Introduction: Old West Beef Jerky

Picture of Old West Beef Jerky

This instructable is going to show you a way of making great jerky. Nothing really new, unless you consider my marinade new. It is my own concoction, but after searching the net, I find it's very similar to many other's recipes. Yes; I realize there are other Jerky Instructables already. What makes this one different? It is going to show you is how to make it correctly and safely. You're free (and expected) to deviate to some degree. I do strongly recommend that you stick with the safety precautions and temperatures.

I have made this jerky using Las Vegas' summer sun by just hanging the meat on a cloths-line, but this requires a day that starts out over 90°F (30°C) and reaches above 130° (55°C) during the day. Basically a day that's too hot for the flies to come out. This process takes about 8-12 hours in the 100°+ sun, so is only viable in select areas of the country and on specific days. I will make comments about this process throughout the Instructable.

For my birthday, last week, my wife gave me a great commercial dehydrator. While I could build another Alton Brown jig, the dehydrator has the added feature of heating the meat to 160° (71°C) eliminating any nasty bacteria risk and a lot simpler cleanup! It also will work here in Nevada, Minnesota, Saskatewan, or anywhere else one might be, any time of the year!

This is still home-made jerky. It's not important how the drying is done as long as it's done correctly and safely. What is important is the preparation of the meat, killing those bugs, drying it sufficiently and enjoying the best jerky you've ever had.

Step 1: The Meat

Picture of The Meat

First and foremost is the choice of the meat used. Go to your butcher and ask for the leanest hunk of beef they have. Unlike looking for a great steak, were looking for the least fat / ribboning possible. This will normally take the form of a rump roast, london broil or a brisket.

There are other meats you could use such as venison, lamb (mutton?), buffalo (yes you can buy it legally in some parts of the country) or just about any game meat. I would avoid pork. Pork is much more suitable for sausages... Poultry, such as turkey or chicken are fine as long as your process of dehydration heats to 160°F (71°C) or you cook the jerky afterward in the oven for at least 30 minutes at 160°F (71°C). Any wild game should be frozen sub-zero (below -16°C) for about 6 weeks to be sure that any possible diseases the animal had are gone. Fish? Sure. Why not. But I'd change the marinade quite a bit.

Last week, the local grocery had sirloin steak on sale. It fell under the above qualifications. Not worth grilling since the dogs would end up with most of it, but the one I did buy made great jerky. This week, I went to purchase some more. Unfortunately, that ultra-tough sirloin wasn't available. This time they had a wonderful boneless rump roast, almost devoid of ribboning or fat. I told the butcher I was making jerky and he agreed that it was perfect for that. He even offered to slice it for me! Every butcher in the past has told me the slicer wouldn't go that thin! It's nice to run into a like minded butcher from time to time.

If the butcher can't or won't slice the meat for you, put the meat in the freezer until pressing on it just gives a little. You want it firm, but not solid. Then using a good serrated knife or electric knife, slice it against the grain as thin as practical. I try for about 1/8th inch. If you go the serrated knife route, you may want to cut the initial chunk of meat in half and put the other half back in the freezer until you're ready. This will avoid it thawing to much before you get to it.

Step 2: The Marinade

Picture of The Marinade

The marinade is every bit as important as the meat selected. Fortunately, there are many recipes to choose from. If you don't like mine, do a Google search for one that looks better. It is important to marinade the meat first and for at least four hours, unless you like your jerky tasteless and just want to chew something all day.

These are the ingredients for my Jerky. I rarely use measuring devices except for a general measure. My eyes are too old to focus on those red lines in the cup. Everything else is measured by the hand-full, or pinch...

1/2 cup - Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 cup - Soy Sauce (Quality is important here! Don't use "soy flavored." It must be brewed!)
1/3 cup - Brandy or Sherry (optional)
1/4 cup - Ketchup
1 capful - Liquid Smoke

Spice measurements are wild approximations.

4 Tablespoons - Honey ( or 2 Heaping Tablespoons - Brown Sugar)
1 Tablespoon - Onion Powder
1 Tablespoon - Garlic Powder
1 Tablespoon - Fresh Ground Pepper
1 teaspoon - Steak Seasoning Blend (Non-salt variety. There's plenty in the Soy and Worcestershire sauces.)
1 teaspoon - Dry Mustard
1/2 teaspoon - Red Pepper Flakes
A Pinch - Ground Cayenne Pepper (Unless you like it really hot, don't use more!)

