Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
31 Jul

How to Make Your Own Jerky

2149549554 04c0125fc0In the modern world it’s hard to get more “primal” than dried meat. Consider it one of Grok’s many talents and culinary achievements. Jerky is essentially strips of lean meat that have marinated and dried. The result? Tasty, rich, salty and pumped with about twice the protein gram per gram of regular “hydrated” meat. To boot, you’ve got a snack that travels well under circumstances as varied as weekend camping trips to NASA missions. Awesome, huh?

But when we say jerky we mean something so much better and healthier than the processed strips and sticks (e.g. “Slim Jims”) you find at the gas station checkout. The best jerky is made from whole-muscle meat, homemade or in small batch varieties. We’ll agree that there’s some great small label jerky out there. Meat shares from small farms often include it. To try out a few varieties, farmers’ markets are a great place to pick up some of the real deal especially if you’re new to the world of genuine jerky.

But there’s real pleasure and a very primal sense of accomplishment in making your own. But rest assured that the endeavor needn’t be the tedious, complicated effort many people think it is. Sure, the overall time commitment involves several hours, but most of it is plain old “dry” time when you have the liberty to go about your business at home, fixing the front steps, weeding the garden, watching the kids in the pool, catching a cat nap, etc. Consider it a great excuse to enjoy hanging out at home on a weekend afternoon.

But don’t I need a dehydrator or smoker? Nope. If you have an oven, consider yourself set. Many long-time jerky connoisseurs actually find oven-made easiest and on par taste-wise. If you’re, in fact, using a dehydrator or smoker, simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re going the oven route, we’ve got some tips.

The Devil Is In the Details (of prep, that is)

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Tip #1: Go for a meat with next to no fat. This is not the time to look for marbling. When it comes to jerky: fat just doesn’t work. It goes rancid – unhealthy and, well, downright unappetizing. Jerky can be made from beef, venison, bison, and (less often) pork, turkey, and chicken, ostrich, and salmon. Beginners might start with beef for simplicity and availability sake. An easy and common cut is flank steak. London broil cuts are a good option as well. (As always, we suggest clean, grass-fed meat if you can get it.)

To save time and frustration, you can always request that the butcher do the trimming and cutting for you. Go for long, ¼ inch strips cut across the grain for tenderness. A tip for trimming your own: put the meat in the freezer long enough to firm up but not harden and then get out the ginsu.

The next step involves the marinade. You’ll get a lot of advice on marinades. A million different opinions, actually. In addition to the marinade recipes themselves, there’s the marinade method. As the folks at Oregon State University tell us, the USDA recommends that jerky meat “be heated to 160 degrees F before the dehydrating process in order to destroy pathogenic microorganisms.”

Some people dry in the oven at this temperature, but another method for heating is the “hot marinade” option. Instead of letting the meat “soak” overnight in a plastic bag, you can boil your marinade mix and drop in your meat strips for a minute or two. Rest assured that a lot of people swear by this method just for the taste itself. If you’re using conventional meats, going the safe route is a good idea. Raised, grass-finished might present less risk. The safety of wild meats like venison often depends on factors as various as overpopulation to butchering mastery.

As for marinade recipes, chalk it up to personal taste. We’ll offer a humble suggestion to get you started in your experimentation.

For a 2-lb cut:

¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
3 minced or crushed garlic cloves
2 ½ tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. hot chili powder
½-1 tsp. each of salt and black pepper

(Hint: For a hotter taste, add red pepper flakes or hot sauce. To add a hint of sweetness, include a Tbsp. of honey.)

The Heat Is On

Again, if you’re using an oven, you’ll use the power of the dry heat to dehydrate the meat over several hours. Lay the strips across clean wire racks or a broiler pan, and place in the oven. You’ll want to put a lined pan in the oven a couple rack bars lower than the strips in order to catch the drippings. If you don’t have racks that will hold the strips, line backing sheets with aluminum foil, and lay your jerky strips on the pans. Make sure the strips don’t touch. Particularly if you used a hot marinade, you can use a lower temperature (150 degrees is common) for 6-8 hours. Turn strips half-way through cook time.

Jerky is done when it’s darkened and cracks when bent. (It shouldn’t break apart.) Allow to cool completely at room temperature.

