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Cheap beef jerky Answered

At least around here you will be stung painfully in your hip pocket if you want some half decent beef jerky.
For some a snack, for others a survivial pack on long hikes, or just fun to eat....

I like to do things differently from time to time and where possible save a buck or two.
So a few years back I decided to invest in a food dehydrator that doubled up for other projects.
There is a lot of traditional ways of making jerky, from selecting the right meat, over the right cutting down to marinating or seasoning the meat.
But I did not find too many people using a dehydrator for the final step.

A quick run down on my preparations:
Meat cut into thin slices, then strips.
Marinating for a day or two then a gentle air dry.
Optional because I might be the only one who likes it: Covering with salt for a few hours to get a really salty taste.

One problem when using a dehydrator with meat is that things can get messy.
You only want to air dry on a wire rack or similar until the meat is semi dry on the surface but not until it already starts drying out.
I do it inside and only for about 3 hours or so.
Doing it for too long can mean much longer drying times in the dehydrator as a crust has formed on the surface already.
To prevent excessive mess I cover my trys with non stick baking paper.
This means only the top side will be dried until the meat starts to wrinkle up a bit.
I dry at around 40°C and do a quick check on the meat every 30 minutes - each time a different tray.
Once the top side feels dry to the touch I turn the meat over.
If the paper got quite soggy I give it a quick wipe with a paper towel, otherwise I leave it all on there and hope some of it will stick to the meat when turning it over.
Depending on the thickness of the meat the entire process can take 8 to 10 hours, thin slices dry in around 5-6 hours.

What is the right moisture content for the finnished jerky?
That is a question only you can answer!
Some people prefer a mild jerky that is firm but easy to chew.
Others, like myself, prefer the jerky bone dry and able to be kept fresh in an airtight container for years to come.
I found the best way still is to properly age the finnished product before use.
By aging I mean putting into a sealed container to even out the moisture level.
Unless you rotate in very fancy ways a multi try dehydrator will always produce some pieces in corner areas that are less dry.
The key is to have a large enough container so you can shake it all through once or twice a day and giving it a replacement of the air inside.
Really hard and dry pieces will soften a bit while those really soft pieces will give their moisture away.
Like this the meat is good for about 2 weeks from the day you dried it.
Leaving it open in a well ventilated area with very low moisture level will fully dry the meat while it ages and prolong the best before date.
Keep in mind that you don't want soggy meat to start with here, the overall moisture level should be well below 10% in the meat when done.
If you fully dry it, especially with a bit of salt in it then the meat last for like forever.
A nice way to figure out if the meat is fully dry is a digital scale.
Take a sample pieve and check the weight, write it down.
Place it in the dehydrator for another 30 minutes and check again.
Less weight than before means moisture was lost and the meat you sampled was not fully dry yet.
Same weight as before means it is dry.
As a final step some people might want to put the meat outside on a sunny and dry day.
If you do then please not into the direct sun and with a mesh cover to keep insects, dust and other things away from the meat.

Cheating on the softness...
Some of my friends like their jerky with a consistency more like chewing gum.
Or like a slice of good, smoked ham if you don't like chewing gum.
The meat selection and cutting direction are vital here.
Think of it like bying a steak, the cheap, crappy one means it might be tough one to chew, the quality cut from the butcher will almost be certain to be a great experience.
Sizzle or minute steaks are a quicky way to save some time making jerky but not so good for a nice and soft jerky.
Of course, if you are on a budget you can cheat with manual labour and tenderise the meat the old fashion way before seasoning or marinating it.
The marinade is another way you can cheat.
Meat soaks up the marinade to some extend, especially if you tenderised the meat and got rid of the excess fluid that come out of it.
Oil should be avoided for obvious reasons but you might have noticed that some commercial jerky always feels greasy.
Plant or vegetable fats that melt below about 45°C can be used in a warm marinade to add some softness and in some case a better taste as the fat binds better to spices and seasoning.
The downside is that you also need a drying temperature below the melting point of the fat and that it seals in a lot of moisture, which means much longer drying times.
But you get a nice and soft jerky in return.

The right cut...
When you cut your own meat it helps to know what to look for.
You want the meat fibres going in the right direction in your jerky slices!
If you take a long piece of sirlion as an example than the fibres will run lenghtwise through it.
Since you want to be able to rip or chew a piece off the jerky you want these fibres going sideways through your slice, not lenghtwise.
In the sirlion example it means you cut thin slices of the "sausage" and from those you cut the strips.

The wrong cut...
If your fibres run lenghtwise through your jerky strips it will be very hard to get through them.
Not only when you want to rip a bit off but also when you chew on it, it can be a very long chew...
Some people though prefer it in short strips that are a bit thicker than usual.
Like with tobacco in the old days they chew on it until the taste and flavour is out and discard of the rest.

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