I love beef jerky. It's healthy, tasty, portable, and easy to make. I may be addicted to it...No, I most definitely am.
I've been making homemade jerky for years. It all began with my dad, who taught me how to make venison jerky using an old and simple recipe. We made as much as we could, but it never seemed to last very long...hmm?
Our original recipe was solid but, determined to make it even better, I branched out further; adding new flavors and refining the methods further than ever before. These days I pretty much have it down to a science and can whip up a delicious batch in no time.
Eventually my friends found out about my jerky stash. They wanted to try some. Once they tried it they wanted their own bag. I took some to work. My co-workers demanded I supply jerky for all future meetings and business trips. The point is that I've shared my jerky with many people and the vast majority of them have really enjoyed it.
So, if your recipe is so good then why are you revealing all your secrets here? Well, I don't plan to make jerky full-time and I don't have the resources to send you all a bag to try. There's also nothing really proprietary about it since it's made with a bunch of common ingredients you can find at your local grocery store. So why not? I hope you will give it a shot, enjoy some with your friends and family, and improve upon it even further.
Let's get started!
Step 1: Gather Supplies
You will need the following gear:
- Dehydrator capable of heating to 160-degF - I use a Presto Dehydro
- Sharp knife
- Cutting board
- 1.75 Quart (or greater) Bowl with lid
I'm a data nerd. These are totally unnecessary, but if you want to be like me you'll also need:
- Kitchen Scale
- P3 Kill-A-Watt EZ Energy Monitor
Step 2: Grocery List
Step 3: Meat Selection
Probably the most important component of success is the quality of the meat that you use. The basic goal is to find the leanest cut possible. Any fat will dry irregularly, reduce the storage life of your jerky, and probably taste terrible.
In reality, any cut of meat will work. I've tried everything from roasts to sliced sirloin to an entire ribeye steak. When only considering the cut of meat itself, the main differences between them are the time you spend trimming fat and the overall yield of usable meat. From an economic standpoint, some cuts are much more expensive than others, so using a $10/lb steak vs. a $5/lb roast can make a huge difference.
I typically look for a rump or round roast because they are usually inexpensive and, despite the thick layer of fat on the exterior, are generally very lean on the inside. A chuck roast may work fine, but expect to spend more time trimming as the insides are more marbled with fat. Due to costs, I don't usually mess with steaks unless I can find a cheap, thin-sliced sirloin.
On the last page you may have noticed that I specified a 2-3 lb cut of meat. Why? Well, the gross weight of your cut may be 3lb, but the net weight of the lean meat left after slicing fat will be less. Keep that in mind.
For this batch, I selected a Round Sirloin Tip Roast which worked out great! It was nice and lean, only cost $4.99/lb, and was within the target weight range.
Step 4: Chill Bruh
A useful trick that makes slicing slightly easier is to partially freeze your cut of meat before attempting to slice it. Beef is not the most structurally sound thing in the world so a little added rigidity goes a long way to prevent a wiggling, jiggling nightmare with sharp objects involved. An hour or so in the freezer should do the trick.
Just don't freeze it completely! Otherwise, add a hammer and chisel to your list of supplies and get ready for some really horrible ice carving.
Step 5: Fat-Burning Workout
Trim as much fat as you can off of your cut of meat. This will help you slice it in the next step as thick chunks of fat can be tough and slippery. Don't get too carried away though. It is often easier to trim fat located deep in the interior of the cut once it is sliced and you have a clear cross-section of it. Plus, an overambitious knife here could waste some useful lean meat and reduce your yield.
Step 6: Slice & Dice
This is probably the hardest part. Before we get started let's discuss some jerky goals...
The toughness/tenderness of your jerky depends on how you slice it. Specifically, it depends on the grain of the meat, or which way the long strands of muscles run. Jerky sliced "with the grain," or parallel to the grain, is more chewy and tough, while jerky sliced "across the grain," or perpendicular to the grain, is more tender and soft.
It's really up to you as to how you slice it. I typically do a mixture of both, although I generally prefer the more tender pieces. I try to let the composition of my cut of meat govern this as much as possible, i.e. I'll slice it in a way that minimizes the amount of fat trimming I have to do later.
