I've been making a lot of beef jerky lately. It's delicious, nutritious, compact, and stores well.
The basic steps are: slice, trim, season, dehydrate. These steps are described in detail below.
You will need:
The first step is to buy a good piece of meat. Watch the supermarket sale fliers, looking for any inexpensive roast-type cut. Good choices are rump roast, bottom round, even sirloin roast when it goes on sale. You can usually find one of these for $1.50 to $2.00 per pound. Paying more than $2/pound is pointless.
Get the leanest piece you can find. Fat on the outside is fine, but any marbling will just make your life difficult. Go for solid red. More on this below.
I had the incredible good fortune to have found a Krups meat slicer on liquidation, so I slice my own meat. If you can do your own slicing, you will be much happier -- but things can still work out if you can't.
The folks at the meat department will slice the meat for you if you hand them the piece you want cut. Tell them you want it sliced fairly thick, for jerky. This will likely be an iterative process over several batches. Try to have the same person do the slicing each time, and ask them what setting the slicer is set to. When you find a setting you're happy with, ask for it each time. Unfortunately, this sounds easier than it actually is. My experience has varied between supermarkets and especially between counter people, and if my meat slicer broke tomorrow I would rather spend even $100 for a new one than go back to dealing with supermarkets!
Something else that makes for much better results is freezing the meat for an hour or so before slicing. Not only are the slices more uniform and the process easier and less sloppy, but the slightly frozen meat is easier to trim. This may not be an option if you have your meat sliced at the store, but you can always pick the meat first and ask them to freeze it while you do the rest of your shopping.
Now that you have the meat in slices, you need to trim the fat.
No, I have not gone over to the Dark Side of low-fat weeniedom. I still gnaw on sticks of butter and cook from The Bad For You Cookbook. My dream of dying of a heart attack by age thirty is probably not going to happen, but there's always forty!
The problem is, fat does not dehydrate well -- it turns rancid, and gives the jerky anything from an unpleasant off taste to a toss-the-whole-batch-away stench.
Please trim the meat as well as you can. Some thin white strips will probably be okay, but you really, really do want to get rid of anything over 1mm wide. This is another good reason for buying a meat slicer -- if you trim away the big chunks of fat before you slice, you've just got a few details left to do instead of having to pay meticulous attention to each strip.
For the trimming I use a cheap, dull pair of scissors. Works beautifully. Use whatever works best for you, just make sure you leave as little fat as possible. Actually, go ahead and leave a couple of pieces with large fatty bits. That way you won't just be taking my word for it.
Trimming is, for me, the most tedious part of the process. Four pounds of meat (my usual batch size) takes me about half an hour.
Salt & Season
At this point you need to season your jerky. Some people dunk it in teriyaki or soy sauce or some other glop for a few hours; I just salt & season, so that's what I'll describe.
Hint: If you want
to soak yours, go ahead. My two cents' worth is:
Lay the strips out on your dehydrator trays. Pack them together as densely as you can. It doesn't matter if they touch, since they will shrink.
Sprinkle salt all over them. I can't describe how much to use, since I don't measure, but I like to see salt crystals all over the meat. Not enough to where the salt is dry because it's absorbed all the moisture from the meat, though! Think "way too much salt if I were planning to cook and eat this meat", but maybe midway between that and preserving-style salting.
Now add some seasonings. Sprinkle or slather something tasty over the strips. Here are some of my suggestions:
For the liquid seasonings I usually use a cooking paintbrush to spread the liquid evenly over the meat. Some, like the jerk, are too thick to be spread that way; those I just spread on with my fingers.
|Hint: If you label each tray with a permanent marker ("A","B", etc, or whatever markings you prefer), you can try different seasonings in different trays and actually identify them when they're dried (you probably think you'll be able to recognize them all at the end, but you won't). r|
When you're done seasoning, spritz some water over the meat to keep the powdered seasonings from blowing away with the dehydrator fan, then move on to:
Put the trays on the dehydrator, turn it on, and start waiting.
It usually takes 24 hours for one batch to be ready, sometimes even 36 -- but I slice my meat pretty thick. Your mileage will vary depending on your dehydrator efficiency and temperature, meat thickness, number of trays, phase of the moon, and so on. The time will also depend on how you like your jerky -- crisp and crunchy will take more time than chewy and gross.
With that in mind, check every 8-12 hours or so. I usually rotate the trays in the top half down to the bottom in the morning and evening.
Note: If you don't have a dehydrator, I strongly recommend the American HarvestTM SnackMaster®. Although its heating element maxes out at 145 degrees, instead of 200 like some others I've seen, its powerful fan makes it actually take less time per batch than those others, and makes for a (IMHO) tastier and crisper end result. I've heard of people just using the oven, set to its lowest setting, but have never tried this.
When it's done, take it off the dehydrator and lay on paper towels to absorb any fat globules that might have risen up to the surface (I never do this, but you may want to depending on how well you've done the initial trimming of the fat)
Store in airtight plastic bags. This is probably more critical if you live somewhere with more humidity than New Mexico... which, chances are, you do.
That's it! Enjoy!
I usually get a 25 to 30 percent yield. That is, it takes three to four pounds of meat to make one pound of jerky. Some of it is water loss, but I suspect most of it is the trimmed fat. This gives us a worst-case cost of $8 per pound (4 pounds of raw meat at $2/pound). Best-case (3 lbs @ $1.50/lb) gives us $4.50/lb for the end result. That's a far better cry from store jerky prices of $16-$30/lb!
My dehydrator is rated at 550 watts, so 24 hours of drying is 13 kWh, and 36 hours is 20. Even at $0.10/kWh, that's $1.30 and $2.00 in electricity costs respectively. Not something to worry about.
The biggest cost (apart from the dehydrator, which we've had for over 6 years) is time. The meat slicer has more than paid for itself (okay, it was cheap, but still) in this regard: