Drying: The Art of Making Delicious Jerky

Are you an outdoor enthusiast, backpacker, or camper? If so, you know the importance of having lightweight, non-perishable food options. One such option that is perfect for any adventure is jerky. Jerky is a dried meat product that requires no refrigeration and can be made from various lean meats like beef, pork, venison, or smoked turkey breast. However, it’s important to handle the meat correctly to ensure safety and maintain its delicious taste.

The Key to Safe Jerky Preparation

Before diving into the process of making jerky, it’s crucial to understand the potential risks associated with raw meat. Raw meats can harbor harmful bacteria that can cause illness if not handled properly. Moist, high protein foods like meat and poultry are ideal breeding grounds for these microorganisms. That’s why it’s essential to follow these recommendations for safe meat and poultry handling:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meats.
  • Use clean equipment and utensils.
  • Keep meat and poultry refrigerated at 40ºF or below. Ground beef and poultry should be used within 2 days, while red meats can last 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator or be frozen for later use.
  • Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
  • Marinate meat in the refrigerator and avoid saving and reusing marinade.

Ensuring Safety with Wild Game Jerky

When preparing jerky from wild game, it’s crucial to consider the safety measures involved. The location of the wound and the hunter’s skill can affect the meat’s safety. If the animal is wounded in a way that allows its gut contents to come into contact with the meat or the hunter’s hands during dressing, fecal bacteria can contaminate the meat. In such cases, it’s best to use the meat in thoroughly cooked dishes rather than making jerky from it. Additionally, deer carcasses should be promptly chilled to minimize bacterial growth.

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Preparing Your Meat

To ensure delicious, safe-to-eat jerky, it’s important to follow certain guidelines when preparing the meat. Start by partially freezing the meat, as this will make slicing easier. It’s recommended to slice the meat no thicker than ¼ inch. Remove any fat from the meat, as it tends to spoil quickly. The slicing technique also affects the texture of the jerky. Slice with the grain for a chewy jerky, or slice across the grain for a more tender and brittle texture. If desired, you can use a tenderizer according to the package directions. Marinating the meat is an excellent way to infuse flavor and enhance tenderness. Common marinade ingredients include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and hickory smoke-flavored salt.

Jerky Marinade

The Art of Drying

Drying the meat is where the magic happens. After removing the meat strips from the marinade and draining them on clean, absorbent towels, it’s time to arrange them for drying. For dehydrator drying, place the strips on trays, ensuring they are close together but not touching or overlapping. If using an oven, use cake racks placed on baking sheets instead. Set the dehydrator or preheated oven to 140ºF and let the jerky dry until a test piece cracks but doesn’t break when bent. This process can take anywhere from 10 to 24 hours, depending on whether or not the meat was heated in the marinade beforehand. Don’t forget to occasionally check the progress after 3 hours.

Drying the Meat

Once the drying process is complete, gently pat off any oil beads with clean, absorbent towels. Allow the strips to cool before removing them from the drying racks. To store the jerky, package it in glass jars, heavy-duty plastic food storage bags, or consider vacuum packaging for extended shelf life.

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Ground Meat Jerky

Making jerky from ground meat adds another level of convenience. However, it’s essential to note that disease-causing microorganisms are more difficult to eliminate in ground meat compared to whole meat strips. If you choose to use ground meat, be sure to follow the general guidelines for safe handling of meat and poultry. It’s crucial to adhere to the dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions when heating the ground meat product at the end of the drying time. To eliminate disease-causing bacteria, it’s necessary to achieve an internal temperature of 160ºF.

Storing Your Delicious Jerky

Properly dried jerky can be conveniently stored at room temperature for one to two months. However, for optimal flavor, quality, and extended shelf life, it’s recommended to refrigerate or freeze the jerky.

So, whether you’re planning an outdoor adventure or simply looking for a tasty, protein-packed snack, making your own jerky is the way to go. Follow these guidelines to ensure safety and enjoy the satisfaction of creating your own delicious jerky.

This article was inspired by “So Easy to Preserve,” 6th ed. 2014. Bulletin 989, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.

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For more information, visit the Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ website for mouthwatering jerky recipes and tips.