How to Make Beef Jerky

It’s easy to make this protein rich trail snack at home

I recently blogged about how to dry greens for your backpacking trips. Now I’d like to shift gears into the protein side of the menu by covering how to make beef jerky, a protein rich trail food that helps sustain energy on your hikes both near and far.

Yes, there are a lot of off the shelf beef jerky options out there. So why make your own?

1. Many of the commercial jerky makers add a lot of preservatives to make them last on store shelves.

2. The flavors are designed to appeal to the masses. Making your own allows you to create just what you like — and there are some wild options out there including Margarita jerky and spicy chili jerky.

One word of caution. The shelf life of homemade jerky is only a couple of weeks. For that reason, you will want to make it shortly before your hike. Otherwise, the store bought varieties may be the way to go.

Before delving into the recipe, I’d like to briefly talk about what cuts of beef make the best jerky. 

What cut of beef do I use?

The number one thing you want is a lean cut of meat. The more fat there is in the beef, the more likely it will spoil. It’s as simple as that. So what cuts are the leanest? My top two choices are eye of the round and top round. Both of these lean, tender cuts make great jerky. If the butcher is available, ask to have your jerky meat cut into 1/8” or 1/4” thick pieces to save you time. If you need or want to cut it yourself, pop the wrapped meat into the freezer thirty to forty-five minutes — just long enough so that the outside of the meat is firm. This makes it easier to slice.

Does it have to be beef?

No. You can make jerky from pork tenderloin, venison, elk and a variety of other meats. Just keep in mind that you always want to be working with lean cuts.

How much do I buy?

Jerky will lose two-thirds of its weight in the drying process — three pounds of meat will make one pound of jerky. I like to make 3 lb. batches.

Trailworthy Beef Jerky Recipe

I really like this basic jerky recipe, which has a teriyaki flavor. You can get as wild and crazy with recipes as you like. There are hundreds of jerky recipes on the web including Cajun, mango, vinegar horseradish, you name it!

Ingredients

3 pounds beef eye of round or top round roast sliced to 1/8”to 1/4” (see below)

3/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 tablespoon honey

1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional)

Method

1. Prepare the meat.

Trim all exterior fat off the roast. If the roast hasn’t been cut into strips by the butcher, place the wrapped roast in the freezer for 30-45 minutes, so it’s frozen on the outside and still soft inside. Using a sharp knife, slice the beef against the grain to create 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick strips. (Thicker slices will take longer to dry.)

2. Prepare the marinade.

Add the marinade ingredients to a bowl and whisk together. Taste the marinade and adjust to your liking. 

3. Let the marinade do its work.

Place meat in a large zip-seal bag or medium-size bowl. Pour marinade over the beef and agitate to ensure the meat is coated on all sides. Seal the bag or cover the bowl tightly with lid or plastic wrap, then place in refrigerator for a minimum of two hours and up to twelve hours. (The longer it marinates, the more flavorful the jerky will be.)

4. Prepare your oven.

Preheat oven to 175°F. Drain marinade off of beef strips and place on plate.

Use one of the following two methods to place the beef in the oven.

Method A. Skewer the jerky with wooden skewers, so that meat can be suspended from top shelf (each skewer placed parallel to oven door with jerky strips hanging down between shelf wires). Place foil on lower rack to catch the drippings.

Jerky loaded into oven using the skewer method.

Method B. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with foil, place baking racks on the sheets, then place jerky strips in single layers across the racks. Switch racks half-way through the drying process.

Prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon to let moisture escape.

6. Bake the jerky. 

At 1.5 hours — If using Method B, switch the racks from top to bottom shelf and vice versa.

At 3.0 hours — If using either method, remove one piece of jerky from the oven. Let it cool for five minutes, then try to bend it. It should bend, but not break in half. It shouldn’t feel greasy or soft either. What you’re looking for is meat that feels dry and leathery without any bit of moisture left in it. 

If your jerky shows any moisture at the bend or on the sides, it needs more time. From here on out, keep a watchful eye on your batch. Check a piece every five or ten minutes until the batch is done. You don’t want it to be crumbly or brittle. That means you’ve overcooked it.

Once the jerky is done and cooled to room temperature, you can store it in a zip zeal or vacuum bag at room temp for up to two weeks or a tad longer if you store it in the refrigerator.

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