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

Beef JerkyIn 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)

Turkey Jerky

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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. I’ve had *great* luck with the beef and bison jerky from the folks at US Wellness Meats. Highly recommended.

    Ross wrote on July 18th, 2011
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. How much money does running the oven for several hours cost compared to purchasing pre-made jerky?

    justifun wrote on January 4th, 2012
    • Well, I’m going to venture a guess that it would be very little. It’s a low temp, that wouldn’t take much energy from the element to maintain. AND – when I make beef jerky, I make probably the equivalent of 10-12 bags in one batch. S0 at $6-7/bag – I know mines way cheaper.

      I think it cost about $0.16/hour to run an oven at 350 degrees though – so still cheaper. and tastier!

      MamaB wrote on January 4th, 2012
  11. I just tried this with some venison. I even forgot the garlic and I’m really enjoying it.

    I’m also feeding small pieces of unseasoned venison jerky to my cat, and she loves it. I’d like to get her diet more primal, too. Any suggestions of primal homemade petfood? I’d love to hear about them, thanks.

    Jackie wrote on January 10th, 2012
  12. Hey great article, can’t wait to prepare my own jerky!!
    Just something I am not sure I get right. Mark says “If you’re using conventional meats, going the safe route is a good idea”, but which one is the safe route? Boling the strips for a couple mins or heating them in the oven at 160F (but for how long?). Or is it either of these two options?

    fra0039 wrote on January 25th, 2012
  13. I make my own deer jerky with a similar recipe & use a big slicer to cut the meat. I am starting a 30# batch that we froze earlier.

    Peggi Anne Tebben wrote on March 19th, 2012
  14. I tried this recipe this past weekend and I had to share my wonderful results!

    I’m surprised by how dark it is, but I looove it. I used the hot marinade technique and it works so well! I was afraid at first that the beef strips were not soaking long enough because they actually started browning and I didn’t want to fully cook them. I did 2-3 strips at a time, let them soak a little in the marinade on one side, flipped them, and only kept them in for probably 30-50 seconds total. And they have plenty of flavor!

    Thank you for posting this recipe, Mark!

    Erika wrote on April 3rd, 2012
  15. My jerky is in the dehydrator right now. I needed to do this today and I forgot to marinate early, so I used the “hot marinade” method. I had Eye of Round sliced very thinly. When I dropped the meat into the marinade for a few, it basically cooked the thin meat. Will this affect my resulting jerky?

    Kimberly wrote on April 3rd, 2012
  16. Two words: GROUND BEEF. Get the leanest you can find. My farmer grinds me 90% lean for jerky. You can marinate it overnight in your spices, then roll it out real thin and dry. It’s easier on the teeth, making it good for young and old, and a tad less expensive than the start-with-steak variety.

    Mamachibi wrote on July 5th, 2012
  17. I’m from the UK and really can’t figure out what cut of meat to use? I’m figuring it might be a top side joint? Can anybody help please ???

    Kate wrote on February 28th, 2013

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