Once you have a game plan for how you'd like to attack this step then it's time to start hacking away. Aim for a uniform slice about 1/4 - 3/8" thick. Uniform thickness is key and overall size is really not important. I like big pieces but, as I said earlier, I'm an addict so don't listen to me.
Pro-Tip: If you accidentally cut one a little too thick don't attempt to split hairs with a knife. Lay the piece on its side and split into several, thin strips. They may look wimpy, but they make great samples later.
Step 7: Lean Machine
Go through your freshly cut slices and trim off any remaining fat. Within reason. No microscopic surgery required. Particularly any large chunks on the ends.
I like to make separate piles --- sliced only and sliced + trimmed.
If you're a total nerd like me, once you complete this step you will weigh your expertly sliced and trimmed slices and compare to the gross weight of your cut of meat to calculate your yield. Ahhh, data! Almost as good as jerky...
Step 8: Marination Station
The difference between flavor explosion in your mouth and bland, dry meat is in the marinade. I experimented with many different ingredients to varying degrees of success before arriving at this one. I think it's the perfect combination of spices and flavor.
Making the marinade is super easy. Combine 5 Tbsp of liquid smoke and the entire bottle of Stubb's Beef marinade in the bowl. Slowly add the slices of meat, mixing them around so all are completely covered with marinade. Once everything is coated well, try to arrange your slices so they are completely submerged in the marinade and put the cover on the bowl.
Spoiler Alert: If you keep reading, I've got some alternative marinade options listed at the end of this Instructable. This one's my favorite though!
Step 9: Super Soaker
Place your covered bowl full of marinated meat in the refrigerator.
To absorb the maximum amount of flavor, your meat needs to stay here for some time. I've had a couple bland batches (ugh), so I err on the side of caution and marinade overnight or longer. I'll usually shake things up in the morning to ensure that the marinade has not settled and so everyone gets a chance to soak up some sauce in the deep end of the marinade bowl.
If you're getting antsy, or if you desire a milder flavor (no offense taken), then you can marinade for a shorter period. My qualifying factor for determining whether enough marinade has been absorbed is a notable shift in the color of the meat. Pre-marinade, it is very red and fully saturated in marinade it is a deep brown color.
Step 10: Racks on Racks on Racks
So, your meat has sat in the fridge soaking up marinade all night long. Its fingers and toes are beginning to wrinkle and it's ready to get out and dry off. Plus, the pangs of jerky withdrawals are starting to set in...
It's time to dehydrate! Lay out a nice bed of paper towels on a counter or table and get your first tray ready. One slice at a time, remove the meat from the bowl of marinade and place on the tray. Take care to completely spread each piece out and avoid contact with one another. Try to keep pieces as straight as possible and avoid bends or bunched up areas. If you have lots of trays then don't get too carried away worrying about spacing. Otherwise, consider this a giant game of meat tetris and try your best to maximize the amount you can fit on each tray. Make sure you leave some at least some space between the pieces. This is important in ensuring that the hot air in the dehydrator can freely circulate.
Once you fill a rack, break out your coarse black pepper and season to your heart's content. A little bit really goes a long way. Also, just be aware that some of it will fall off in the bag later.
Grab another rack, stack it on top of the completed one, and repeat until all of your meat is seasoned and on a tray. Hopefully you have played the game well and did not run out of trays! If you did run out, simply recover your bowl of marinade with the remaining pieces and return them to the fridge. You'll just have to dry them later. Oh well, more jerky!
Step 11: Air It Out
You're almost done! All that's left to do is dry it out. Well, that's going to take some time...but very little effort stands between you and jerky deliciousness!
Load your dehydrator base with all the full trays of meat. Set your temperature dial for 160-degF (71.1 degC) and let 'er rip! The heat should come on and the smell of jerky should begin filling the air. If your dehydrator has a fancy timer like mine then set it for six (6) hours. Otherwise, set an alarm on your phone so you remember to come check it later.
Pro-Tip #1: Different dehydrators can vary significantly. Until you make a couple batches and get really comfortable with it, I would recommend checking your jerky at shorter intervals. This will help prevent any burned batches.
Pro-Tip #2: I would recommend setting up your dehydrator somewhere that is well ventilated. Jerky smells great but, in a closed space, it can get a bit overpowering after awhile.
