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Jerky is made by drying beef, elk, buffalo, or other meats. Preserving meat is easy. Marinating or seasoning before drying makes jerky tasty.


Jerky is dried meat or fish. Drying food isn’t something new to our day. It is possibly the oldest way of preserving food. Jerky dates back to the earliest civilizations. Explorers, trappers, hunters, Indian tribes, and settlers in this country used jerky in the early years of our country. It is still used today by people from all walks of life from country hikers to city bikers. The word jerky comes from the Spanish word "charqui" (dried meat), which itself comes from an Incan word.  Cowboys used to sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, a small amount of chili powder, and then simply hang it on wire lines in the sun to dry.


Jerky is most commonly made from beef, but can also be made from elk, buffalo, moose, caribou, fish, or deer (venison). In early days, it was usually dried over a small fire after being soaked in brine, which is a mixture of salt and water. Hickory wood was preferred to help keep insects away and for flavoring of the meat. Making jerky when windy was a plus because it helped keep the flies away from the meat.


Although jerky can still be made in this way, techniques have become more sophisticated in our day. Even with new techniques the basic method is still the same. Drying food is accomplished by removing moisture from the food by temperature increases and flowing air. The control of both the temperature and the airflow is very important. If the humidity is too high and the temperature is too low, the jerky will dry too slowly and it could spoil. If the temperature is too high, the jerky will cook too fast, harden on the outside but underneath not be dry, and once again, it could spoil.


Jerky is easily made. Three common methods are drying in a dehydrator, in the sun, or in on oven. I use the Nesco Snack Master Express dehydrator (model FD60) that I bought at Wal-mart’s for $39.  Make jerky by removing the fat and muscle a good lean round steak or flank steak. Cut the meat into strips that are ¼ - 3/8 inch thick and 1 or 2 inches wide. Cut along the grain and not across it. The meat can be seasoned with many different seasonings. Soaking in soy sauce or teriyaki sauce is a favorite. A mixture of salt, pepper, oregano, marjoram, basil and thyme is tasty. Many seasonings work well. It is a personal preference. Dry seasoning mixtures need to be pounded into the meat for best results. Many people enjoy jerky with a lot of pepper. You will need to experiment to find your favorites.


Jerky is done when it is flexible and able to bend, but is shriveled up and very dark. As jerky cools, it will get more stiff and brittle so you don’t want to over dry. Most commonly jerky is eaten dry but it can also be reconstituted in soups and stews. A rule of thumb is 4 pounds of meat for every one pound of jerky.



Meats should be dried at 155 degrees F (68 degrees C).  Depending on how thick the meat is cut, how heavily the dryer is loaded, and the humidity, it will take from 4 – 15 hours to dry.


Pat the jerky with clean paper towels several times as it dries, to remove the oil that accumulates on top of the jerky.  When removing jerky from the dryer, wrap it in paper towels and let it stand for a couple of hours prior to packaging.  Excess fat will be absorbed in the paper towels and shelf life will be extended.



Beef jerky that is stored on the shelf will start to go rancid at room temperature after 3 or 4 weeks.  Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.


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