Call It Good

Once the strips are fully cooled, it’s time for storage. Homemade jerky (i.e. jerky without all the nitrates and preservatives) won’t store long at room temperature. Vacuum sealing is your best bet for this option. The packaging will allow you to bring the jerky with you on that longer backpacking trip minus the fuss and worries. In the meantime, your best bet is refrigerator or freezer storage. Wrap or vacuum seal in plastic, and store for 2-3 months in the refrigerator. (Freezer storage, provided you’ve wrapped the jerky well to prevent frostbite, will buy you a few more months.)

There you go. A nice big batch will give you plenty of portable protein nourishment for days walking on the trail or biding your time in the airport. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a jerky convert, we guarantee it. It’s a subculture in itself, we tell ya.

Got stories, recipes, tips and trials in your own jerky-making ventures? Do share, we say. Enjoy!

alau2, lightsoutfilms Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Definitive Guides to:

Homemade Condiment Creations

Top 10 Meat Questions Meet Answers

10 Delicious DIY Salad Dressings

DIY – Butter, Yogurt, Kefir, Oh My!

Tips on Foraging in the Modern World

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. At http://georgesrecipes.blogspot.com/2008/03/angry-jerky.html You can find a great recipe for jerky that I invented – without the soy sauce. Its also a sweeter spicer flavor which everyone I’ve made it for (hundreds) love.

    George wrote on July 31st, 2008
    • I’ve been using the hot marinade method using salsa.

      I just get a jar of salsa from the supermarket — make sure it’s got no added sugar or weird chemicals — just tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, etc.

      I add a good dose of sea salt to the brew.

      Bring the salsa+salt just to a boil. Drop the meat in. Let it soak for a minute or so, bringing the mixture back up to a simmer (when you drop the meat in it drops the temp a bit).

      Then dehydrate until dry.

      Love it.

      Jim wrote on March 3rd, 2010
    • If you don’t have the time to make it yourself, this is the next best thing:
      http://chipsamericanjerky.com/

      I’ve tried just about every brand, and this one is the absolute best.

      ericfoster3 wrote on March 23rd, 2010
      • Yes,
        I’m a BIG fan of this Jerky as well!!!!*
        (Disclaimer- “Shameless self promotion” {;-P
        I hope you’ll give our website a look and try us out.
        All Natural.
        No MSG.
        U.S.D.A. certified manufacturer.
        Our jerky is based on my homemade recipe and it is very much like Mark recommends above.
        Thanks!

        Chip wrote on April 2nd, 2010
      • I just checked their website, and it says that the jerky contains soy and wheat. booooo :(

        Ruth wrote on January 26th, 2012
    • Confused?!?! I thought soy, as in sauce, was a no-no?? Can coconut aminos be used? Also, George, you posted a link to a soy-free marinade but the link is a road to nowhere. Suggestions?

      Christina wrote on January 5th, 2013
      • I’m going to reply to Christina since Mark hasn’t yet. I agree that it’s very strange that soy is the first ingredient in his marinade! Not only is soy a legume, but also 99% of it in the U.S. is GMO! Christina, I’m going to try coconut aminos and will post results here. Also strange is the use of Worcestershire sauce. I’m standing in my kitchen reading the label of a bottle I found in the back of my fridge from before I went paleo: besides the “paleok” ingredients it has molasses, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and caramel color. Granted, this is Safeway’s “house” brand, and I’m sure there are brands out there that don’t have the HFCS and sugar, but still… I would have thought a paleo “guru” like Mark would at least place a disclaimer stating he realizes some of these ingredients are indeed not primal but are probably acceptable in small doses. But maybe I’m looking at this through “Whole30″- colored glasses, as I’m finally getting up the nerve to do my first Whole 30 (see whole9life.com if the term isn’t familiar to you).

        Jen wrote on April 21st, 2013
  2. I’m a big fan of the slim jim. In fact, I like them so much I once almost mail ordered myself a slim jim bouquet. Anyway, always wanted to try making my own. Looks fun. If only I had a vacuum sealer.

    McFly wrote on July 31st, 2008
  3. Jerky is the preferred snack when I am out backpacking in Northern California. And as this article states, jerky is not at all hard to make, it is a little time consuming but not difficult. I like to soak my meat in teriyaki sauce for an hour or so before cooking.

    jim wrote on July 31st, 2008
  4. as a woman who goes into the shakes if she doesnt git some jerky DAILY—-thank you for this post.

    I need to make the time to make it more often.

    my addiction? the TERRIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE of Chipper Jerky.

