When learning how to make jerky, strips of meat are flavored with marinade and seasonings and then either smoked in a smoker or dried in an oven or dehydrator for a number of hours. Meats that can be used are beef, pork, goat, and lamb; wild game can also be used, including deer, elk, caribou, moose, and bison. Even fish and poultry such as turkey and chicken can be used to make jerky. There are many flavors of marinade as well, such as pepper, teriyaki, spicy, barbecue, hickory smoke, and maple.
Learning how to make jerky is fun and not that difficult. While in the advanced stages of this hobby there can be quite an expense put toward materials, it is still relatively inexpensive to get started. Another great aspect of this hobby is that once you finish a batch of jerky you can taste the fruits of your labor and even share them with others.
A Brief History Of Jerky
In the mid 1500’s in South America, the Quechua tribe used deer, elk, and buffalo to make their jerky in the sun or over a fire. “Charqui” as it was called was introduced to the Spaniards who brought it to other countries including South Africa. In the early pioneer days of the United States, cowboys and settlers hung meat from their wagons to dry in the sun or would smoke over a fire. The Native American Indians also made jerky from the wild game they caught.
The word charqui, meaning “to burn,” evolved into “charki,” “charque,” and then finally: “jerky.” This chewy snack has a shelf life of up to two years and does not need to be refrigerated. Jerky is also a healthy snack, as it is high in protein and low in fat, calories, and cholesterol. This nutritious treat contains no preservatives besides salt and can be conveniently taken on vacations, hiking, or walking.
Did You Know? Facts About Jerky
- The drying techniques when making jerky can be applied to almost anything, including meat (even fish), fruit, and some have even applied the process to vegetables to create vegetable jerky.
- A pound of meat or poultry weighs about four ounces after being made into jerky.
- There are several types of food drying. Two types of natural drying – sun drying and “adibatic” (shade) drying – occur in open air. Adibatic drying occurs without heat. Solar drying sometimes takes place in a special container that catches and captures the sun’s heat. These types of drying are used mainly for fruit such as apricots, tomatoes, and grapes (to make raisins).
Getting Started With Jerky
To get started learning how to make jerky, the first things you’ll need are the meat and spices. For many recipes you will need some or all of the following: onion powder, garlic powder, ground cayenne pepper, apple cider or apple juice, hickory liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, cracked pepper, and apple cider vinegar. You’ll probably find that you already have most of the jerky seasonings in your kitchen already. If you do not have these ingredients on hand, they are relatively inexpensive.
As for non-food items needed for this hobby, you will want to have the following items on hand: a mixing bowl, wire whisk, plastic wrap, toothpicks, and platter or cookie sheet. You will want to make sure that there is quite a bit of space available for laying out your ingredients and making your jerky. There is nothing worse than getting started and realizing you will be working around a stack of dirty dishes or last week’s laundry.
You will need ample room for storing your finished jerky. Airtight containers are the best option; if you will be preparing jerky in large batches, you may also want to consider containers that are made to stack easily. If you want to prepare different types and flavors, you should also plan to store the different flavor separately so the flavors don’t mix.
How To Make Jerky
The first step in how to make jerky is to trim off all the fat and gristle from the meat. Next, cut the meat into 1/4” thick strips, 2” to 4” long, and 1 1/2” wide depending on your personal preference. Place the meat strips on a platter or cookie sheet.
To make the marinade, thoroughly mix the following seasonings (only an example of seasoning options) into a large mixing bowl. Keep in mind that the meat will be added to this bowl later so it needs to be large enough to accommodate everything:
- 3 cups apple cider or apple juice
- 4 tbsp hickory liquid smoke
- 2 tbsp onion powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp cracked black pepper
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
After the marinade has been thoroughly mixed, add the meat strips making sure the meat is completely submerged in the marinade. If additional marinade is needed, more apple cider or apple juice can be added. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Flip the meat once after 12 hours.
At the end of the 24 hours, preheat the oven to 150 degrees. Remove the meat from the marinade, poke a toothpick through one end of each meat strip, and place the meat strips on a cookie sheet or platter. After all the toothpicks are inserted, position the toothpicks across the top oven rack so the meat strips will hang from the racks during the drying process.
Place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack underneath the strips to catch any drippings. Close the oven door but prop it open approximately 3” during the entire drying process. The cookie sheet can be removed after the first hour. During the drying process keep children and pets away from the kitchen to avoid any accidental burns.
Allow the jerky to dry in the oven for three to five hours depending on the texture desired. Upon removing jerky from the oven, remove the toothpicks immediately. The toothpicks are much more difficult to remove once the jerky cools to room temperature. Place the jerky on a cookie sheet or ceramic plate and allow it to cool for one hour. Be sure that it is completely dried before this step – if not, place it back into the oven.
Once cooled, the jerky should be stored in air-tight containers and not refrigerated. Storage life is one to two years depending on the humidity of the environment. Tall glass instant coffee containers with tight fitting lids are ideal for storage as well, and can even be decorated to keep or give as gifts.
Jerky Tips and Tricks
The following tips can help you learn more about how to make jerky…
- Do not despair if the meat strips are left in the oven too long and become too dried out. The meat strips will loosen up and become more flexible within a few days and will not feel or taste so brittle.
- Experience teaches that when the toothpicks are not removed right away, the meat cools and squeezes the toothpick, making it more difficult to extract.
- Practice makes perfect while learning how to make jerky so have fun experimenting with a dehydrator and seasonings to develop different delectable recipes.
Expanding Your Jerky-Making Hobby
Once you know how to make jerky, it can be given to friends and relatives for special occasions, birthdays, or Christmas. It is fun to experiment with different seasonings, flavors, and techniques. This hobby can be turned into a business by making jerky, trail bologna, and other food items for others.
Here are a few other ideas for ways to take your jerky to the next level…
- Enter a jerky cooking competition
- Sell your jerky products at local farmer’s markets or online
- Experiment with different meats
- Consider a smokehouse where you can process large quantities of jerky at a time.
Related Jerky Resources
Check out the following online resources for additional information about how to make jerky…
The Jerky FAQ – Comprehensive resource for makers of beef jerky (and other types) as well as detailing jerky’s history and what to look for when you buy jerky online.
Beef Jerky Recipes – Search a wide selection of jerky making products and recipes. 100’s of free jerky recipes for a variety of meat.
Cooking With SusieQ – Part of the BowHunting.net website, their cooking section offers a great selection of free jerky recipes submitted by jerky aficionados.
Related YouTube Videos
Check out the following videos to learn even more about starting this hobby.