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|LOW COST, FAST, TENDER JERKY USING
By Wayne McLerran
Last update: 12/19/2009
In various forms, dried cured meat has been a food staple for centuries. The
Quechua, a South American tribe of the Inca’s, are credited with introducing it
around 1550. Meat was pounded between stones and then seasoned, cooked,
and dried. They called it ch’arki. The Spanish later changed the name slightly
to Charqui (chär-kē), of which jerky is a corrupted form.
Closer to home and more recently the North American Indians, explorers, and
settlers made good use of jerky. Readers of western novels know that a
cowboy out on the range wouldn’t be caught dead without some jerky stuffed
in his saddlebag. Today, jerky is sold by the ounce at just about every
convenience store or grocery store as a low-fat, high protein, snack food, but
due to processing costs it’s quite expensive.
The Indians and early settlers smoked and dried prepared meat over open fires,
or hung it in the sun to dry for many days. A quick Internet search will turn up
hundreds of recipes. Most of these are based on sliced meat dried in a
ventilated oven at low temperatures for several hours. I’d like to share with
you my favorite recipe for making low-cost, tender, excellent tasting,
homemade jerky the easy way.
The main items are a good food dehydrator and an indispensable tool called
the “Jerky Works”. I evaluated several dehydrators and finally settled on one
by American Harvest (NESCO). It has stackable trays, works great, and is
very easy to clean. Additional trays can be purchased separately to add
capacity. Regardless of the manufacturer, I strongly suggest a fan-powered
unit, which work much faster than convection only dehydrators.
The Jerky Works tool, also made by American Harvest, looks and functions
like a large cake-decorating gun to form ground meat into uniform flat or
round strips of any desired length. I highly recommend the Jerky Works. It
eliminates several steps in preparing the meat. It’s not as messy as other
techniques and cleans up easily. The “jerky gun” makes it easy to control
the length of the strips to fit the drying trays. Similar “jerky guns” are sold
by other suppliers and can be found a large sporting good stores catering to
hunters & fishermen.
The ‘original’ jerky seasoning mix from American Harvest is very convenient
and excellent. Several other flavors are also available to experiment with. I
suggest starting with no more than 1 to 2 lbs of ground meat until you’re
comfortable with the technique and amount of seasoning mix to use. Using
my recipe the American Harvest unit is limited to a maximum of 1 lb of meat
per dehydrator tray.
1) One of the keys to good jerky is using low-fat meat. I prefer venison, but
very lean beef is certainly excellent. Use the leanest ground beef you can find,
or better yet, have lean meat ground up after first removing all the fat. Most
of the remaining fat will melt during the dehydrating process, collect on the top
of the meat and periodically have to be dabbed off with an absorbent paper
towel. In addition, fat left in the finished jerky will reduce the self-life. Fat
turns rancid, resulting in a bad smell and taste if not refrigerated for long
periods of time (weeks). When the jerky if finished, but still hot from the
dehydrator, press it by hand between a couple of paper towels to remove
excess fat before storing.
2) A good practice to follow when using wild game meat is to freeze the meat
for at least 30 days at 0°F or lower before using. This precaution kills any
parasites that the animal may have carried.
3) As a precaution against the risk of salmonella when making jerky from the
meat of domestic or wild turkey, chicken, or pork, be sure to heat it to a
minimum of 160°F (some recommend 180°F) for at least 30 minutes. This
can be done prior to or after the jerky is made. If done after the jerky is made
it will further dehydrate the meat, so plan for this step when determining how
long to leave the meat in the dehydrator.
4) Drying time depends on many factors: thickness of the meat, room humidity,
how heavily the dehydrator is loaded, dehydrator temperature setting and/or
wattage rating, will the jerky be subjected to additional heating to kill
salmonella (in the case of turkey, chicken, or pork), and how hard you prefer
the final jerky. Trial and error experimentation is the only way I have found to
determine when to remove the jerky from the dehydrator. My recipe notes
provide some guidelines. One thing I avoid is over-drying the meat, which will
result in brittle and very hard jerky. Expect the finished jerky to become
slightly harder and tougher after it cools down from the heat of the dehydrator.
