I freaking LOVE jerky. Doesn’t matter if it is beef, deer, elk or antelope. It’s all good!
There are three things you should know about me. I’m independent, I love to cook and I’m cheap. Okay, four. I’m also a critic. I have a hard time buying jerky at a convenience store and loving it. In some cases I can barely like it, and I have been known to take one bite and toss the rest of the package in the garbage. And the price is crazy ridiculous.
How hard can it be to make good jerky? I did it for years back in my deer and antelope hunting days. Since I really don’t hunt anymore, I get cravings for jerky, that only Sturgis Jerky can satisfy. I can’t get Sturgis Jerky locally here in Indiana, and it is on the pricey side. But, I’ve made literally hundreds of pounds of jerky over the years, why not give it a try with store bought beef?
We have established, as a critic, I dislike convenience store jerky. As an independent person who no longer hunts and loves to cook, I like to make my own. Now for the cheap me. I’m on the lookout for inexpensive cuts of beef that are fairly lean, with large muscle groups. Did I mention I was on the meats judging team in my youth?
So the hunt was on. I’m avoiding meat that is finely textured (tender), has a lot of marbling (fat), collagen and elastin (the stuff in between the muscles). Based mainly on price, but also on the fact that it will be easy to slice without much waste. I purchased 6 lbs. of boneless English Roast from my local Krogers grocery store for $4.20/lb. I think I could get an even better price if I would watch the sale ads, but it’s hard to put jerky craving on hold.
After trimming, I probably ended up with about 5.75 lbs of usable meat. I might over trim, but I hate having stuff in my jerky that I can avoid. And you definitely want to stay away from fat because it can make the jerky go bad fairly quickly.
Back in the day, I used my own wet mix. Where I would soak the slices in the brine for 24 hours before drying. But to make things easier I’m using a dry mix. There are several good brands out there. In the past my favorite has always been Hi Mountain Seasonings (Hickory), you can pick this up at any Cabelas and I’m sure other outdoor stores. For this batch I grabbed Hi-Country Jerky Season & Cure - Mountain Man Smoky Blend flavor, at my local Rural King.
Let's make jerky!
Make note of number of pounds of meat before throwing away the meat label. You will need this info to calculate how much mix to use. -- This is vital for making sure it is properly preserved and that you don’t over season/salt the jerky. Nothing more heartbreaking than spending all of that time and resources on making a batch and having it be too salty to eat. Or worse, it spoiling or making someone sick because you didn’t have right amount of cure.
1. Trim the meat. Remove all fat. I also separate the meat into muscle groups, cutting out as much collagen and elastin as possible.
2. Estimate and amount of trim you have removed, and deduct that from your starting weight, to give you your final amount of meat based on weight.
3. Slice muscles with the grain. Don’t cut across the grain like you would when slicing for the dinner plate. We purposefully want it to hold together and be chewy. This can be made easier with a sharp knife and partially frozen meat. I like mine sliced about ¼” thick. Keep the slices uniform for better distribution of the dry mix and drying results.
4. Put slices in a large bowl and toss with the appropriate amount of dry mix. The package will give you a conversion table that shows pounds of meat and amount of mix.
5. Dump into ziplock bags. For 6 pounds of meat I was able to use one gallon size bag. Place in refrigerator overnight. I usually turn the bag over a few times and knead it a little to make sure the mix has touched all of the meat.
6. The following day, I lay out the strips on my dehydrator trays (you can also use your oven on its lowest setting with the door slightly ajar). At this point I lightly sprinkle with pepper (based on your tastes). Set the dials for jerky. And let it run. Based on my dehydrator and thickness of the jerky I have pieces ready to eat within about 8 hours. Your results may vary.
7. I’m a little picky, so I make sure each piece is completely dry. If not, they go back in for another hour or two.
8. I will usually package the jerky in single servings. So 5 or 6 pieces in a vacuum pack. And then for good measure, I throw them in the freezer. You don’t need to do this, but I like to make sure nothing spoils.
Boneless English Roast (6 lbs.) - $25.00
Jerky season mix for 6 lbs. – $2.50
Final cost of homemade jerky - $27.50
I didn’t get a final weight on the jerky. But you can see by the pictures that same amount of jerky at a convenience store would easily be $50-$75. Unless you buy the REALLY cheap stuff, and for that I have no answer for you.
Bottom line… homemade jerky is cheaper and tastes amazing … and you know exactly what you are putting in it.
Grab a bag, and let’s hit the trails!