Home Made Jerky
The Money Saving Alternative to Store Bought Jerkies
Do-it-Yourself Jerky really can be a Do-it-Yourself treat, and doing it at home will save you money. Produce it for lunches, for back pack and camping trips, for food storage, or simply as an everyday treat. It's not as difficult as you might think, especially if you have the right tools at hand.
Prepping the Meat
Fish or fowl, wild venison or domesticated beef; jerky can be made from just about any kind of meat. You would, however, be well advised to start with very lean cuts. High fat content will dramatically increase the chances of your jerky going rancid. Consequently, you should begin by removing all noticible fat from the meat. This, of course, is assuming you are actually going to be starting with a "cut" of meat. Instead of using thin slices of meat to dehydrate, many people prefer using ground meats. Both choices are acceptable.
If opting for meat slices, cut your meat into very thin strips of 1/4" to 1/8" thickness or less. You can cut with or against the grain, but many claim that strips cut against the grain end up being easier to chew. Store-It Foods features the Furi series of Knives as made popular by TV Chef, Rachael Ray, but any good quality chef's knife would likely be suitable. You will find such high quality, well balanced, and properly sharpened knives to be much easier tools with which to work. Allowing your meat to partially freeze for twenty to thirty minutes prior to cutting will also make slicing easier.
Of course, the use of ground meats will eliminate much of the need for such precise cutting. As always, first choice should still go to lean or even extra-lean grinds. Packaged meat from your supemarket or local butcher's will work just fine, although you may want to consider grinding your own. This would be particularly true if you wish to exert the utmost control over what meat is being used, or if utilizing wild game, which simply is not normally to be found in your typical grocery store or butcher shop.
Treating the Meat
If working with meat strips, you will now likely want to follow what most recipes recommend, and that is to use a meat marinade. That entalis the soaking of the meat in a solution of cider vinegar and sea salt, or soy sauce and assorted spices, or a mixture of soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder and seasoning salt. In short, there are a multitude of recipes available, some extremely simple, some quite complex. Some recipes also call for the addition of various seasonings and spices once the marination process has been completed. There really are innumerable choices and lots of room for experimentation.
There are commercial preparations available if you so desire. In the case of ground meats, you can actually purchase complete jerky making kits. These consist of jerky guns, small packages of assorted flavorings and cures, and tips to be attached to the gun by which the jerky stirps are formed. Ground meat is mixed with the flavorings and cure, and inserted into the jerky gun where it is then extruded much like caulk from a caulking gun.
Besides the ease of preparation, there are some other advantages to this. The wait for marination is eliminated, and the resultant meat strips are of uniform thickness and shape, which makes for more uniform and predictable drying times. Extra packages of spices and "cures" are, of course, available.
It should be noted that each Nesco pack contains sufficient flavorings and meat cure to treat one pound of ground meat.
At this point you should be ready to do the actual dehydrating. It is possible to use a standard oven to accomplish the task, but fewer and fewer people are choosing to go that route. If, however, you do choose to use your oven, preheat it to 160 or 165° F. (some opt to reduce the heat afterwards, but those higher temperatures are good to use to at least start the dehydrating of the jerky). Do NOT set it to even higher temperatures in order to speed up the process. The heat you are using is not intended to cook your jerky. Rather, you will want a gentle heat that will aid in the dehydration process by causing the moisture to evaporate. Place your prepared meat on a wire rack over a cookie sheet.
Use of a dehydrator, now the preferred method, is also a more efficient method. Heated air is circulated over and around the meat, and the drying is accomplished more evenly and, generally, more quickly. Some machines are more efficient than others, often a matching factor to the features incorporated into them. In any case, you should probably proceed according to the instructions that came with your unit. As far as jerky making is concerned, the best dehydrators will be the ones capable of reaching slightly higher temperatures, and with an ability to effectively circulate that heated air.
The five food dehydrators shown are but a sampling from the selection to be found at Store-It Foods.
Beef Jerky, when finished, should have turned a deep brown or burgundy color. Ideally, it should not be dried to the point where it is hard and brittle. Rather, some flexibility should remain.
Properly prepared, jerky stores relatively well. For longer term storage, however, certain steps can be taken. It can be refrigerated or frozen. Ordinary zipper sealed plastic bags sometimes tend to attract moisture, which is not the best thing for dehydrated foods. Mason jars help to solve that problem, and can extend storage time to several months. Vacuum sealing is even better, for it seals out both air and moisture.
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Can it, freeze it, freeze dry it, dehydrate it, use it fresh, or purchase already prepared foods for emergencies. At Store-It foods it is our desire to see to it that each food storage choice is a possibility for you.
A Word from the USDA
If your food dehydrator is incapable of reaching recommended meat drying temperatures, it is strongly suggested that you steam or roast meat to 160 °F and poultry to 165 °F, as measured with a food thermometer, before dehydrating it. Why? The following explanation has been provided by The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service:
"Illnesses due to Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 from homemade jerky raise questions about the safety of traditional drying methods for making beef and venison jerky. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline's current recommendation for making jerky safely is to heat meat to 160 °F and poultry to 165 °F before the dehydrating process. This step assures that any bacteria present will be destroyed by wet heat. But most dehydrator instructions do not include this step, and a dehydrator may not reach temperatures high enough to heat meat to 160 °F.
"After heating, maintain a constant dehydrator temperature of 130 to 140 °F during the drying process is important because:
- the process must be fast enough to dry food before it spoils; and
- it must remove enough water that microorganisms are unable to grow."
Basic Jerky Making Instructions
Sample Jerky Recipe
Recipes for jerky abound on the Internet. Here's one from Excalibur, the manufacturer of the famous Exaclibur line of food dehydrators.
Smoked Beef Jerky
4 pounds lean beef, cut into 1/4" strips
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp hickory smoke flavoring
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup catsup
1 tsp cracked pepper
Blend all ingredients and soak meat strips in mixture. Keep refrigerated for 6 to 12 hours, stirring and turning meat occasionally in marinade. Once meat is marinated to desired strength, drain off excess and dry according to directions for jerky.