Its easy to make your own tasty jerky, and you can customize it with a ton of different flavors.
You know what’s great about meat? Not only is it the core foundation for any decent meal, but it also serves as one of the best standalone snacks out there. In fact, jerky may actually be the king of all road trip comestibles. It’s not crumbly or messy, it’s chewy texture kinda gives you something to do while you’re flying down a boring stretch of highway (or stuck in a traffic jam for that matter), and its paleo/locarb/notvegan. Everyone wins.
Make jerky yourself at home
The stuff you buy in the grocery store tends to be laden with lots of preservatives and unpronounceable food chemicals, which I understand are a necessary evil in commercial applications, but jerky is actually super easy to make yourself at home, all you need is a decent dehydrator and to ensure that you get the meat to a temp that will kill off any bacteria.
Which cuts to use to make jerky
Jerky is traditionally made from exceptionally lean cuts, which dehydrate and keep much better than fattier ones. I’m serious about this one, y’all. I know we all usually look for the most marbled cuts when we’re taking steaks, briskets and things of that nature, but that’s not what you’re looking for here. Top, Bottom or Eye of Round all work really well for beef, and are usually really economical, too. Venison is also a great option, particularly with muscles from the deer ham. Whichever you choose, it should be cut into thin strips for jerky purposes.
There’s been a bit of a trend lately of boutique companies producing fancy “chef made” jerky. Some of them even use the most expensive muscle on the whole steer (the tenderloin) to do so, which is completely ridiculous for three reasons. First, jerky is supposed to be a reasonably economical endeavor, and a great use for cheaper cuts. Second, finding such uses for these cuts is more in line with “nose to tail” ethos of using the whole animal, instead of encouraging the worship of one single muscle which makes up a mere fraction of the carcass. And finally, the tenderloin, while unarguably tender, is one of the least flavorful muscles on the whole beast. On the other hand, the round is packed with beefy flavor. So all in all, it’s kind of a no brainer, isn’t it?
Making jerky safely
The USDA recommends that to ensure any nasty bugs are killed off, you boil or heat the meat to 160f. Without doubt, it’s the most safe method. Problem is, doing that can give the meat kind of an unpleasant crumbly texture. My preferred method is simply to blast it in a preheated oven (275f) for ten minutes at the end of the dehydration process.
Jerky flavor combinations
Whichever technique you choose, this methodology and recipe is the base building block for a plethora of jerkylicious flavor combinations. Just change up the spices and marinades and get experimenting. The method is still the same. Try Sriracha, black pepper, honey & soy and just about anything else that takes your fancy. But for now, kick things off with my recipe for Bloody Mary jerky below (which also makes a great garnish for an actual Bloody Mary!).
How To Make Homemade Jerky
2 lb lean beef or venison (see note 1)
1 cup thick Bloody Mary mix
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp horseradish
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp dried tomato powder (optional)
1/2 tbsp celery salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp cajun seasoning
- Prepare the meat by cutting into very thin strips, not much bigger than 1/8 of an inch. If you have issues getting your meat cut finely, take the cut portions and gently pound them with a meat tenderizer to thin them out.
- Place meat, Bloody Mary mix, Worcestershire, Horseradish, salt and pepper in a large zip top bag. Seal the top, and the move everything around inside the bag to make sure it’s coated. Refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
- Remove strips from bag, patting excess liquid off with a paper towel, and place on a foil lined tray.
- Combine dried tomato powder, celery salt, cayenne and cajun seasoning in a small bowl. Sprinkle each side of the meat with the dry spice mix (see note 2), and place immediately in dehydrator.
- Allow the meat to dry. This process will take anywhere from 7-10 hours, depending on many factors including humidity, temperature and the thickness of the meat. Just keep checking it.
- If you wish to take an extra safety precaution, take dehydrated strips and place on a parchment lined tray. Put tray in preheated 275f oven for 10 minutes, then allow to cool. Store in airtight container.
- Alternatively, you can follow manufacturers instructions for the drying process.
Note 1: It’s really important to use extremely lean meat for jerky that’s very fresh, or was frozen when extremely fresh.
Note 2: Most flavors of jerky require only a wet marinade prior to drying, I prefer to give this Bloody Jerky an extra sprinkle of spices for appearance and extra flavor, but it’s not essential.