5) For additional safety precautions and guidelines please refer to the attached
article below by Mary Bell.
Preparing the seasoning mix: (The following is for 1 lb of meat - use
twice as much for 2 lbs of meat, and so forth):
If using the jerky seasoning mix from American Harvest, the directions suggest
using one package of seasoning and one package of curing salt per lb of meat.
When used with ground meat, I have found that ¾ of a package of both the
seasoning and salt works fine with 1 lb of meat. For example, if starting with
6 lbs of meat, use 4 packages of seasoning and 4 packages of salt. Pour the
ingredients in a bowl, add the desired amount of cayenne pepper, and mix
thoroughly. For a light spicy taste add 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper. For
medium spicy taste add 1/2 tsp, and for hot spicy jerky add 3/4 tsp of cayenne
pepper. Of course, this is to my taste. I recommend that you start out using
1/4 tsp or less of cayenne pepper per lb of meat.
Using ground meat: (If using game meat see note 2 above)
This is my favorite recipe. It is based on using very lean ground meat and has
several advantages. Meat slicing is eliminated. The marinating process is not
necessary. The finished jerky is very tender, in contrast to recipes using
whole meat. The formed meat strips dehydrate at the same rate and are
uniform for easier packaging and long-term storage.
Using the Jerky Works:
1. Blend the prepared seasoning and ground meat. I mix it by hand by
squeezing the seasoned meat through my fingers for a few minutes. Expect
the meat to turn a darker color during the mixing process. It will be
sufficiently mixed when the darker color is uniform and there are no areas of
brighter red meat. The mixture will also become smoother and “gummier”
in the process.
2. Pack the Jerky Works tool with the prepared ground meat and squeeze
out the strips on the dehydrator trays. Don’t overlap the strips, but they can
be laid out touching each other. As the meat dehydrates it will shrink and the
strips will separate from each other.
3. Dehydrate for several hours (around 4 to 7 hours at 145°F is usually
sufficient - see note 3 above). If the meat has a substantial amount of fat,
check every hour or so and pat the meat with a paper towel to remove any
surface oil that has collected. Depending on the fat content, it may be
necessary to turn over each piece and remove the surface oil from both sides.
A slower but quite satisfactory method:
Prepare the meat as previously instructed.
1. Place the prepared meat between two sheets of waxed paper.
2. Roll out to desired thickness (3/16 inch to 1/4 inch thick works best
3. Remove the top layer of wax paper.
4. Using a sharp knife cut meat into strips of desired length and width by
cutting completely through the meat and bottom layer of wax paper.
5. Grabbing the ends of the wax paper strips, lay the strips on the
dehydrator trays meat down and peel the wax paper off.
6. Dehydrate for several hours as previously noted.
Some of my results:
Drying time note – my dehydrator is a 550-watt unit. I use the maximum
setting, which is 145°F. Many dehydrators are preset for a temperature of
145°F but have lower wattage heaters therefore drying times will be longer.
The drying time for a 250-watt unit will be over twice the times I’ve noted
Using 6 lbs of ground venison (the maximum my 6-tray dehydrator will hold)
• 1/2 tsp. of cayenne pepper per lb.
• ¾ package of American Harvest original spice and 3/4 package of salt
per lb. Used 4 packages of each with the 6 lbs of meat.
• Formed meat into two different flat strips (using the hand press and the
jerky gun). Also formed the meat into round strips using the jerky gun.
• Drying time: 6 hrs for the flat strips, 7&1/2 hrs for the round strips.
Results: good taste, pepper just right. I prefer the flat strips using the jerky
Using 6 lbs of ground venison
• 2 “rounded” tsp of cayenne pepper for 6 lbs.
