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Jerky Warning

Ground Meat and Jerky Making - Now a Bad Combination?

No to Jerky Guns

Is it time to retire the jerky gun?

The answer to that question may be, "Yes." if you heed the advice now being given by some experts in the field. 

Linda, a MFP Program Assistant, is one such professional. She has invested years of study into food safety, and is a dedicated activist when it comes to sharing the conclusions being reached in the most recent studies.  "Ground meats." she notes, "are no longer recommended as being safe, not even with the packaged mixes and jerky gun." The reason: "Too many thousands of surface areas in ground meat to grow and harbor bacteria."

So how do you assure that your jerky making is being safely done?  The following article, shared by Linda, reflects her opinions on the matter:

Why is Temperature Important When Making Jerky?

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 145F 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. Why is it a Food Safety Concern to Dry Meat Without First Heating it to 160 °F? The danger in dehydrating meat and poultry without cooking it to a safe temperature first is that the appliance will not heat the meat to 160 °F and poultry to 165 °F — temperatures at which bacteria are destroyed — before it dries. After drying, bacteria become much more heat resistant.

Within a dehydrator or low-temperature oven, evaporating moisture absorbs most of the heat. Thus, the meat itself does not begin to rise in temperature until most of the moisture has evaporated. Therefore, when the dried meat temperature finally begins to rise, the bacteria have become more heat resistant and are more likely to survive. If these surviving bacteria are pathogenic, they can cause foodborne illness to those consuming the jerky.


Partially freeze meat to make slicing easier. The thickness of the meat strips will make a difference in the safety of the methods recommended in this book. Slice meat no thicker than 1 inch. Trim and discard all fat from meat because it becomes rancid quickly. If a chewy jerky is desired, slice with the grain. Slice across the grain if a more tender, brittle jerky is preferred. A tenderizer can be used according to package directions, if desired. The meat can be marinated for flavor and tenderness. Marinade recipes may include oil, salt, spices and acid ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, teriyaki, or soy sauce or wine.


1 1/2 - 2 pounds of lean meat (beef, pork or venison)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon each of black pepper and garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon hickory smoke-flavored salt ( optional)

Combine all ingredients. Place strips of meat in a shallow pan and cover with marinade. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight. Products marinated for several hours may be more salty than some people prefer. To heat, bring strips and marinade to a boil and boil for 5 minutes before draining and drying. If strips are more than 1 inch thick, the length of time may need to be increased. If possible, check the temperature of several strips with a metal stem-type thermometer to determine that 160oF has been reached.

Method #2: Vinegar-Marinated Jerky

(Ingredients per 2 pounds of lean meat slices)


2 cups vinegar


2 lb. lean venison, elk, or beef ( not ground meat)


2 cups vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
l/4 tsp. black pepper
l/4 tsp. garlic powder
l/2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. hickory smoked salt


Cut lean venison, elk, antelope, or beef into long, quarter-inch thick pieces. Slice across the grain for tender jerky and with the grain for a chewier product.

Soak the slices in 2 cups of vinegar for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure each strip remains completely covered by the vinegar.

Combine a quarter cup of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce, a quarter teaspoon each of black pepper and garlic power, a half teaspoon of onion powder, and a teaspoon of hickory smoked salt. Pour the marinade into a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag, then add meat slices and seal the bag. To distribute the marinade thoroughly over each strip, massage the pieces through the bag, then refrigerate for 1 to 24 hours.

Remove the meat slices and lay them flat—in a single layer with no pieces touching—on clean drying racks. Using an oven, dehydrator, or smoker, dry the slices at 145°F for 10 to 14 hours.

Test for doneness by letting a piece cool, then bending it. It should crack but not break, and no part should remain moist or underdone.


Pre-heat the dehydrator or oven to 145°F for 15 to 30 minutes, using a calibrated thermometer to monitor its circulating air temperature. Place trays filled with single layers of meat in the preheated dehydrator, leaving enough open space on the racks for air to circulate around the strips. Let the strips dry for 10 to 14 hours, or until the pieces are adequately dry.

Properly dried jerky is chewy and leathery. It’s as brittle as a green stick but won’t snap like a dry stick. To test, remove a strip from the oven or dehydrator, let it cool slightly, then bend it. It should crack but not break. When jerky is sufficiently dry, remove the strips from the drying racks to a clean surface. Pat off any beads of oil with absorbent paper toweling and let cool.


Store your cooled jerky strips in airtight plastic food bags or in jars with tight-fitting lids. Pack the strips so that only the least-possible amount of air is trapped in the container. (Too much air causes off-flavors and rancidity.) Label and date your packages and store them in a cool, dry, dark place or in the refrigerator or freezer. In a sealed container at room temperature, properly dried jerky will keep for about two weeks. You can store it for three to six months in the refrigerator and for up to a year in the freezer. Check occasionally to make sure that mold isn’t forming.

Source : Colorado State University

When making jerky, use only lean meats in excellent condition. (Never use ground meats. Studies show that home drying won't sufficiently destroy E.coli in ground meat.)

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