Start Your Beef Jerky Addiction Today!

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Introduction: Start Your Beef Jerky Addiction Today!

About: Maker. Breaker. World Shaker.

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:

Step 2: Grocery List

To make this batch you will need:

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:

  1. Jerky feels rubbery and bends without the slightest evidence of tearing --- Not dry enough :/

  2. Jerky bends and begins to tear slightly --- Done :)

  3. 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:

Yield:

  • 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

Expenses:

  • 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

Therefore,

% 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.

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94 Discussions

I have been making my own Jerky for some time now. If you want to try something a bit different, Try this recipe:

Bulgogi Jerky

  • 2 pounds beef, top or bottom round
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup pear nectar
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 3/4 cups honey
  • 2 jalapeño, chopped (seeded if you wish)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 tablespoons ginger, grated
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • black pepper
  • kochukaru (It really difficult to find, so Cayenne is a suitable alternative)

  1. Place beef in freezer to firm up enough to slice very thinly (about 1/4").
  2. Blend remaining ingredients except for salt, sesame seeds, black pepper, and kochukaru until smooth.
  3. Add beef to marinade stirring gently to make sure all is coated and marinate about 24-48 hours.
  4. Drain the marinade and place meat on the drying racks
  5. Grind the salt and sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle (you can use a spice grinder, just be sure not to turn the mixture into a paste).
  6. Sprinkle over beef, then grind fresh black pepper and add chili if desired.
  7. dry in dehydrator at 160 for 3 - 4 hours
  8. Store in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer.

You are like me, you like the numbers, so after marinating, I drain the meat and weight it. After about 3 hours of drying I check the weight again and if the meat weight has reduced by half I know it is done. To make final weight check easier, weight your drying trays before you add the meat to them and make note of their weight. This will make the final weight checks easier because you can weight the meat and trays together, then deduct the tray weight to determinant meat weight. That way if you need to dry longer, you are not unloading and reloading the trays several times.

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3 replies

Wow! This is awesome! Thanks for the recipe and advice. Sounds delicious!

I really like how you've found a way to quantify drying time. In writing this I was somewhat concerned that my technique was too qualitative. Will have to look closer into weight loss over time in my future batches.

Thanks again!

Your welcome! Dehydration is definitely a science and cooking by weight is typically more accurate than by time or other measurements. In the case of meat, depending on the texture you want, you want to dry your meat 50-65%. Depending on environmental factors, like ambient air temperature, humidity, etc. it could take 3 hours or it could take 6 hours. I personally like this particular recipes a little bit chewy, so I dry it to 50% of original weight. Luckily I have learned to dry by weight, because I have seen it take as little as 2 hours during 90-100 degree days with zero humidity and as much as 6 hours when it was 20-30 degrees with 100% humidity.

I use this method for all my dehydration projects, especially since almost everything preserved by dehydration is based on the amount of moisture content. Of course, that also means you need to do your research to figure out how much water weight is in the object you are drying. Carrots and potatoes are a lot denser, with less water than say onions or celery. So once you figure out your water to solids ratio, you can then figure out your approximate water weight and then work out the math for the percentage of weight you need to remove, then the time doesn't matter as much.

IF I had my perfect dehydrator, it wouldn't be based on time, I would be able to tell it what my object was, it would then figure out it's weight and dry it until that weight was where it should be, then turn off. And yes, I have been experimenting with this idea and if I get it to succeed I will more than likely add an instructable about it. :)

Also, I have played with the saltiness of this recipe. In the above recipe I
have the pear nectar and the soy sauce set to 50/50. but I have tried
changing this a bit. I have found that I like it closer to 75/25 or 1
1/2 of pear nectar and 1/2 cup of soy sauce. So play around with this
and see what you like.
The pear nectar is a meat tenderizer, so
depending on how soft, chewy or tough you want your jerky will determine
how long you want to marinade. I have found, for my taste, I like
marinating it for 48 hours using the 75/25 pear to soy tweak. But again,
you'll have to play with it and see what you like.

Hopefully you find this helpful! :)

I find it very helpful! Thanks again for sharing your knowledge. I really hope you get your idea worked out. Would love to see that Instructable!

Nicely done. A few tips to go along with it:

- If you want your been jerky to last longer, use the leanest meat you and, and trim as much fat as you can. Dried meat will last a long, long time. The fat, however, can turn rancid and ruin the stored jerky.

- You can get away with less marinade and better coverage by putting the meat and the marinade in a 1 gallon freezer bag and carefully squeezing as much air out as possible. This will ensure constant contact with the marinade and all of the meat.

