dry place not subject to drastic temperature changes; it may also be refrigerated. Packaging methods mostly devoid of air are even better, and date labels are recommended (check for mold periodically just in case). Consume homemade jerky within one to two months.
By following these guidelines, homemade beef jerky can be made in a healthy, tasty fashion. The joy of consuming one’s own product, at a fraction of the commercial cost, is satisfaction indeed.