There’s no doubt that jerky is one of the best snacks around. Not only is dried meat incredibly tasty, but it also makes the perfect on-the-go snack for camping trips, road trips, and more.
While you can find jerky in pretty much any grocery store or gas station, it’s also a pretty easy snack to make at home.
The key to making tasty jerky is knowing how to dry it. How do you dry jerky? Check out this start to finish guide to learn everything you need to know.
Related: Two Chicks Jerky Bundles
An Introduction to Jerky
Jerky refers to any meat that has been dried, salted, and seasoned. Because of jerky’s low moisture content, it can be stored on the shelf for several weeks without refrigeration. While most people associate beef with jerky, you can make jerky from all kinds of meats, including turkey, pork, venison, and ground meat.
While many people think of jerky as a modern snack, it’s actually been around for a very long time. The word “jerky” comes from the ancient Quechuan (Quechua are indigenous persons of South America who live in the Andean highlands from Ecuador to Bolivia) word “ch'arki.”
Indigenous people of South American would bring jerky along with them on long journeys. Now, campers, hikers, and snackers enjoy jerky when they’re looking for a salty, protein-packed bite to eat.
During World War, soldiers frequently snacked on beef jerky as a source of protein, and NASA has been sending astronauts to outer space with beef jerky since 1986.
Before you can think about drying jerky, you first need to prepare it. Here’s what you need to do to get your jerky ready:
- Remove as much fat from the meat as possible.
- Partially freeze the meat so it’s easy to slice.
- Slice the slightly frozen meat into strips. The strips should be about ¼ - ⅜ inch thick, 1 - 1 ½ inches wide, and 4 -10 inches long.
- To make your jerky more tender, make sure to cut across the grain.
- To make your jerky uniformly thick, flatten it with a rolling pin.
- Cook the jerky strips to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. To get them to the right temperature, you can either bake them in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the jerky meat has cooked, you can simmer it in a marinade for some added flavor. Make two to three cups of marinade using your favorite sauces and seasonings. Bring the marinade to a rolling boil over medium heat, and add a few meat strips.
Make sure the marinade covers the meat strips completely, and return the pan to a boil for one minute. You can also marinate the strips overnight in the refrigerator before cooking the meat.
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Methods for Drying Your Jerky
Once your jerky has been cooked and marinated, it’s time to dehydrate it. There are several different methods you can use to dry jerky, and each method comes with its pros and cons.
Here are the top options:
Oven-drying jerky is perhaps the best method for dehydration. Oven drying works well for all types of jerky, but there are some things you need to keep in mind before you use this method.
Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Set the heat as low as possible, and don’t use the broiling element
- If your broiling element comes on even at the lowest baking setting, you can set a heavy-duty foil or cookie sheet on the top shelf to deflect the heat.
- If your oven isn’t vented, place a wooden spoon in the opening of the oven to set it ajar.
- To encourage air circulation, you can place a fan near the open door.
- Don’t overload your oven with too much jerky.
- The optimal drying temperature is usually around 140 degrees.
With those tips in mind, here’s a great recipe for oven-dried beef jerky:
- 1 pound of boneless top round steak
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup liquid smoke
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- Gather the ingredients and make sure hands, work surfaces, and equipment are clean.
- Wrap the beef in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 to 60 minutes until firm.
- Using a sharp knife, trim the beef jerky.
- Use a rolling pin to flatten the beef jerky if desired.
- Place the sauces and spices in a large freezer bag, and squeeze to combine.
- Place the beef in the bag with the marinade, reseal, and toss to coat.
- Open the bag, squeeze out all of the air, reseal, and refrigerator overnight.
- Heat your oven to 250 F, place a baking rack on a cookie sheet, and set aside.
- Drain the meat from the marinade and pat dry with a towel.
- Arrange the strips of meat on a single layer on the pan.
- Bake the meat for about four hours, or until the jerky is dry to touch. Check the jerky often, as drying times can vary. Sometimes, the process can take up to 12 hours.
- Remove the jerky from the oven, and raise the temperature to 275 F.
- Place the jerky on a clean baking sheet, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and pat dry any remaining moisture.
- Store the jerky food-grade containers with tight-fitting lids.
Related: Two Chicks Jerky Merch
Using a Dehydrator Machines
You can also use a dehydrator machine, which comes with multiple layers of stacking trays, to dry your jerky. Dehydrating machines typically operate at 140 F, but keep in mind that the lower trays will get more heat than the top trays.
If you use a dehydrator machine, you’ll need to keep an eye on the beef jerky and rotate the trays from top to bottom in 30-minute to 1-hour intervals. As the meat approaches the final stage, you may also need to lower the temperature by 10 degrees or so to prevent scorching.
Which Drying Methods Should You Avoid?
You should avoid trying to dry your jerky in a microwave, as this will result in uneven heating. Smokers are also not recommended, as it can be difficult to keep the smoker at a constant temperature.
While sun-drying is the time-honored technique, this method can only be done in sunny, hot, and arid areas with good breezes. Typically, the potential for food poisoning makes this method not worth the risk.
Related: Two Chicks Jerky Store Locator
Time to Dry Your Jerky
Now that you know how to dry your jerky, it’s time to put these steps into action. Pretty soon, you’ll have your own tasty homemade jerky to snack on to your heart’s content.
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