Introduction: 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
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
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
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!
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!
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
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.
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