• Mixed 4 packages of spices and salt with 6 lbs of meat (3/4 package
per lb) Used a mixture of American Harvest spices consisting of 1 Cajun
beef, 1 pepperoni beef, and 2 original flavors.
• Formed meat into flat strips using the jerky gun. In order to have
enough room using 6 trays I had to make sure the pieces were as close as
• Drying time was 7 hrs.
Results: good taste, pepper just right. I prefer the original flavor by itself.
Weighing the prepared meat and resulting jerky from several batches, ground
up venison will yield around 42%. Therefore one should expect
approximately 2.5 lbs of jerky from 6 lbs of lean ground venison. Expect the
yield to be less if using lean ground beef, likely in the 35% range. Of course
the yield depends on several factors such as fat content, moisture content and
how long the jerky is dehydrated.
By Mary Bell
This article was copied from THE DRY STORE Internet site (http://www.
drystore.com/book-just-jerky.shtml), which is no longer in existence.
IS IT OK TO EAT?
Jerky is generally raw meat that’s been flavored and dried. This often raises
fears that are usually unfounded. If the plan is to stuff unrefrigerated meat in a
backpack, jerky is safer to eat than cured ham, smoked turkey breast or a
roast beef sandwich.
Once the internal temperature of meat reaches 145°F. and stays at that
temperature for at least ten minutes, salmonella, E-coli and trichinosis are no
longer threatening, according to Dr. Art Maurer, professor of poultry products
technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Maurer says jerky has an
overlap of three safety factors going for it. First, most dehydrators--and most
means those capable of sustaining a temperature of 145°F are hot enough to
kill most bacteria. Second, salt levels in jerky are higher than in other
uncooked meats. Third, the drying process eliminates more than 90% of the
water, the medium that bacteria needs to grow.
Although rare, trichinosis has been found in pork products and game meats
such as bear and walrus. To eliminate the parasite trichinosis, a constant
temperature of 135°F for five to 10 minutes is sufficient. Freezing also
destroys the parasite if the raw meat is held at -20°F for six days.
Making jerky engages the senses. You smell the marinade, feel the meat’s
texture for dryness and, to ensure shelf-life safety, you rely on sight. If jerky
is not dried enough, it can develop mold, though. When mold is found on
jerky, all foods stored together in the same container must be discarded.
Don’t confuse a white ash on the surface of dried meats as mold, though.
During the dehydration process, liquid components come to the surface and
dry. That white ash film is apt to be crystallized salt, which is not a hazard.
A teaspoon of salt added to a pound of meat is no more than flavoring.
However, when the meat is dried, that teaspoon of salt inhibits bacteria.
Salty ingredients such as soy, Worcestershire, pickling and curing salt become
preservatives. It’s best to use pickling and curing salt rather than table salt.
Avoid rock salt, which contains too many impurities. Table salt has iodine,
which may cause an avoidable chemical reaction if the meat marinates in an
According to Maurer, the shelf life is dependent on moisture content,
packaging and storage temperature. The water activity in dried jerky will
be very low, so most bacteria, yeast and many molds will not grow. The
better the package, the longer the shelf life. The colder the temperature, the
longer the shelf life. So it appears that a properly dried jerky product with
good packaging should have a room temperature shelf life of at least half a
year, Maurer says.
Like any other dried food, jerky lasts longest when stored in airtight containers
in a cool, dry place. Airtight containers include jars with tight-fitting lids or
sealable plastic bags. Even though our ancestors dried meat and fish and kept
it from year to year without refrigeration, I recommend storing jerky in the
refrigerator or freezer, especially if you want to keep it longer than one month.
Storage life can be affected by humidity and temperature of the storage area.
I have kept jerky in a jar on the counter for several months. It doesn’t taste as
fresh as when I keep it in the refrigerator or freezer. This is especially true for
thicker pieces of jerky. When jerky contains fat, it has more potential to turn
rancid and shouldn’t be stored at room temperature.