    MizFit wrote on July 31st, 2008
    • Just for clarification, C****** Jerky mentioned above is in no way related to CHIP’S AMERICAN JERKY COMPANY.

      We have an EXCELLENT customer service reputation and invite you to check us out at:

      http://www.chipsamericanjerky.com

      Thanks for the opportunity to respond,

      Chip Forward
      President & Owner
      Chip’s American Jerky Company

      Chip wrote on April 2nd, 2010
  5. I was in Alaska last month and had some great salmon jerky. I had never thought about salmon as jerky before.

    Crystal wrote on July 31st, 2008
  6. Folks try making biltong…it’s ‘lekker ‘

    simon fellows wrote on July 31st, 2008
  7. Alton Brown has a nice recipe for jerky using a box fan and air filters instead of an oven or commercial dehydrator.

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_31151_,00.html

    mario wrote on July 31st, 2008
  8. I can’t forget about dogs, they love beef jerkey dog treats, too, my ShihTzu loved it. When i took her to obedience classes, it was such a reward and made it easier to train her!

    Donna wrote on August 1st, 2008
  9. In South Africa we’re lucky enough to have amazing jerky – Biltong (available everywhere, from any shop and in all good butchers). My family also regularly goes hunting, so venison biltong is never in short supply (Springbok and Kudu in particular). I’d say biltong is a truly South African speciality, much like Parma Ham might be to Italy!

    Dee wrote on August 12th, 2008
    • Oh,I love Biltong.

      chiromom wrote on November 14th, 2009
  10. I never liked slim jim’s, and having once read the ingredients list, I saw mechanically separated chicken parts – confirmed why I shouldn’t be eating them. Wow… just wow.

    Ryan wrote on September 30th, 2008
  11. Hi. Just found your blog thru MizFit. I am so excited about this jerky info. I have been wanting to make some homemade, but didn’t know where to start.

    It’s the perfect snack for traveling too. Easy protien while stuck on plane that thinks protien = bagel (seriously).

    P.O.M. wrote on November 5th, 2008
  12. Welcome, P.O.M! I hope you find many other articles you like on MDA. Please take a look around and if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line. Cheers!

    Mark Sisson wrote on November 5th, 2008
  13. Hey I found this site on stumble and I’m very glad I did. I go hiking/backpacking a lot and have been wanting to make my own jerky instead of paying for it.

    Justin Wright wrote on December 9th, 2008
  14. Kangaroo meat is almost fat free and makes some of the best jerky ever.Best eaten with home made chilli salsa.

    mick wrote on March 15th, 2009
    • Oh I love kangaroo must try making ‘Roo Jerky’ mmmmmm.

      Tamin wrote on November 30th, 2010
  15. As usual you “beautiful” people turn my stomach. If you use meat with a little marbling it will add tremendously to the tenderness and flavor of your jerky. However, if you prefer flavored shoe leather, then by all means use lean meat. When using marbled meat, just refrigerate the jerky if you are worried about it spoiling. It is usually not around long enough to spoil. I have made jerky dozens of time with marbled meat and have never had a problem with spoilage.

    ken wrote on March 31st, 2009
    • I have been making jerky for a LONG time and my experience with the use of marbled beef is much different than some persons on this blog. I have found that the fat turns to a grisly mass of gunk that is difficult to chew; lots of flavor and you can chew it for a long time like gum. I make mine with 15 different flavors in beef and in chicken. I don’t boil it because that seems to make it tough also, but we all have our preferences. My recommendation is to slice the beef THIN at 4.5mm against the grain (so you don’t have long strings), soak it in your favorite sauce overnight and dry it in a dehydrator or in your oven with the door cracked open at the lowest setting that you have (160 degrees?). I use top round, London Broil, that is the leanest beef that I can find.

      Marty Johnson wrote on May 7th, 2010
  16. and if you’re in the meat business, you can then use your jerky for a business card: http://meatcards.com/

    jennifer wrote on June 15th, 2009
  17. Do you sell the web feet rubber sandals I always see you wearing in your pictures on this web site if so I would enjoy buy some…

    gay ann mcclellan wrote on August 3rd, 2009
  18. My husband and I live in San Diego but we’re from South Africa where it is common to eat Biltong. This is dried meat a little like jerky but the pieces are cut thicker and vinegar is used in the marinade to ‘cure’ the meat which is then dry hung. This means we can use ‘fattier’ pieces which is great because the fat is the yummiest part. My husband built a cabinet for our garage with a fan mounted on top where he can hang our Biltong – in a few days it is dry and ready to eat. My preference is to have it a little moist and my husband likes his really dry.