Step 12: Bend But Don't Break
The composition and thickness of your meat and your dehydrator can vary significantly, making it very difficult to specify a precise drying time. After the initial 6 hours is up, the jerky should be checked to determine if it needs additional drying time.
Testing is very simple. Pick up a piece of jerky (I usually choose the thickest piece I can find) and bend it slightly. There are three possible outcomes:
Jerky feels rubbery and bends without the slightest evidence of tearing --- Not dry enough :/
Jerky bends and begins to tear slightly --- Done :)
Jerky does not bend at all and snaps completely in half --- Too dry :(
Once a piece of meat on the trays exhibits the characteristics of #2 above then remove it from the tray. No point in leaving it there so it gets to #3! Obviously, if it's looking like #1 then keep your dehydrator going and let it dry a little longer.
Step 13: Store & Share!
After it cools, bag up your finished jerky and save some for later. That is if you can help from eating it all...
Jerky is very good by itself, but it's best when shared with others. Not only will they appreciate a tasty treat, but they'll be dazzled by your skills and beg for more. In extreme cases, the addictive nature of the jerky will consume them immediately and they may attempt to steal your entire bag.
A fresh batch makes a great snack for a road trip, a hike, or just for hanging out. Be sure to share the gift of jerky with the world. In other words, don't be a jerk!
Step 14: Variety Is the Spice of Life
If you enjoyed this batch then try your hand with some of my other recommendations below:
As I've mentioned, I experimented with many marinades over the years. The one used for this Instructable just happens to be my favorite. Below are some notable substitutes and/or alternatives that I enjoy as well. NOTE: all recipes utilize the same 5 Tbsp of liquid smoke.
- Stubb's Pork Marinade (12oz) - Sweet and spicy. Milder soy flavor than the beef marinade
- House of Tsang Thai Basil (full bottle) + 4 oz Soy Sauce - Has a nice sweet teriyaki flavor. Another favorite.
- 1/2 Soy Sauce (6oz) + Worchestershire Sauce (6oz) - This was the original. Very bold flavor. It's good but have to say I've grown out of it.
My absolute favorite meat to use is venison. It is super lean and very flavorful in itself. I chose to use beef in this Instructable because it's much more readily available. The process for making either is exactly the same. I have not experimented with chicken or pork, and don't particularly care to. One time I tried making a batch with tofu. I had high hopes, but it tasted like a dog treat...
Step 15: Jerky Ninja, Level: Expert
You've probably gathered by now that I'm a bit crazy about my jerky. I'm also a bit of a data nerd, so of course I'm going to attempt to meld the two together.
For this batch:
- Gross weight of meat purchased: 2.24 lbs = 35.84 oz.
- Net weight of trimmed meat: 1 lbs 15.4 oz = 31.4 oz.
- Weight of jerky produced: 12.4 oz
- Meat: 2.24 lb @ $4.99/lb = $11.18
- Stubb's Beef Marinade: entire 12oz bottle = $2.50
- Liquid Smoke: 5 Tbsp (2.5 oz.) of 4 oz. bottle @ $1.49 = $0.93
- Electricity: 4.13 kWh @ ~$0.119/kWh = $0.49
% usable meat from the cut selected was 87.6%
Total cost was $15.10
Unit cost of this batch was $1.21/oz.
Considering a bag of jerky at the store costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.50 for a 3.25 oz bag (~$2.00/oz.) I think I came out ahead on this batch! I've been tracking stats on my batches for awhile and the lowest I've recorded was around $1.09/oz. (I found a great sale on meat). Oh yeah!
Sure, there are some things that I left out when calculating the costs (my time, refrigeration, gas to the grocery store, etc.), but I think I've gone to enough detail to prove that homemade jerky is a good, affordable solution for your jerky cravings.
The real value is the pride you can take in making it and the compliments you'll get from your friends!
Step 16: Wrapping Up
I've had a lot of fun making and sharing jerky over the years. Hopefully you enjoyed this instructable and can now do the same.
Thanks to my dad for getting me hooked on jerky making years ago, and thanks to all my taste tester friends who have stuck it out through the good and bad batches!
Oh, and one last thing...The batch I made for all the pictures in this Instructable...it's already gone. The addiction is real.