Moisture content is jerky’s biggest contamination factor. There’s greater
surface contamination with poor packaging. Botulism is very rare, although
it’s found in fish once in awhile, says Maurer. However, botulism only grows
in the absence of air. Jerky is not prone to botulism unless it’s vacuum
packed improperly, then not refrigerated. Many commercial jerkies are v
When making jerky, it’s always a good idea to label jerky packages with
name and date of drying process. I write the type of jerky on masking tape,
put it on the marinating container, and then transfer it to the drying trays.
When the jerky is dry, I put this same label on the storage container.
When packaging jerky that feels oily, wrap it in paper towels and let cool for
a couple of hours. The toweling will absorb excess oil. Discard the oily paper
toweling and wrap again in clean paper towels. Place the wrapped jerky in a
container. This will help prevent rancidity and encourage longer storage. If it
smells rancid or if mold forms in the container, discard it.
All raw meats must be dried at temperatures of 145°F and above. The
internal temperature of the meat pieces must remain at this temperature for
at least 10 minutes. Check to make sure your dehydrator runs continuously
at the same temperature. If you have a dehydrator that does not have a
temperature control, you can still use it to dry jerky. However, once the
jerky is dry, it’s a good idea to put it in the oven at the lowest temperature
setting. When drying precooked foods, temperature isn’t as important.
Jerky generally dries in 4 to 20 hours. Time varies depending on the type and
wattage of the dehydrator or oven. Many factors must be taken into
consideration: the amount of jerky you’re making, the number of trays in a
dehydrator, water content of wet jerky, size of pieces (generally 1/4-inch thick
and 4 to 5 inches long), humidity in the air and the temperature used. Faster
drying can be accomplished by increasing the temperature. If jerky becomes
too crisp, it was dried too long or the temperature was too high.
If your dehydrator doesn’t have a temperature control and there’s no way to
determine the drying temperature, as a safety precaution you may want to
precook foods to be made into jerky.
Cooking includes steaming, braising, baking or simmering. Strips of meat or
fish, including ground meat strips can be placed on cookie sheets, put in the
oven for 20 minutes at 150° F then dried in a dehydrator or smoker.
Benefits of cooking prior to drying include:
Cooking releases moisture, which shortens the drying process. Cooking helps
eliminate fat. Cooking lengthens the storage life. Cooked jerky is a more
stable product. Cooked jerky reconstitutes faster and has a better texture.
Jerky can be made from leftover cooked meat and fish. Cut up cooked
Thanksgiving turkey or Easter ham into cubes or strips and place in a drying
IS IT DRY YET?
Jerky darkens and shrinks when it’s dry. One pound of raw meat or fish
generally dries to between 1/3 and 1/2 pound of jerky. When testing for
dryness, always feel cooled pieces - warm pieces feel more pliable. It’s
safer to over dry than to under dry.
"Dry" has many different meanings to people. Here’s a look at how a variety
of sources describe their methods for knowing when jerky is dry:
- Squeeze a piece of dried jerky between your thumb and forefinger-you
should not feel any moisture or soft spots in the jerky.
- Dry until firm, but not as crisp as a tortilla chip, and not so dry that it
- When folded in half, jerky breaks.
- Jerky bends like a green willow.
- It won’t snap clean like a dry stick.
- Jerky is hard to cut with a regular knife. A serrated knife or kitchen scissors
Fat or oil does not dry. During the drying process, it beads up on the surface
of the jerky. That’s why it’s important to cut off as much fat as possible when
preparing meat and fish to make jerky. When making jerky from pork, it must
be cooked and the fat removed before being dried. When you remove fat, you
help eliminate more of the gamy taste.
Dog, chum and pink salmon are the least oily salmon and are best for drying in
a dehydrator or oven. Any oil that beads up during drying in a dehydrator or
oven must be patted off.