    Candy wrote on August 7th, 2009
  19. Oh … and biltong is also made from ostrich or game meats. All kinds of buck are common in South Africa and those meats are used.

    Candy wrote on August 7th, 2009
  20. If you’re from South Africa and live in the USA like I and several others here clearly do, you find jerky quite unsatisfactory compared to biltong. Jerky – at least shop bought – tastes too much like boiled meat. Biltong has a great “chew”.

    For those interested there are lots of resources on the web for biltong; here’s an example:

    http://www.markblumberg.com/biltong.html

    Graham Wheeler wrote on December 22nd, 2009
    • I made a load of Pemmican, three years ago: dry the meat, no marinade [strange American idea!], no heat,no salt, no smoke, just air, outside, in the shade: fat was removed first & tallow made; jerky was shredded between a couple of rocks: just keep hitting it: the shredded meat was mixed with cooled liquid tallow, just enough to coat it. Stored in airtight tins. Primitive at its best! Oh, some dill seeds or wild greens make a good accompaniment.

      Raven_Glance wrote on April 14th, 2011
  21. Here is a really good comparison of biltong to jerky. The key differences:

    – jerky is marinaded, biltong is salted (I guess this is the reason jerky is much softer)
    – jerky is dried quickly with heat, biltong is dried slowly at a cool temperature (making it classified as “raw meat” by USDA)
    – jerky typically uses pepper/garlic for flavoring, biltong uses coriander

    http://www.jedsjerky.com/blog/difference-biltong-versus-jerky/

    BTW the best biltong is made from Kudu. We can only dream of it here; I’ve been tempted at times to go night-time hunting at the local zoo in Seattle :-)

    Graham Wheeler wrote on December 22nd, 2009
  22. I am definitely going to try and make my own jerky. I am tired of the dried out store bought stuff.

    Mike wrote on February 4th, 2010
  23. Does anyone know if jerky can be made with previously frozen meat? All of our meat from the farmer’s market comes frozen.

    John wrote on February 18th, 2010
    • Yes you can use frozen meat to make jerky. The best to use is the beef top round (London Broil). Set it on the counter when it is still frozen and wit till it still has some ice crystals in it and then slice it at about 1/8 inch thick. It is easiest to slice when slightly frozen. The leaner the meat, the better the jerky and the longer it will last.

      Marty wrote on February 23rd, 2010
  24. Just wanted to say that this well-written article was one I merely stumbled upon via a Google search for home made jerky, and I’m very excited to learn it can be done with a common oven (since I don’t particularly feel like shelling out for a dehydrator at this point in time.)

    I’ve bookmarked this page for future reference, and I am eagerly anticipating the day that I do!

    Thank you very much (and your commenters as well.)

    J. Monty Rivers wrote on March 6th, 2010
  25. What about the brand Buffalo Bill Jerky? Anyone know if it is good for you?

    Steve wrote on April 17th, 2010
  26. I’ve found that jerky without heat is much better. If lay the strips in the grooves of an air filter (not the fuzzy one, the plastic one) put one on top and bungee the whole thing to a box fan over night you’ve got tender flavor filled jerky.

    mike wrote on June 11th, 2010
  27. hubby and I are on the p90x program and I am aghast at the price of a tiny bag of turkey jerky at the store!! I am anxious to try your recipe and see how it works out for us. For recipes and cooking adventures, check out my blog at http://www.mealsforfriends.com. cheers!!

    Renee wrote on July 7th, 2010
  28. Traderjoes has their own brand of beef/ turkey jerky in 6 different flavors, without the nitrates, msg or weird stuff, and much lower sodium than most of the other brands out there. For a good price too.

    And please folks, please don’t even consider super market ones like jack links, slim jims or oberto brands. They come with weird stuff and they put hydrolyzed protein to jack up their protein amount, not to mentioned about 3 times the amount of sodium per oz compared to the independent brands.

    TLC wrote on August 4th, 2010
  29. Mark,

    Have you ever considered offering alternative seasoning methods that do not include items containing salt? I really like a lot of your receipts, but I have high blood pressure. As such, my goal is to add no salt to my food if at all possible. For a while now, I have been wanting to explore spices as an alternative. This concept as a whole would seem to jive with being more primal as even the little bit of salt you’re adding to the above dish is definitely above what would be considered primal intake. Any thoughts?