Whisk everything together thoroughly. Taste it! If it doesn't taste good now, it won't when you're done!

Put the marinade in a sealable container (The burp-able kind) and add your meat one slice at a time. Press the slices to submerge them as you add them. Place the container in the refrigerator and let it soak four to six hours. Rotate and shake the container every half hour.

Step 3: Load the Dehydrator

Picture of Load the Dehydrator

This is the point where we deviate from the "Desert Sun" method. In that case, I would simply hang the meat from a suspended string in the back yard. This requires a very hot, preferably windy day. That's not going to happen this time of year though, so let's use my new dehydrator!

Most instructions say to dry off the meat before adding to the dehydrator. This definitely reduces cleanup, but takes a bit of the flavor with it. I like to lightly drain the meat on a rack as an interim to the dehydrator racks. Just let the loose liquid fall off.

If your dehydrator came with a catch tray (or fruit-jerky tray), place that on the bottom tray (or bottom of the unit for top source dehydrators). This will catch the drippings and simplify cleanup

When arranging the meat in the dehydrator, fill the tray as much as you can so none of the meat pieces are touching. They can be pretty close since they'll shrink away from each other rather quickly. If they touch, they'll stick together and could inhibit air flow. Stack the trays as you fill them.

Step 4: Dry the Meat!

Picture of Dry the Meat!

Set the temperature of your dehydrator to its highest temperature. Depending on the brand this would normally be either 155°F (68°C) or 160°F (71°C). If the maximum temperature is less, plan on longer drying times. Plan on drying time of between four and eight hours, depending on the thickness of your meat.

If you're using the "Desert Sun" method, you would put the meat out as soon as the outside temperature reaches about 100°F (40°C). Leave it in the direct sun for a minimum of eight hours; Preferably until the sun begins to set. Note that with this method, it's recommended to have almost constant supervision. In case there's some heat resistant flying insect, you may want someone handy to shoo them away.

In this case, with the meat about an eighth of an inch thick, it should only take about four hours. This is, by all means, the toughest part of the whole process. It smells so good, but you can't touch it till it's done!

Step 5: It's Ready!

Picture of It's Ready!

Yes; You can eat it now. There's a lot of it though. In all likelihood you're going to want to store some of it for later.

Before storage, go through your jerky and cut it into smaller pieces. While you're at it, cut out any fat that snuck through your pre-cooking examination. Just use a pair of shears to cut it out...

Store your jerky in a cool dry place, in a zip-lock bag with a folded up sheet of paper towel (to absorb excessive moisture). It will keep this way for three to four weeks. If you'd like to save some for further into the future, you can freeze it for up to six months.

Share it with your friends! If they're the squeamish type, let them think it's store bought until they taste it. After that they'll be asking for more!

Makes a great gift too! Talk your local florist into selling you a few sheets of that metallic planter decoration and tie some jerky into it with a ribbon! It's the gift that keeps on giving… Well... As long as it lasts.

Step 6: Cleanup

Picture of Cleanup

Yea. This is the part we'd all like to avoid. Of course, we do want to use this dehydrator again. Cleanup's not that bad. Use a bottle brush to clean every nook and cranny of the trays. Then rinse with hot water.

You can use the dishwasher if you want, but be sure to turn off the automatic drying feature or remove the trays immediately after the final rinse.


bowow0807 (author)2011-05-07

can you dry the meat over a period of days? as in here where i live the normal temp is about in the 30's and that is a cool day for us can i dry the meat for a couple of days because it almost never reaches the 40's here

brownrl66 (author)bowow08072016-12-18

no you cannot it must be dried between 100 and 160 degrees or you will get food poisoning and died

nightninja87 (author)bowow08072011-11-14

if you relaly wanna dry it over a day or so i suggest looking for a box fan dehydrator or if you have an oven you can set very low put it on cooling racks and put it in the oven its similar to doing it this way

4 Seasons Jerky made it! (author)2016-12-13

Great article to read! Including photos of the meat is a plus. I just started a new craft jerky site at! Please go check it out and let me know what you think. There are discounts available! Here is a snapshot of my Jalapeno Spice Beef Jerky flavor! Cheers!