- Most butcher shops, and many meat departments at good grocery stores, will thin slice the meat for you on their big commercial meat slicers. Most of them will slice it as thick or thin as you'd like. Considering how much of a pain slicing the meat is, even when it's firmed up in the freezer, it's definitely worth asking.

- Smoked Paprika will be a great addition to your marinade. It adds a rich smokey flavor without some of the odd or off notes that you can sometimes get with liquid smoke (for jerky, I'd still recommend some liquid smoke, too, unless you are smoking the meat).

1 reply

Thanks for the tips! I am always looking to improve my methods and this is some great advice.

Excellent instructions and looks like a good recipe too. I will be trying it soon. I've been making venison jerky for years until the deer lease price got too high for me. Everyone loved it. I used 1/4 cup La Choy soy sauce (better flavor than Kikkoman to me) as well as Worcestershire sauce, powdered garlic, powdered onion, nutmeg, red pepper (pizza) flakes, and ginger. I would 'double dip' it in the marinade meaning I doubled the ingredients (not the meat), dehydrated the meat about 1/2 way, and then repeated the marinade procedure. It seemed to give it much more flavor. I'm looking forward to trying your recipe as it seems simpler to make and not as complicated as what I've been doing. It will be my first time drying beef as well. Thanks for getting me excited about jerky again and for the great instructions.

1 reply

I'm right there with you on the deer lease prices...makes for about the most expensive meat you can find.

Your double dip technique sounds really interesting. May have to try that sometime. Some of my normal batches have been pretty strong but I bet that would really kick it up a notch!

Thanks for reading and I'm glad you're back on the jerky train!

My son is a huge fan of jerky, but I rarely buy it due to the sodium content and the price. Now, once I buy a dehydrator, I can make my own! He'll be thrilled! Thanks for the informative article.

http://sandramurquhart.com

1 reply

I hope you both enjoy it! Be sure to include him in the process...many good memories making jerky with my dad.

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neilcp

2 years ago

Outstanding details... I love the tips & explanations on the images.

I've been a jerky fan for ages, but have never had such a step-by-step, detailed instruction set. Will try making a batch for sure. Thanks for this awesome instructable...

Thanks for a great and amusing instructable !

Lovin this!! Such great ideas! I used to make tons of jerky batches. I used London broil (on sale) , one bottle of soy sauce, one bottle of liquid smoke (original) and the black pepper of course. I had several dehydrators (older style) and I bought a commercial grade meat slicer, like they use in the grocers deli dept, I just couldn't get the slicing right otherwise. It was delicious. I couldn't keep it in stock between my family and co workers. I'm looking forward to making some new batches with this recipe. I never considered the sweet/spicy taste!

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Bindox

2 years ago

I have 2 Ronco dehydrators that I have used for many years making jerky, in case anyone is wondering if they have to use that exact type of Presto dehydrator.

Great Instructable!

2 replies

Thanks! There are lots of good dehydrators out there. Way back in the day I used one (can't recall the brand) with just a heating coil on the bottom, no fan. Made for a lot of tray rotating but results were still awesome!

That is exactly what mine are. :)
It is easy to make some more dry than the bulk of the batch so I still use them.

Good post. But, each to their own. I always use pork loin @ $2.00 a lb., cut 1/4" across grain. You can't beat the tenderness compared with the best cut of beef. This jerky will melt in your mouth. I won't go into the marinating method, because I change it every time it's made. Just try pork loin and I guarantee that you'll never buy beef again for your jerky.

everytime

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Nevala

2 years ago

Awesome Instructable! Got me interested in trying for sure!

1 reply

Thank you! Be careful if you start, because it's hard to stop ;)

I have a fairly old American Harvest dehydrator that I use and it works out well. The best method for even drying is to move the trays up and down once an hour. The one marinade ingredient that I simply cannot do without is Johnny's Au Jus gravy concentrate. It comes in a small plastic bottle and is only about $3 and you should find it in the gravy/boulion section at King Soopers and Safeway. If you can't find Johnny's then substitute the Knorr brand dry Au Jus mix. If you're lucky enough to know a chef you could ask her for some demiglace. The best way for your marinade to actually soak in is to make it quite watery. I start with one cup of cool water, 3 tablespoons of the Johnny's mix and then other ingredients including white pepper, ponzu sauce and sea salt. This makes enough for about 3 pounds of meat. I put the meat and the marinade in a gallon size ziplock bag and periodically smush the meat around to make sure it marinates evenly. 12 +/- hours later I loaded into my dehydrator.