    David

    Dave Maybe wrote on August 5th, 2010
    • Hi David,

      Have you tried seasoning with chipotle powder? If you don’t mind a bit of heat (I would eat peppers with my peppers) that would help give it a rich smoky savory taste. I find that I don’t really need salt with that (and add some garlic/onion/etc. mmmm).

      -Sero

      Sero wrote on July 15th, 2011
  30. Ok, just to clarify… once the cooking, cooling and vacuum sealing process is complete…. I must then refrigerate for 2-3 months before consuming? Is this right?

    Mark wrote on August 12th, 2010
    • I’m 99.44% sure that they mean it can be stored for up to 3 months in the refrigerator before it goes bad. You should be able to eat it as soon as it’s out of the oven and cooled off a bit.

      Ray wrote on August 18th, 2010
      • Thank you sir!

        Mark wrote on August 18th, 2010
  31. Made this two weeks ago and loved it! I’m going to make some for a friend that is on the Zone. Anyone know how many blocks and what the caloric breakdown is?

    beth wrote on September 2nd, 2010
  32. Beef jerky and especially Biltong is great stuff. Just make sure you are careful what recipe you go by if you are making your own. Some older recipes ask for “saltpeter” which isn’t really needed and has been shown to be bad for human health.

    Biltong wrote on September 4th, 2010
  33. Soy sauce contains wheat, folks! Does someone have other marinade suggestions that come close in flavor, but ditch the grains?

    notivuga against the grains wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • San-J makes a gluten-free (wheat-free) tamari soy sauce. It’s actually pretty good. :) Whole Foods and Vitacost both have it.

      Cate wrote on November 6th, 2010
  34. Worcestershire’s second ingredient is sugar and the third is HFCS. Anyone have any alternative suggestions? Believe me, I love the flavor!

    mich wrote on December 10th, 2010
    • Annie’s Worcestershire has just molasses for sweetness, but the soy sauce in it contains wheat.

      There are recipes for making your own Worcestershire that you could adapt to be more primal-friendly.

      I’ve also wondered about using Asian fish sauce for that umami flavor.

      So far, I just have my first batch of Mark’s recipe going into the dehydrator today. Will report back on how it turns out!

      Lauren wrote on February 5th, 2011
      • I found “The Wizard’s” Worcestershire sauce (Gluten and HCFS-free) in the store and and made lamb’s heart jerky yesterday. Delish.

        Homer wrote on March 21st, 2011
  35. Soy sauce has wheat in it… A primal unfriendly
    Filler. In place of the wheat laden soy sauce, use BRAGG’S, or wheat FREE Tamari! (I love using Bragg’s, plus it ha very little sodium in it also!)

    Julie wrote on May 12th, 2011
  36. For all of those who noticed… Soy sauce has wheat in it… A primal and celiac unfriendly
    Filler. In place of the wheat laden soy sauce, use BRAGG’S, or wheat FREE Tamari! (I love using Bragg’s, plus it ha very little sodium in it also!)

    Julie French wrote on May 12th, 2011
  37. I’ve had *great* luck with the beef and bison jerky from the folks at US Wellness Meats. http://www.grasslandbeef.com Highly recommended.

    Ross wrote on July 18th, 2011
  38. I would like to offer a suggestion on the marinade — one that eliminates the soy in the soy sauce, and adds a little sweetness (for the teriyaki lover)

    For a 2-lb cut:

    ¼ cup coconut aminos
    1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
    1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
    4 Tbsp. raw coconut nectar
    5 minced or crushed garlic cloves
    2 ½ tsp. onion powder
    1 tsp. hot chili powder
    ½ tsp. black pepper

    FireStorm wrote on September 7th, 2011
  39. I have to be gluten free (Celiac), so I’m wondering if there is a substitute for the Worcestershire sauce? Also, what is liquid smoke? Is it gluten free, and where can I purchase that from? Thanks!

    Lisa wrote on September 8th, 2011
  40. I followed this recipe yesterday and made no substitutions except that I did toss three anchovies into the marinade and some extra tamari to replace the Worcestershire sauce I didn’t have. Fabulous results! Rich and delicious.

    Penny wrote on October 5th, 2011

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