Over the last decade the popularity of beef jerky has exploded. You see it in every convenience store and gas station. It comes in many flavors from peppered and hot to sweet and smokey. The major problem is that it is exorbitantly expensive. A small pouch that is listed as three or four servings can set you back around seven dollars or more. Just too expensive for an impulse purchase snack with one major ingredient!
The good news is that making beef jerky at home is affordable and easy. You don’t need fancy equipment. However a simple food dehydrator is handy.
It’s important to be aware of general raw meat safety and food handling dangers especially when handling chicken and fish. Check with the USDA for guidance and take comfort in the knowledge that drying beef is much safer than other meats.
To keep things affordable start with a basic cut of beef that is easily attainable at the grocery store. Brisket is delicious when dried as jerky however it is usually packaged and sold whole (too big) and with a large fat cap attached. You will not want to pay for fat you will later discard.
Instead, opt for a lean large cut like Flank or London Broil. Trim off any extra fat. Slice it into strips as thin as you are able against the grain. Pencil thin or quarter inch thick will do. Partial freezing and a sharp knife will help the task.You may also have to cut at a forty-five degree angle to go against the grain on the London Broil (but your jaw will thank you later). The cut will allow for a more tender bite. Want to slow yourself down? Go with the grain (not a bad diet tip).
Lean 90/10 ground beef also works well and creates more of a “slim beef stick” jerky. Ground beef is usually cheaper and the product is also easier to chew. Use a jerky gun (like a cookie press for ground meat) to craft the ground meat into uniform strips or sticks.
To ensure a longer shelf life you’ll want to use a curing salt like Tender Quick ( 1 tablespoon per pound of beef). Then add your favorite dry spices like black pepper, cayenne and garlic. For a wet marinade on steak strips you can rub the cure into the surface of the meat and then soak in marinade. You can find dozens of fun recipes online. Let the meat marinate for around three hours. Longer for stronger flavor.
Food dehydrators are an easy solution for doing the rest. Just place your meat and set on the machines highest temperature for four to fourteen hours or until dry and leathery. A flip and a light brush with an unflavored oil can add a nice sheen to exceptionally dry slices of meat. Conversely use a paper towel to blot any collecting oil on the surface of your jerky.
If you are new to making jerky you can also use your home oven. It’s easy to space out your strips of wet meat directly on the oven grate with a drip pan directly underneath. A cake rack over a foil lined cookie sheet also works just as effectively.
Preheat oven to 160 degrees (officially the USDA would like the meat to get to 160 to kill any potential bacteria) and allow jerky to dry for 30 minutes and then lower the temperature to 140 degrees for three hours or until totally dry. Some cooks will crack open the oven an inch or two to keep the oven from getting too hot and to encourage airflow.
Once dried allow the jerky to totally cool before storing in air tight containers (this will also avoid any condensation inside containers.)
The great thing about jerky is that you can create unlimited flavors by using different rubs and marinades.