BruceB62 (author)2016-06-18

Most people prefer jerky that is tender and at least a little sweet, perhaps because that's what most of the major brands provide so it's what people expect. My preference is dryer, tougher jerky with simple ingredients and no sugar, as it was originally. My usual marinade is water, salt, garlic powder and lots of pepper (black and red), with much of that pepper sprinkled on the beef strips when laid on the drying rack. I can't give measurements because I don't measure. I just adjust it until I like the taste. Depending on your preferences, you could add more ingredients or go with the minimalist salty water (although you should add at least a few drops of Tabasco or a pinch of cayenne because, even in very small amounts, red pepper is a flavor enhancer). I also cut the meat thin, but along the grain rather than across it because it allows me to bite a piece off but still be able to chew it for longer period (which is very satisfying). Everyone who tries it seems to love it. I think that's because the jerky still tastes like beef, unlike most commercial jerky.

MichaelS21 (author)2014-12-04

How the natural beef jerky is made I want to know about it. I want to make it in my home so that I can save some money in purchasing it from outside.

Get More Info :

JesterPoet (author)2011-04-08

How much meat do you buy? I have a similar size dehydrator, and would like to make a batch of this, but am not sure how much meat to use with your marinade recipe.


LasVegas (author)JesterPoet2011-04-08

I normally buy a london broil from the case; about 2-3 lbs. I choose one with as little fat as possible and ask the butcher to slice it against the grain as thin as possible.


JesterPoet (author)LasVegas2011-04-08

That's super helpful! Thanks!

zorcy (author)2011-02-14

This is GREAT! I get migraines from the nitrates and nitrites they use in store bought jerky. I have been looking for a recipe for so long. Even the kits you buy put them in there for a preservative.

Last time I have jerky was about 5 years ago. One bite, 15 minutes later, total vision loss. I can not wait to try this. Thank you very much.

SammyFM (author)2009-05-26

Funny, i´m from Germany, i never heard of something like a dehydrator... Looks like jerky is the big deal in the us, or is it just they have machines for everything? I think this should work in a oven too. Maybe one combines it with some fresh air in between?

bowmaster (author)SammyFM2010-12-22

We have machines for everything, 'cause we're awesome. Or maybe just lazy.

Goedjn (author)SammyFM2009-05-27

you can use an electric oven, but I'm not sure I'd use a gas oven, since the technique is to wedge the door open with a couple or forks, (for airflow), and leave the oven on at it's lowest setting overnight, with the meat inside. Ideally, you'd want the oven set to 150F, (65C ?) Also, many government and university sources in the US recommend blanching the meat for 20 seconds in boiling water before marinating. I don't like the resulting texture, but it's apparently measurably safer.

LasVegas (author)SammyFM2009-05-26

While Jerky itself comes from the Native American practice of sun drying meat to preserve it, drying food has been a preservative technique in Europe throughout history. I'm sure if you looked around at a cooking supply store, you'd fine dehydrators just as prevalent in your country as they are here. Most Americans wouldn't know the difference between a Food Dehydrator and a Berliner Filler...

mexaz (author)2010-09-27

H! the metohd looks very good.
Is that the true "Old West" beef jerky style? Why the name?
Do you commercialize the jerky?
How come I cannot find the business/factory in the internet?

siggibahama (author)2010-08-19

cmzoo (author)2009-09-25

The Nuwave oven works great for making jerky and is fast.

jburchum (author)2009-09-24

My old ovens low was 150 degrees and leaving the door slightly opened worked fair but my new convection oven works great. Lowest temp is 170 degrees. With meat in door closed heat 5 minutes turn off except for fan. Reheat in 1 hour X 2 usually enough. After 2 hours turn meat once. I use wire screen with drip pan. If you can get Allegro Hickory Smoke Marinade in your area, it works fair by itself.

trike road poet (author)2009-09-15

I wonder how my cardboard solar cooker box would work for dehydrating the meat? If sealed it can hit 250 degrees. If left open a bit (with a bit of plastic scree over the opening) it can hold 150 to 170 degrees. All I have to do is roate the box about 15 degrees every hour to track the sun. I could arrange some blocks of wood and space some oven racks inside it to give me more drying space. Anyone done any jerky this way before?

