Milk Crate Jerky Maker





Introduction: Milk Crate Jerky Maker

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Everyone loves jerky. Not everyone can afford it.
Here's how to make your own with what you've got handy.

Here are the true facts about safety etc:

The three basics are:
Soak the meat with tasty stuff like salt, pepper, vinegar, barbecue sauce that bacteria don't like.
Slice the meat thin so it dries well.
Heat the meat over 160 degrees while it's still wet for long enough to kill some bacteria.
Dry the hell out of it at lower temps for longer, once it's getting dry the critters go dormant and you won't kill them anyway.
Eat it really soon. Of course you will. The pioneers probably waited til it had mold on it.

The bottom milk crate has a 40 watt lightbulb in a fixture that keeps it away from the plastic.
A little fan scavenged from an old PC blows on it and makes the air circulate nicely.
The t-shirts wrapped around the bottom edge regulate airflow coming in.
A closed-cell foam sleeping pad is wrapped around the two crates for insulation.
Strips of bicycle innertube wrapped around that hold it in place.
A foam gasket sits on top of the crate to slow the airflow.

Step 1: Get Your Jerk On

Get a lot of meat.
Cut most of the fat off it.
Cut it into thin strips similar in dimensions to bacon.
Poke sticks through one end so it hangs down into the upper crate and airflow goes all around each strip.
I used steel rods as skewers, whatever you have is good.

Step 2: Now Wait

Here's the device with the lid on.
Experimentation showed that this was the right size lid hole for good drying.
A foam plug with a thermometer through it goes into this hole for the initial wet heat phase.
The USDA jerky site has all the info on what that needs to be.
Here it is again:

If you live somewhere with sunlight or if you don't want so much hot plastic around your food,
there are lots of designs out there for fancier devices that do the same thing.

Step 3: The Great Tower of Meat

I've got a lot of friends, so the box was always half empty before the jerky was hard.
So I stacked up more milkcrates to make more use of those 40 watts and the passage of time.

It takes about 4 lbs of lean meat to make a pound of jerky.
If you live in Argentina or some such place with lots of meat and sunlight, howabout exporting it here
in the form of tasty dried jerky? It'll save shipping costs.

Step 4: Skylight Jerky

I sliced up a mess of meat, mixed it into some marinade, and hung it on an old oven rack.
Corwin and Emily made pizza (from "found" dough. another story.) and the oven was still hot, so I threw it in there for the wet heat phase. If you knew the cow really well and are sure there's nothing in the meat that will make you sick you can skip this step.
I'd already let the meat drip on some cardboard for a bit, but it still made a minor mess in the oven. I'll clean it up later. Really.
After a decent interval I put the rack up in the skylight as seen here. A few days later when I came back it was all ugly and delicious. Woohoo! Traditional solar powered jerky!



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    would this 160 degree thing work for sun drying meat? because im thinking of drying my own meat for the "rainy days" my plan is to dip the meat in a salt/water mix then heating it in the oven for 10 minutes then placing it in the sun to dry.


    First, I want to say that as always I have enjoyed your Instructable Tim. I have made a similar setup using a window box fan and some paper (not fiberglass) furnace filters. You follow all of the same steps to prep the meat. Once the meat is to your liking, arrange it in a single layer on the paper filter. When a filter is full, stack another on top of it and put meat on that filter. Repeat this until all of your meat is laid out in a single layer on a filter. I generally keep it to 4 filters, because that is as much as my fan can support. Put a fifth filter on top of the last jerky packed filter as a lid. Set your fan on its back and stack the filters on the fan. Bungee cord the filters to the fan so that they are fixed in place. Then move the whole thing to an area that you can plug in the fan and the fan has enough area to pull in air and blow it through the filters on the front of the fan. You will have to leave the fan on for 8 - 12 hours. You will notice the smell of jerky in the air. This method does not use any heat, so the meat does not dry out. Rather it uses the cool wind to dehydrate the meat. I prefer this method to others I have tried that use heat because it makes the meat more tender, while still maintaining the jerky qualities of longevity and flavor. Store the meat in a large jar with plenty of room to breathe, add a silica packet to remove moisture, and you are set. My jerky lasts for several months and always remains very fresh and tasty.

    1 reply

    hello,I saw this on Good Eats and wanted to try it. Since you have had success with it, I am going to try it also. thank for posting

    Are those milk crates made from PVC? Just curious as PVC will gas off chlorine when heated (not heated to melting temp ;) )... I don't think you'll have those problems with ABS though....

    3 replies

    I'm not aware of PVC venting chlorine below it's melting point, where did you get this from? Carbon-chlorine bonds are quite stong, I doubt this...

    I can't link you directly as it's going through my university's Academic Journal search.... but here's two sources ;) International Journal of Pharmaceutics; Oct2005, Vol. 303 Issue 1/2, p104-112, 9p and Carbon; Jul2004, Vol. 42 Issue 7, p1321, 5p ---> they completely removed chlorine VIA heat treating below the melting point (their final temp reached the softening point to complete the process). The goal was to prevent dioxins and HCI from forming when incinerated. While it's less "official" than an academic journal... I believe Autospeed also talked about it --- but their search engine ( is rather poopy - when I find the article, I'll post) :P

    Interesting. I don't understand the Carbon reference, since if you completely remove chlorine from PVC it isn't PVC. If you find more anything I'd still be interested. L

    You have stated "heat the meat over 160 degrees" how is this done? I had thought that jerky was dried rather than cooked meat?

    I wanna try this now. Good instructable Tim

    I wonder if you could build a dehydrator simmilar to the Alton Brown fish smoker. Cardboard box and old fans! Plus an old hot plate, pan, and sawdust. Woo.

    Libraries still exist way out there in RealityLand. And they have lots o' books on cheap home-built food dryers for those who want something a little more permanant. For storage, just put the jerky in an air-tight jar with a packet of that silica stuff. Some road-killed deer jerky I made has kept for years that way...and it still tastes great.

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    You're my hero. Say more about how you did that? Or make an instructable!

    LOL, my dad made one out of an old refrigorator. he just striped out the insides, packed the walls with aluminum foil, and put a electric stove with cedar chips over it in the bottom. the racks to the frige were metal so the meat went on them. you cant buy this quality of jerky... + you can make like 20lbs of jerky overnight.

    Yeah, what neckfire said. Alton Brown has a great recipe for Beef Jerky. His dryer is a great example of lateral thinking - a different way to accomplish the same goal. His show, Good Eats, has shown a number of devices to accomplish cooking tasks with unorthodox methods.

    you can get more reliable results from a cold smoker. and probably a cleaner taste than "salt, pepper, vinegar, barbecue sauce that bacteria don't like."

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    Do you know of an online guide to building one? And how is the spoilage prevented?

    I hope ABS isn't short for AsBestoS hehehehe

    im pretty sure milkcrates are ABS

    You know .. I have a strong feeling you bring around milk or something :p