This blog post is meant to be the first in a series that will show you the beauty and simplicity that is making beef jerky. We will take you from n00b (technical jerky-maker term) to master of your domain. In other words, we will teach you how to make beef jerky, from the overall process, tweaks to the process depending on your level of “fanciness” (you fancy, huh), to the tools that will make your life easier and even basic recipes.
Customers and friends always ask us how to make jerky, so we’ll tell you what we tell them: “You don’t. You buy SlantShack Jerky.” That’s not actually what we tell them, but most people compare our jerky to home-made jerky, which is something we aspire to. The steps are pretty simple:
1. Buy beef. (Or turkey or your other meat/non-meat of choice) We generally use top round, but other cuts (skirt, brisket) can be just as good.
2. Trim the fat. Jerky is meant to be a lean source of protein and a healthy snack, so take the time to trim any fat from your meat.
3. Slice the meat. Ideally, you have a meat slicer to help you out here, but most jerk-at-home cooks don’t have these. Instead, use a sharp knife and try to cut the meat into thin strips (about 1/4″ is good, but this is a matter of taste). It helps to freeze the meat and let it partially thaw before slicing – this often makes it a lot easier than working with raw meat.
4. Marinate. This is where the magic happens and you can experiment with wet marinades and dry rubs. Some standard marinade bases consist of soy sauce or teriyaki sauce, orange juice, garlic, and ginger. But, this is completely up your taste and where you can have some fun.
5. Wait. Again, ideally you want to have vacuum sealed containers for your meat to marinate in, but a plastic bag with the air sucked out will also do the trick. Let your meat marinate in the fridge overnight. If you’re really fancy, you can opt for a vacuum tumbler, which will take care of this process in ~30 minutes, but that’s not necessary for jerking it at home.
6. Cook! To be able to replicate results time and again, you want to have a commercial dehydrator or smokehouse, but for most people, a conventional convection oven will do the trick. The key is to keep it on a very low heat (175 Fahrenheit or less) and get some airflow (keeping the oven door slightly open works). You’ll notice your meat slowly dehydrating, changing color, and looking more like your new favorite homemade snack.
7. Eat. You really thought we’d forget this step? This is the most important step. Try your jerky, tell your friends how amazing it is, possibly share (sharing is good, no?), and think about future tweaks that will make it even better the next time (beef cut, thickness, marinade, cooking time, cooking temperature, etc.).
So that’s the basic process. In later blog posts, we’ll get into the gory details of each of the steps (hopefully with videos!) as well as the options you have for the various tools that make your life easier when making jerky. Remember that making jerky is a journey that is never complete. There is always room for experimentation and the key is to keep things fresh and exciting. Note what experiments worked and keep them saved in case you really need to impress your carnivorous lady-friend. For those other friends though, keep pushing the envelope to make the best beef jerky possible.
Feel free to post any questions to the comments and we’ll do our best to offer our professional advice.
Your humble servant,