Everything You Need To Know To Make Jerky
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To learn how to use the Jerky Works, click here.

Here are the most frequently asked questions about making beef and other kinds of jerky:

 

Is homemade beef jerky safe to eat?

Chapter Two of Just Jerky discusses safety concerns. If you're stuffing unrefrigerated meat in a backpack, jerky is actually safer than cured ham, smoked turkey breast, or a roast beef sandwich. Once the internal temperature of meat reaches 145 degrees F. and stays at that temperature for at least 10 minutes, salmonella, E.coli and trichinosis are no longer threats.

The food drying process not only kills bacteria, it eliminates more than 90 percent of the water, the medium bacteria requires to grow. Add to that the fact that each pound of meat calls for no less than a teaspoon of salt. Salt is no more than flavoring until the meat is dried then it inhibits bacteria.

Chapter Two of Just Jerky discusses safety concerns. If you're stuffing unrefrigerated meat in a backpack, jerky is actually safer than cured ham, smoked turkey breast, or a roast beef sandwich. Once the internal temperature of meat reaches 145 degrees F. and stays at that temperature for at least 10 minutes, salmonella, E.coli and trichinosis are no longer threats.

The food drying process not only kills bacteria, it eliminates more than 90 percent of the water, the medium bacteria requires to grow. Add to that the fact that each pound of meat calls for no less than a teaspoon of salt. Salt is no more than flavoring until the meat is dried then it inhibits bacteria.

Why make your own beef jerky when its readily available at supermarkets and convenience stores?

You can pay as much as $2 an ounce for commercial jerky, making it more expensive than spiny lobster from the coldest waters of Maine. Homemade jerky is a better product for less money, plus there's more control over the use of chemicals, preservatives and salt.

What are the origins of beef jerky?

Meats have been dried since the Cro-Magnon era when humans observed how other animals cached their prey in caves and trees. Sun and wind were the earliest food drying techniques. Jerky has many meanings, although this North American food was originally called charqui (pronounced "sharkey" in Spanish).

How did Native Americans make jerky?

Bull flesh was tough and calf flesh crumbled when dried, so hunters brought fresh buffalo cow meat to camp where it was cut and dried, then packed for storage in skin bags known as parfleches. Meat strips would hang over campfires to take advantage of dry circulating air. Tepees were the first smokehouses.

What equipment is needed?

Lewis and Clark used peeled willow sticks to skewer meat and fish strips, then hung them in bushes to dry. I've found that an electric food dehydrator is the most efficient, easiest and safest way to make jerky, but you also can use an oven or a smoker. Be sure the food dehydrator heats to at least 145 degrees F. If the food dehydrator, oven or smoker has no accurate temperature control, you'll also need a meat thermometer with a stainless steel point to check the internal temperature of the drying jerky. If you'll be making jerky from ground meat, there are several handy, new extruding devices available. They're called jerky guns or jerky shooters and look like caulk guns or cake decorators.

What can be used to make jerky?

Beef, wild meats, fish, poultry and even soy protein make great jerky. Meats can be ground or cut into strips. For hunters who have a freezerful of venison, this is a terrific way to use what's beginning to suffer freezer burn. The key is that meats must be lean.

Can you make poultry jerky?

Yes, turkey jerky, chicken jerky, wild duck, and goose, even ostrich and emu jerky. Because most poultry is relatively lean, it makes fine jerky using either ground meat or strips.

How do you know when it's dry?

It is always safer to overdry than to underdry, because if it's not dry enough, it can mold. A pound of raw meat or fish generally dries to between one-third and one-half pound of jerky. It's best to wait until jerky has cooled to test for dryness because warm pieces feel more pliable. Dry until firm, but not crispy. It shouldn't snap clean like a dry stick, but rather bend like a green willow. When you squeeze a hunk of dried jerky, you shouldn't feel any moisture or soft spots.

How do you store jerky?

Jerky lasts longest when stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. Even though our ancestors kept dried meats for years without refrigeration, I recommend storing jerky in airtight plastic bags in the refrigerator or freezer, especially if you want to keep it longer than a month.

Let's say I've got 50 pounds of venison in my freezer. What would you recommend?

I'd take the meat that can be cut easily into strips and separate it from the smaller pieces that I'd grind for ground meat jerky. Just Jerky has 12 recipes specifically developed with venison in mind, including whiskey jerky, ground meat teriyaki jerky, spicy tomato jerky as well as numerous ways to use jerky as a cooking ingredient, such as pasta con carne seca, jerky hash, chili and more.

Have you had any strange reactions to the Just Jerky book?

Anybody can be a little jerky. That's why I dedicated the book to the jerk in all of us. And don't stop with finger food. Entire meals, including pre-cooked grains or beans, can be dried in advance. Sauces and stews are spread on solid trays to dry, then rolled up like fruit leather. You'll need an extra 15 minutes before dinner to rehydrate them, but your patience will be well rewarded.

For more information on Just Jerky, click on the book's image.
Make sure to check out the jerky sequel, Jerky People!