Tikkun (author)2009-05-19

As to the comment about meat tenderizer, the active ingredient in many of them is actually papaya skin. Technically, unripe papaya skin, but ripe works too, just not as well. So before you make your jerky, eat a papaya and put your marinade with the skins into the blender. Then you get the double benefit of tenderized jerky and a belly full of yummy papaya

Aisoku69 (author)Tikkun2009-08-16

Wow. That's actually a really interesting idea... the papaya could actually add an interesting flavor, and I've seen tons of recipes that use fruit or fruit juice in their marinades. I will definitely be trying this method out, seeing how it seems simple and delicious. I don't have a dehydrator, but I did see a couple of methods with an oven... hmmm... I will post back pretty images!

imboox2 (author)2009-07-30

Vacuum marinading really infuses the meat with flavor. I use my good ole Seal A Meal. A butcher shop I know of uses their industrial grade vacuum machine to marinade their jerky (pulls a higher vacuum than the home devices). It does not need to marinade as long, but I leave it for hours anyway.

sylvesterw (author)2009-05-28

Hi there here in south Africa we don't make beef jerky,but we do make all kinds of biltong almost like jerky but much better we make biltong of every animal you can think of we do ostrich biltong too. if anyone is looking for the best south African biltong don't be shy I am more than happy to give recipes

LasVegas (author)sylvesterw2009-05-28

Oh! Please do post an Instructable of your making biltong! I would love to see the process! Let's see… There's got to be a desert tortoise around here somewhere… Las Vegas ...For those animal lovers out there... That was a joke!

ajn142 (author)2009-05-26

The brandy is a good idea, the alcohol can kill alot of the bacteria. Just use whatever kind of alcoholic drink you want, it doesn't really matter, but use whatever th recipe recommends.

SammyFM (author)2009-05-26

And i would recommend not to use any chemicals like "meat tenderizer" in your food (never heard of it) - stay organic ;-) (author)SammyFM2009-05-26

powdered meat tenderizer is actually a naturally derived product, believe it or is papain, an enzyme found in papayas.

apricots (author)2009-05-25

how much would u charge to make and ship it to me??

I_am_Canadian (author)2009-05-25

For all those interested, Dehyrators can be bought at cosco quite cheaply.

LasVegas (author)I_am_Canadian2009-05-25

Or you could build this one based on Alton Brown's idea.

PizzaPlanet (author)2009-05-25

great instruction but i dont own a dehydrator

robot797 (author)2009-05-20

were could i buy that cool device in holland.... i wanna try it on a big bird

orangesrhyme (author)robot7972009-05-24

This big bird?

robot797 (author)orangesrhyme2009-05-24

there is no picture

orangesrhyme (author)robot7972009-05-24

Yeah, I was actually about to fix that. forgot :p

robot797 (author)orangesrhyme2009-05-24

yes that bigbird.

spockck (author)2009-05-23

i saw ostrich jerky once it was pretty good

moesboy (author)spockck2009-05-24

iv had that, it wasnt bad, i have also had beaver jerky

moesboy (author)2009-05-21

could i use an oven instead of a dehydrator?

orangesrhyme (author)moesboy2009-05-24

As long as it's a convection oven, it should do the job pretty well.

moesboy (author)orangesrhyme2009-05-24


bmlbytes (author)2009-05-23

Your "Pepper Flakes" are really called crushed red pepper. I work at a pizza shop and that's what we use.

dbubd (author)2009-05-21

I've found that spraying the racks with a cooking spray like Pam prior to loading in the meat makes cleanup vastly quicker and easier.

SinAmos (author)2009-05-20

London Broil goes on sale. That is when I get the butcher to go as thin as they can with their cutter. That simple. Basically, this instructable is just using a dehydrator and using a random recipe. When I first started making jerky, I used the oven on the lowest setting and hung the jerky by toothpicks. That has more work than this. NESCO probably paid for this in some way. Isn't that what all sites eventually become? Cloaked productive placement.;)

LasVegas (author)SinAmos2009-05-20

I don't know how you got "Product Placement" out of this article. If you think you can do better; Go for it. There's plenty of space here for more articles.

mg0930mg (author)2009-05-19

This looks really good.

paperninja (author)2009-05-19

my dad makes beef jerkey ever since i was little and it is really good. its basically the same as this, but were not from the west, were from the northwest :P

funkzilla (author)2007-01-16

Is there danger of over-doing the meat?

LasVegas (author)funkzilla2007-01-17

Danger? Not really. You could over dry the meat, but it would still be safe to eat. It would just be much harder to chew.

if you add 1/2 tsp meat tenderizer to your marinade it will never get tough (even after 12 hours of drying.....personal experience)

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