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)

4368769 783edac5f4

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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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?
    Thanks

    fra0039 wrote on January 25th, 2012
  4. 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
  5. I tried this recipe this past weekend and I had to share my wonderful results!

    http://s14.postimage.org/eht0q3e73/462450_2923319688665_1431030145_32134237_1403703.jpg

    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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. Been making my own since years – getting beef jerky at all here in germany isnt easy, and then I like mine very crunchy and crumbly…. happy its a good thing for the PB diet, having a Kilo of beef just marinating in the fridge :-)

    My recipie (dont know if its all primal but mostly I think :-) ) for crunchy, crumbly, tasty:

    cut the beef in very fine stripes. do not go with the fibre, go diametral to it.

    Marinade:

    Soy sauce
    Balsamic vinegar
    pumpkin seed oil (I use that from my austrian home… any other nut tasting oil will do too)
    fresh garlic chopped in small bits
    fresh ginger chopped in small bits
    chili

    Marinate overnight. Then put in the drying oven for 10-12 hours to have it really dry and crunchy. enjoy :-)

    LittleHobbit wrote on July 11th, 2013
    • Sounds good

      Ger wrote on September 23rd, 2013
  10. PS: the recipies arent all that different, are they? :-)

    MIne just never keeps for 2-3 months.

    it is gone in less than 2 weeks :-P

    LittleHobbit wrote on July 11th, 2013
  11. I thought Jerky had to be “brined” as in soaked in salt to cure it? All the Jerky recipes I regular jerky recipes call for lots of salt. I just question how safe uncured Jerky will be?

    Sandy L wrote on August 18th, 2013
  12. Hi,

    I made this for the first time today. Had it in the oven for 7 hours. I am pretty sure it was done but there is still moisture on the meat. I can’t imagine cooking it any more. Do we need to blot it dry before cooking? I also read articles on keeping the oven door open with a wooden spoon during cooking. I have an Electrolux oven with a dehydrate mode. Would this make a difference in anything?

    Thanks for any help. Overall, it came out pretty good. Just concerned it didn’t dry out enough??

    Thanks,
    Michelle

    Michelle B wrote on September 15th, 2013
  13. I loved this recipe! I used London Broil, followed the marinade recipe and used the hot method of dipping the meat into the already boiled marinade. I have a dehydrator and the meat came out so tasty, without being overly salty. Thank you for the recipe! I have shared your link with many people!

    Lan wrote on October 14th, 2013
  14. How long will this type of jerky last? I travel 4 days at a time. Would like to have this keep at least 3-4 days.

    kurt gebhardt wrote on November 17th, 2013
  15. Good day! Do you know if they make any plugins to protect against hackers?
    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard
    on. Any tips?

    Thaddeus wrote on September 23rd, 2014

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!